Use Social Marketing To Align Your Consumers With A Cause [Opinion]

Rick Van VrankenSocial marketing is not social media marketing, though you can use social media marketing to do social marketing.

Huh? Think of it this way: Social media marketing (SMM) is using all those cool new tools like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., to sell your products, while social marketing (SM) is using the entire marketing tool-box to achieve an objective. Relatively new in the realm of marketing, SM works to bring attention, support, and action to a cause, such as health, the environment, poverty, etc.

Every time someone throwing litter out of their car window catches my eye, I vividly recall the tears rolling down the face of a Native American man standing by a busy highway as the garbage lands at his feet. I’m aging myself to admit remembering that ad, but it was effective SM. I never litter and despise litterbugs.

As Nedra Kline Weinreich puts it in the article “What is Social Marketing?,” SM was born as a discipline in the 1970s, when marketing gurus Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman realized that the same marketing principles that were being used to sell products to consumers could be used to “sell” ideas, attitudes, and behaviors.

Successful Social Marketing
The effectiveness of SM is so well recognized that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has its own online training program targeting nutritionists and health practitioners in an effort to combat the obesity epidemic. The key points defining SM noted by the CDC are:

  • Using commercial marketing strategies
  • Influencing voluntary (not forced or coerced) behavior change (not just increased awareness or increased knowledge)
  • Achieving the goals of improved personal welfare and improved welfare of society.

Certainly growers, collectively and individually, can benefit by implementing or supporting SM campaigns to get people to eat healthier diets. It seems to me that every grower, buyer, shipper, processor, and seller of fruits and vegetables should be active members of the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) ( and support the Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Initiative, the premier produce industry SM program.

Stand For A Cause
However, if you’re still scratching your head and wondering what this has to do with selling your produce, this is where it gets even more complicated. In addition to SM and SMM, you’ll also have to add ‘Social Corporate Responsibility’ (SR) to your marketing vocabulary. In the article “Cause Marketing Matters To Consumers,” Entrepreneur magazine’s editors put it this way: “In this new era of social responsibility, what you don’t do can cost you … If your business or brand doesn’t stand for a cause, consumers may turn to your competitors.”

Cause marketing (CM) connects a company, brand, or product with a social or environmental issue to raise awareness, money and/or consumer involvement. The difference between CM and SM campaigns is that the former connects product sales with the fundraising, while the latter avoids selling a product.

Do Well Do Good, a company that partners with companies and nonprofits wishing to increase the positive impact of their social responsibility initiatives, says CM “presents a unique opportunity for companies to simultaneously do well and do good, or better yet, to do well by doing good,” a statement born out in the staggering statistics on consumer attitudes toward corporate SR programs.

Cause sponsorship was valued at $1.78 billion in 2013 and is expected to top $1.84 billion this year. Given similar price and quality, 91% of global consumers would likely switch to brands associated with a good cause, and 50% of global consumers (44% in the U.S.; 38% in Canada) are willing to pay more for products from companies giving back to society according to the article “Statistics Every Cause Marketer Should Know” on

Whether you’re sponsoring a local walk-a-thon for a health/environmental charity, donating a portion of sales to crop improvement research programs at your state land grant university, encouraging your employees to be involved in community organizations, or funding national/international foundation activities, it is now well established that your loyal, and potential, customers will reward your “social” commitment to giving back.

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