When we started Barefoot Wines, the big chain and box store buyers refused to put it in their stores unless we advertised heavily. You couldn’t blame them. We were unknown at the time. What made matters worse, we were having fun with a foot on our label at a time when the wine industry was staid and exclusive.
So, we had to get started selling to corner store “mama-papas,” independents and small chains. But they had the same concern: Nobody ever heard of a wine called “Barefoot.” So, understandably, they threatened to discontinue us if we didn’t show significant sales in a matter of months.
About that time, we got a call from a neighborhood group looking for $50,000 for their kids’ after-school park. “Oh, you’re a big successful winery,” they said, “We are just looking for a donation to build some swings, sand boxes, slides and a jungle gym.”
We were surprised that they would think we were successful when we were struggling for survival. We asked, “Are you sure you got the right number? We just got started and we certainly don’t have that kind of money.”
But then we thought about it and offered, “Look, we would like to help you out. We don’t have money, but how about some wine? Maybe you can auction it off at your fundraiser and use the money to buy a few swings. Or, maybe it will loosen some people up and they’ll write bigger checks.”
They took the wine and we never heard from them again. Then we got the sales report for the month. It was a disaster. Pretty much all zeros …except for the three stores in the vicinity of the park fundraiser. They were reordering! We wondered if there was a correlation with the fundraiser. We donated to a fundraiser in another neighborhood. It worked! Then another. It worked again! Could we have possibly discovered a way to get the word out besides costly advertising?
After 10 years, we could afford commercial advertising, but what we called “Worthy Cause Marketing” was working so well in city after city, state after state, that we never did use commercial advertising. What we had discovered was that in the CPG retail space, the neighborhoods surrounding the stores with our products had local worthy causes. By supporting those causes, we were giving their memberships a social reason to buy our products. They could have bought any brand but they chose ours because we supported them. Not only that, but they became advocates for our brand, spreading the word to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
This relationship was not a one-way street. It was a strategic alliance. They could help us and we could help them. For our part, since we were short on cash, especially starting out, we gave them product (where legal). But we didn’t stop there. We also promoted their goals on signs that appeared on our packaging, encouraging our customers to support their cause. We gave them an audience they had no previous access to: the supermarket customer. We helped out at their fundraisers with set up and clean up. They saw our people getting involved in their cause. They thought of us as part of their community.
In turn, we asked them for things they could easily do that cost them nothing. We asked that our labels remain visible during the fundraiser. We asked to be mentioned as donors in their newsletters and on their websites. We asked if someone on our staff could address the group with why we supported their cause. We also asked that we be allowed to place flyers at their events that said who we are, how and why we supported them, and where our products were available in their neighborhoods.
Worthy Cause Marketing is different than Cause Marketing. With Cause Marketing, you are usually “buying” a sponsorship for a national cause and informing the general public in the hopes they will be impressed and buy your products because they see you as a “good guy.” This is all well and good.