Cause Marketers: Connect to Fundamental Human Needs

By: Guest | January 9, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Brian F. Martin

True story: Fifteen years ago, I invested $5,000 in both my niece and nephew’s college funds.

I was always taught if you put away a little money, when you come back years later it will have grown exponentially due to compound interest.

I recently had dinner with my niece and nephew and presented their checks from this original money. The amount of each? $5,500. 

The point of my story is, many of the old rules are gone. Truths we took for granted are no longer true. After a long period of yearning for material satisfaction, we are experiencing a new order. My niece and nephew are. And so are others.

A recently conducted Leo Burnett study found consumers say they want to start giving money to charity as much as they’d like to take vacations and go to the movies. As a society, we are moving towards something deeper, particularly post-recession, after consumers had to make cuts in their spending.

Now, they’re reconsidering their priorities. Case in point, consumers respond better to brands that participate in causes they care about.

Within the last eight years – about 5,000 years into recorded human history – more than 80 percent of Americans have signed on to social networks to share their values and stories. In doing so, they’ve created a new paradigm of connectedness and contribution. Participation, both in social networking and external causes, meets our basic human needs:

  1. To find significance and recognition
  2. To form connections
  3. To enjoy security and certainty
  4. To experience creative expression and growth
  5. To crave new experiences
  6. To build self esteem through contribution

At the same time, companies and brands are now expected to be good citizens, to contribute to society, and to improve the world. Many brands look at this as a problem to solve. What cause can we align with for a marketing relationship in order to gain positive brand value and competitive advantage?

Is that serving the brand, marketing, consumers, our society? 

Instead, I propose marketers trace their efforts back to those basic human needs and start trying to meet them. Start and end with your brand’s values. It is a waste of time and money to align with a cause that doesn’t fit. It won’t resonate, and it does your community and employees a disservice.

Look for programs that will effect change and deliver the most affect, and the marketing results will surprise you. When the cause is a good fit, it meets these human needs and all the branding spokes will fall into place more easily. Leaders and employees will be more likely to become evangelists. The marketing will be more honest and require less effort to integrate. Consumers will buy in to the values and help spread the word through social networking.

When Kentucky Fried Chicken promised to donate 50 cents from the sale of its pink Buckets for the Cure to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, it caused an uproar. Too many advocates noted the link between fatty foods, obesity, and cancer – the values were not aligned.

On the other hand, since 1999, the partnership between Komen and Yoplait has enhanced both brands and the cause, and has met these human needs. Through the Save Lids to Save Lives program, Yoplait invites consumers to send in sticky pink yogurt lids and share their stories. For each lid sent in, Yoplait donates 10 cents to Komen for a total of $30 million to date.

Chase’s Community Giving initiative has more than 3.3 million Facebook followers because Chase created a community-based contest rallying organizations to garner the most votes, and therefore, the $1 million dollar grand prize (a total of $5 million is donated each year). With Chase’s contest, a consumer can take 10 seconds to like the page and vote, and they will feel a level of contribution.

The return-on-investment for Yoplait and Chase? Exponential. Both earned millions of connections with consumers in a manner that offered significance and recognition. Consumers were asked to take action and engage with the brands – and they did, in wild numbers.

Yoplait, a product marketed as part of a healthy lifestyle, aligns itself with a powerful women’s health cause. Chase aligns itself as a community resource and force for doing good. Not bad for a bank in today’s climate.

And in the end – unlike with my college fund investment – they both get to present big checks to those they intended to help.

Brian F. Martin, entrepreneur and philanthropist, is the founder of Brand Connections, one of the largest independent media and marketing companies in the U.S. He is also the founder of The Makers of Memories Foundation dedicated to ending the cycle of domestic violence, starting with the devastating effect it has on children. 

  • I love seeing this take place on the local level. I wish every marketer would work with their business or clients to develop this sort of thing as part of the overall mindset of a business. When businesses help customers connect to a cause, everyone wins. On the local level, it’s even more important and effective, because both the business and the clients/customers have a vested interested in the well-being of the local community.

    Great stuff, Brian, thanks!

    • brianfmartin


      Thanks Ken, the issue is obviously close to me. Really good points here. It is win-win prospect all around.

