Charity and construction marketing

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Can charity be combined with marketing?  The answer, undoubtedly, is “yes”, but the question arises about the boundaries between genuine generosity and real marketing effectiveness.

Recently, for example, Leah Thayer in Daily5Remodel highlighted the story of the “Great Nashville Giveaway” in which contractor The Wills Company offered (in celebration of its 20th anniversary) to donate $5,000 to the charity/non-profit which garnered the most votes from the general public.  Anyone could nominate any group, and if the group received three nominations, it would be added to the list.  The campaign also included a Facebook component where visitors could indicate their “liking” of the company.

Thayer reports that in April and May, approximately 4,700 individuals voted for some 220 non-profits.

“Of course, not all of them are potential clients for us, but some are,” Thayer quoted the company’s marketing co-ordinator Aris Yowell as saying. “Their zip codes and addresses will help us determine that, and we can add them to our email marketing list. If they don’t want to be on the list, they can easily opt out.”

OK, nothing wrong with this but I would like to check back in a year and see how much business arose from this initiative.  I fear that the “also rans” will have little loyalty to the business, and of course most of the voters are unqualified for the company’s services.

Compare this charitable initiative to the Ride the Rideau campaign for cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital, led by two local building supply companies which focus on the business-to-business market.  Not surprisingly, we are happy to support this initiative in Ottawa Construction News as both Boone Plumbing & Heating Supply and Merkley Supply Ltd. are among our clients (and both suppliers are concentrating their recruitment and fund-raising among industry, rather than consumer, participants.)

I offered to sign up and had no hesitation in preparing to pay the $1,500 required to participate as a “rider” — plus the training time and possible new bike for the major excursion.  However, without prompting, Robert Merkley immediately paid $500 of that contribution; half personally and half from his company.  (We of course, in addition to our cash contribution, are providing extensive free advertising and editorial publicity.)

The impressive element about this generosity is that it doesn’t correlate to obvious business pay-back.  Merkley and Claude DesRosiers at Boone are not “adding to their mailing list” and (it seems) using the generosity to attract any new clients.

So does this type of charity and community service have any marketing value?

The answer, of course, is an emphatic “yes” because, in a somewhat ironic way, the lack of any “marketing payback” ascribes a level of genuineness to the initiative that cannot be underestimated.  As we know, marketing success is built on branding success, and brand is built on trust — and this type of selflessness undoubtedly adds to trust.  Add, as well, the interaction between suppliers and clients, both during the ride and at social events and training sessions beforehand, and you have the kind of one-on-one experiential relationship-building that cannot be duplicated with more conventional approaches.

However, I am certainly not asserting that the highly measurable and interactive approach used by the Nashville renovation contractor is wrong.  If you are about to spend $5,000 on advertising, maybe this type of campaign will be far more effective and ultimately less expensive.  Perhaps the only difference I would make is to build in a “win” for all of the groups that participated in the campaign, perhaps a matching contribution or some share of the overall total going to everyone who received a minimum number of votes.  This way, everyone would feel like a winner, and when that happens, the marketing truly hits its mark.

P.S.  If you wish, you can participate in Ride The Rideau without getting on a bike — cash supporting contributions are most welcome.  You can make your contribution here.

 

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