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The Power to Change Communities

A cause marketing campaign can increase your businesses sales and drive good publicity.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Recession-era shoppers have a keen interest in buying from companies that support vital causes. And with most American consumers researching purchases online prior to spending their dollars, studies show they rely largely on websites and e-mail to check out corporate responsibility. Consumers who are active in --which includes social networks, blogs, message boards and in some cases websites and e-mail--also act on what they discover. According to the 2009 Cone Consumer New Media Study, 30 percent have made a purchase based on positive information they've learned and nearly a quarter have switched brands or boycotted a company based on negative information.

"" isn't new, yet it has seen a dramatic upswing in recent years due to its mainstream adoption by major corporations and the attention of general media. Not only is cause marketing helping businesses increase and enhance their reputations for , but it's also empowering nonprofits to aid millions as well. 's Dove Self-Esteem Fund, for example, intends to reach 5 million young women with information about positive body image by the end of this year, and 's partnership with provides a range and refrigerator for each Habitat home built in the United States.

Chances are your has already made financial contributions or given volunteer hours to community or national nonprofits. Now is the time to expand your view of charitable giving to encompass a more structured and creative cause marketing campaign. When more small businesses throughout America get involved in this way, we have the power to transform communities.

You can make a difference--and it's just plain good business. Here are three tips for cause marketing success:

  1. Follow Your Passion
    Choose a cause that you and your employees are passionate about and is consistent with your company's mission. And be sure to consider what's most important to your customers. What cause can you support that your target audience will view in a favorable way? You could align with a local nonprofit to help save homeless pets, provide winter coats to foster kids or support cancer patients in treatment at the community hospital. When you choose a cause that you and your customers are passionate about, it's a win-win for everyone.
  2. Get the Community Involved
    Cause marketing isn't just about writing a check. You can contribute in-kind services or the manpower necessary to get a job done. And you can use events to inspire others in the community to take action. You might organize a walkathon, tennis tournament or concert. You can create and market a symbolic item, for example, the way Nike has raised funds for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a cancer charity, by selling more than 70 million Live Strong bracelets. Not only does this type of grass-roots involvement support the nonprofit, but it also raises awareness for your business and its commitment to helping others.
  3. Tell Your Story
    Use your website, and public relations to spread the word about your cause marketing efforts, and structure your campaign as you would for any new product or service. Your prospects and customers are interested in the full extent of your commitment, so it's critical to tell your story in an integrated media campaign. It may include new pages of content on your website, press releases and article placements in traditional and online media, postings in social media sites such as and Twitter, and on blogs and message boards. Not only will your campaign motivate customers to choose you over your competitors, but it will inspire others in your community to align with your cause. Then everybody wins.

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