  • ginidietrich

    @BrianFMartin Great blog post! I’ll be by later to comment

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  • paulacampbell12

    @BrandConnection Want to know how me and many others became our own boss and made 6k a month in 2 months time? mymoneytimesite .com

  • joewaters

    On a separate note, isn’t that the truth on 529 college savings plans. I’ve had mine since 2000 and 2002 and they have gone nowhere. Totally new investment world!

    • bfmartin


      I guess, just never thought that would have been the case when i committed 5k to two 3 year olds.

  • Out comes the notebook and in go a list of six things I need to explore deeper. Might even be worth dusting off Maslow while I’m at it. Appreciate the insight, Mr. Martin. This is something I’d really like to see get off the ground.Not always easy.

    I’m actually considering publishing something on the front page that reads, “HEY! We’re busting our asses here trying to introduce you to cool people from all over the world so you might WAKE UP and see just how friggin’ important YOU are. We want you to JOIN US in building a worldwide movement that will help us ALL get more out of life. If we’re not delivering on that, we need you to TELL US so we can do BETTER. We’re probably the only website left on the internet that’s not looking to make money off you. C’mon. Throw us a friggin’ bone, here.”

    I dunno. Probably not a good idea to get confrontational, but we’re out to deliver on all six of the above, but it just doesn’t seem like very many people get it. Still, something strangely cathartic about publishing something like that…

    • bfmartin

      @Brian Driggs

      no not confrontational at all, a reasonable point. Examples matter. What have you done with the information matters.

      Would love to get your opinion of the work that is being done at i am applying these 6 every day and the progress is quick and significant.

      • @bfmartin

        I was meaning more confrontational toward our audience, but yeah, I’m glad that didn’t come across the wrong way here, either, what with all the caps usage and whatnot. 🙂

        I think what you’re doing with Makers of Memories is first-rate, though it seems a bit easier for me to picture how one promotes confidence through security, connectivity, and contribution given that subject. (Could be purely psychological, though. Domestic abuse carries with it a certain receptiveness to such concepts in everyone, I think.)

        It’s less easy to figure from my end, though I’m sure it would work. My audience is primarily disaffected automotive enthusiasts who feel they have a better-than-average bead on things. 1-3 are easy enough, but 4-6 are where I think it all comes together, and are proving particularly difficult.

        They don’t seem interested in creative self-expression – though I know our vehicles are extensions of our identities. They don’t seem interested in new experiences, barring newer instances of experiences they’ve already had and enjoyed. And it would seem their self-esteem is such that they aren’t interested in contributing.

        I don’t mean to take up all your time, but it’s like assembling a puzzle. I know I’ve got all the pieces, but where is the one that makes this next section happen? 😛

        • bfmartin

          @Brian Driggs

          no i thank you for your thoughts. if it cant be applied what is the purpose. When i apply these needs to brands we work with, the foundation or a new company i simply try to make certain that i can point to three things that we are consistently doing all the time for each need. Tactical things that we are doing to meet a the need of

          1) new experiences, which i also think of as variety, more choice, more freedom maybe expanding the term new experiences to this language is helpful 2) we all want to grow in some way and i would think that your audience has reached a level where growth is very important to them and if someone doesnt meet it for them, they will find it somewhere

        • bfmartin

          @Brian Driggs

          and 3) self esteem – i believe that we feel this when we make a sacrifice or do something difficult. Contributing your time and parting with your money are difficult things and you should feel damn good about doing it and that should fill you up with self esteem. It is the most difficult to meet but is also the most rewarding from a long term retention standoint from my experience. And in the end, it may simply be worth testing a few ideas to see how they react. And thank you for taking a look at the site, your words are much appreciated.

        • @bfmartin

          Three things consistently done foe each need. I’m going to reflect on that for sure. Consistency and a little A-B testing go a long way.Thank you so much for taking the time to respond in such detail. I sincerely appreciate it!

  • DawnMentzer

    @tweetcmf Thanks for the RT! Have a wonderful evening!

  • Interesting perspective. I’m amazed to see brands put on a cause like they’re a bit too old for the club, and are trying to cover that up by wearing what they consider “cool clothes”. When usually, someone in the company has the perfect cause that they were already aligned with in public – all they’d have to do is be more public about it. To an extent it’s the visibility of the passion, sure. But it’s a much more believable sell when it’s real. Then you just have to be who you are.

    • bfmartin


      I agree. Great point. If one person in an organization has has a passion to contribute in a particular area they can find the connection in many instances and that will become the focus, far more effective than simply having management say ‘this is so’ excellent point. thxu

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