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Cause Marketing, Social Enterprise, and Corporate Social Responsibility: What's the difference?


Photo Credit: Ian Schneider



These days, brands are really pushing the boundaries of traditional philanthropy and getting super creative with how they become good corporate citizens. In these times it can be easy to get some of the terminology mixed especially when terms like Cause Marketing, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Social Enterprise seem to be used interchangeably. Today we’re going to help clear up these sometimes murky waters by giving you some helpful definitions and some examples of brands using these tactics to grow their brands and give back.


First off, let's define some terms:


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): According to a recent article in Business News Daily CSR is “an evolving business practice that incorporates sustainable development into a company's business model. It has a positive impact on social, economic and environmental factors.” CSR is when a company incorporates measures to improve social, economic or environmental issues into the way that they do business. CSR isn’t always public-facing, but often brands look into adopting CSR as a way to connect with consumers on a deeper level. A great example of this is Patagonia’s repair policy. Instead of trying to get their customers to buy a new item when an old item has worn out, they offer free repairs in an effort to cut down on waste.

Social Enterprise: A social enterprise is a commercial organization that has specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose. Social enterprises seek to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to society and the environment. TOMS is an excellent example of a social enterprise. They were founded with the vision of providing shoes to those in need while making excellent footwear. To do this, they built their now-famous one-for-one model where for every pair of shoes they sell, they are able to donate a pair. The additional cost of donating shoes is built into their business model.

Cause Marketing: Cause marketing leverages CSR initiatives and the positive impacts of a Social Enterprise to appeal to consumers on a deeper more fundamental level. The key difference here is that Cause Marketing is, well, marketing - externally-facing communications intended to get consumers interested in a product or brand. A great example of a successful cause marketing campaign is Makers Mark’s “Give Cozy, #GetCozy” campaign. For this initiative, they partnered with One Warm Coat – a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide anyone in need with a warm coat, free of charge. Makers sponsored a branded donation truck to go to major US cities collecting coats in exchange for hot cocoa and gingerbread cookies. As a result, more than 20,000 coats were collected.


As you can see, while all of these terms are closely related, each has a distinct and important meaning that can affect your operations, marketing efforts and overall impact. Whether social impact is already built into your business model, you’re looking for a way to resonate with your consumers or become more responsible corporate citizens, Slide 32 can help you show the world the way you give back. Hit us up, we’d love to work with you.