Karma Marketing 101 with Annabelle King


Let’s dig into the hot topic of the season in the small business world — why you should align your brand with a cause.

There are many benefits to branding your business with a social or environmental cause. Partnering up with a cause-driven organisation can strengthen your brand identity, give your business purpose and create new opportunities for growth.

I consult with branding and digital communications strategist, Annabelle King, founder of I Like Storytelling to get some insight into karma marketing — a more sustainable partnership with a charitable organisation coined by Annabelle King herself that stemmed from traditional cause marketing.

Is it a smart move for your business? How can you make it sustainable? And how do you find this dream partnership?

What is karma marketing?

Karma marketing is the concept of aligning a brand’s marketing strategy with a not-for-profit organisation. The goal is to raise awareness for a cause that aligns closely with your brand’s values.

For Annabelle, karma marketing is rooted in cause marketing, but with a more mutually beneficial effect for both the small business and the organisation.

This can be executed in a number of different forms from creating awareness campaigns, donating a percentage of your sales to a charity, to the one-for-one model (made famous by TOMS shoes).

We’ll get into more ways you can include karma marketing campaigns into your brand’s marketing strategy later on.

But first, let’s get into the benefits of aligning your business with charity

  1. Strengthen your brand identity — Earn trust and grow your loyal customer base. A clear social cause gives customers another reason to continue supporting your business.

  2. Facilitates new opportunities — Partnering with organisations widens your professional network and opportunities for collaboration. A brand can gain access to new customers that otherwise might not have considered your brand, but are now invested in it because you share a common passion.

  3. Gives your brand purpose — You get to contribute to a cause you care deeply about.

Let’s look at a wildly successful start-up that used a cause marketing model

Blake Mycoskie is credited with the original one-for-one (buy-one give-one) model with his wildly successful brand, TOMS shoes. For every pair of shoes sold another pair is donated to a child in a developing country.

In the early days of TOMS, the one-for-one principle was the primary driver of why people bought the shoes. Mycoskie said, “the shoes were frankly not that good of quality. They didn’t last as long as we thought they would — but they were stylish. The giving was a huge driver for the product.”

Mycoskie teamed up with AT&T mobile to produce a commercial on how he was able to run his business through his phone while on these “giving missions” in Africa.

With the help of AT&T’s massive campaign, TOMS’ charitable message reached hundreds of thousands of people — but more importantly, the cause resonated with people and that’s when TOMS went viral.

The charitable mission opened up an opportunity and made TOMS a desirable partner to the Goliath AT&T, breeding a colossal opportunity for the humble shoe brand.

In the first year of business, TOMS made $300,000 in revenue. By the seventh year, they brought in $450 million in sales on an annual basis — TOMS became the world’s fastest-growing shoe company.

Today, businesses including Bixbee, Roma Boots, and Soapbox have adopted the one-for-one model to elevate their brands' social consciousness and align their values with that of their customers.

You don’t need to adopt a one-for-one charity model to gain momentum with cause campaigns.

The big brands such as Campbell, Ferrero Rocher, Coca-Cola, Walmart, and Microsoft write cheques to tick off a box for its corporate social responsibility.

Yes, they’re contributing to a cause, however, as Annabelle will explain, this cause-marking approach is different from karma marketing and it achieves a different goal (such as tax breaks). She also shares other ways you can explore the karma marketing model for your business.

Karma marketing is not just about the money — it’s about participation in raising awareness for a cause.

Annabelle says “karma marketing is about brands and charitable organisations coming together in a partnership and communicating those values with their audiences. Using the partnership to communicate values and amplify the brand message in a meaningful way.”

Why does karma marketing work and why is it growing in popularity?

Annabelle: There are a number of different factors fuelling the success of karma marketing for brands. One of the drivers is that millennials are the most socially aware generation and use their money to make statements about what they believe in.

Millennials grew up with the internet, and as a result, are much more informed than previous generations at a younger age. The internet allows us to tune-in to what’s happening to the world around us from climate change, social injustices, and economic struggles.

As a group, millennials have a shared sense of social responsibility versus their predecessors. They  prefer to support brands with a social cause and ethical business practices.

Studies show consumers are more likely to purchase a product tied to a cause when presented with an identical product at a lower price point. This is because there’s social currency involved with this decision.

Social currency is the concept regarding how people behave in reciprocal ways in social networks — In short, buying something with a cause makes you look good.

Consumers are also more willing to share purchase decisions with their network because it helps shape their identity as someone who is socially aware of injustices or environmental problems.

Purchasing a product/service with a cause is the easiest way to feel like you're making a contribution to a cause.

Charity contribution is an easy selling point to push consumers (who are on the fence about the purchase) over that line.

From a not-for-profit standpoint, collaboration is a positive way to raise awareness. When charities can partner up with small businesses, rather than guilting people into a donation, customers can feel good about their purchase decision and support — it’s the best of marketing and inspiring way to contribute together.

What to consider before  looking for a karma marketing partnership

1. Define the brand values

Before you get started, ask yourself if this project will align with your business mission and values. You need to do this for the right reasons because people are good at calling out BS, and a poorly planned strategy can backfire.

When you’re clear on the message you want to communicate with your audience, you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a karma marketing partnership.

The simple rule about partnership applies. Looks for a partner who shares enough of the same values as you and a relationship where you can both benefit — this is the gold in an ideal partnership.

2. Define your parameters and outputs

What are you looking for in a partnership? Marketing takes time and resources. Bring these questions in with you when you chat with a potential partner.

Is there an opportunity to co-create content with the organisation? Even better, but hard to do, can you co-create a product or service? This is an example of top-tier partnerships

How much time are you willing to invest in this cause?

You will need to create content in order to communicate your message to your audience. Find out how much the organisation is willing to help you with your campaigns.

Will they promote your business on their social media platforms?

Assess the charity’s previous work. Look into their past collaborations for examples of what they are willing to do with businesses.

How big is this organisation?

You want the charity to not be so big that your brand, as a smaller entrepreneur, is engulfed by the charity’s processes. You don’t need to be the same size either — look for a partnership that will take its time with your brand and is excited about what you’re doing. This is where the true karma marketing comes in.

Are they in a convenient location to work with?

Yes, you can collaborate remotely these days, but will this arrangement work for the both of you? And does the location of this charity make sense for your brand message?

What is the longevity potential?

Is this a one or two-year partnership or is this a partnership where you could grow with together for 5-10 years — obviously, circumstances change but you’ll still have a sense of a timeline for your collaboration.

Examples of Karma Marketing Campaigns to Explore:

Fundraising event

The tried and tested old-age format is to put together a fancy dinner and auction where all profits will go to charity.

Create social media content together

You could do photoshoots, videos,  to Instagram account takeovers. The possibilities here are endless.  

Create a limited edition product/ service

Co-design a product with limited edition packaging or offer a limited edition gift. Last fall,  fashion brands Tory Burch and Sam Edelman released a limited edition pink for their classic pieces, where a percentage of the sales supported Breast Cancer Research foundation.

Some of our friends at Kitty Gang are involved in their own karma marketing campaigns

Milk Jar Candle Co

Karma Marketing: Milk Jar Co

Holly Singer is the founder of Milk Jar Candle Company— beautifully scented, hand-poured soy candles with natural wooden wicks, free of harmful waxes and harsh chemicals.

Not only do these candles make the perfect gift and treat for yourself, but they’re gifts you can feel good about —$1 from each candle sale is donated to special needs programs for youth in Calgary, Alberta.

Read about Holly’s entrepreneurial journey and how she got started with karma marketing in our interview.

Adam Kauffman is the craftsman behind the luxury bathtub board brand, Dubtub, based out of Calgary, Alberta. He works with Tree Canada —  the leading national tree planting charity in Canada. For every hand-crafted bathtub board sold, one tree is planted.

We did a video interview on Adam’s journey with Dubtub here.

Karma Marketing Dubtub
Karma Marketing: Bask Aromatherapy

Bask produces plant-based, aromatherapy body products based in Melbourne created by Shiobhan McCuskey.

The beautifully formulated products are so much more than soaps and lotions— everything from the ingredients to the packaging, and even graphic designs for her brand are sourced ethically. Bask has also committed to planting a tree for every internet order placed with Fifteen Trees to reduce their carbon footprint.

Read Shiobhan’s journey with Bask Aromatherapy here.

Key takeaways from my conversation with Annabelle

Teaming up with a charitable cause can be an exciting project for your business. It can drive your brand’s sense of purpose, create loyalty with your customers and amplify your brand’s message, giving you access to new set of consumers — but you need to be in it for the right reasons.

Karma marketing follows the sale rules as a good sponsorship or partnership relationship. Find a partner who expresses the same core values, with an arrangement that provides mutual benefits.

I expected no better advice from an expert strategist when it comes to the questions you should bring into your meeting with potential business partners. I loved Annabelle’s advice on co-creating content together for campaigns.

Content creation is labour intensive, so we don’t recommend taking that all on your own. When you can find a partnership willing to collaborate on content together, you can split the work but get twice as much content. This type of relationship shows consumers your partnership is a real collaboration and you’re not just piggybacking on the other brand.

Sharing the “behind the scenes” experience with your audiences is key to a successful karma marketing campaign, because it shows both parties have a genuine interest in helping each other succeed, instead of a contrived advertising partnership.

If you had any questions about building a brand strategy or karma marketing, you can reach out to Annabelle King at I Like Storytelling

Kat Lubiano

katrina lubiano

kitty gang co-founder,
& digital content writer currently based in vancouver


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