Cause-Related Marketing from a Breast Cancer Patient's Point of View

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Update: Happily Victoria’S Secret has startED carrying wireless bras since I wrote this article. RecenTLY, WalGREENS has announced a program to help CANCER PATIENTS manage their symptoms. And, I’m three-years post diagnosis and doing great!

Despite the onslaught in recent years of breast cancer-related cause marketing, it has been shocking to me as a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient to realize how little the patient is factored into cause marketing campaigns. This is my first time on this side of cause marketing. Throughout my 16-years in nonprofit management, I’ve certainly had plenty of occasions in which I sought corporate engagement for my clients.

I visit retail stores with fresh eyes these days as I seek out the various paraphernalia and accouterments recommended to ease post-op, chemotherapy, and radiation. The lost opportunities to authentically engage with patients, and their networks of supporters, are astounding.

I walked by a Victoria’s Secret store a few weeks after surgery wearing my ugly post-surgical bra when I thought to myself, “Certainly Victoria’s Secret has to have a cute, way-too-expensive, no-wire bra that opens in the front, right?” I walked in ready to plunk down some serious dough for a little shopping therapy. But when I asked the attendant, she told me I was out of luck. When I explained to her that I needed a bra with those particular features while healing from a lumpectomy, she admitted that almost every day a woman walks into the store with the same request and is turned away! Wait. This is the most celebrated lingerie company in the world and my breasts are no longer welcome here?

Imagine if I had walked in to find a few select pieces, tagged specifically to support the breast cancer patients who wear them, with a small percentage of the proceeds benefiting breast cancer patient care. How many might I have bought as lucky as I would have felt that day being able to afford to buy them for myself?

The space a store dedicates to a cause can be just as valuable as the money they donate. Every time I walk into a CVS, I long for a Cancer Care Corner, what I imagine as a Quick Mart for cancer patients, where almost everything we’re looking for is in one place. Hand sanitizers and hand wipes to protect our weakened immune systems, Biotene toothpaste and straws to ease mouth sores, masks and gloves for those times we absolutely must touch something we shouldn’t, and the ever popular anti-constipation remedies needed to combat the side effects of drugs. Instead of having to walk the entire store, I could cozy up to my special corner and find everything in one place, reducing the energy I use and limiting my exposure to bacteria. Other than a hospital or a doctor’s office, can you think of a place where more sick people hang out than a CVS?

Nordstrom has been the only retail or online store that I regularly frequented before my diagnosis that has surprised me with their commitment to breast cancer patients. They have a Breast Cancer Prosthesis program that is often covered by insurance. Specially trained sales people will privately fit women by appointment for new post-mastectomy or lumpectomy bras. For free, they will also specially fit most any bra in the store.

When I read about the program, I excitedly posted about it on my Facebook page to all my friends and family. “Never feel guilty about shopping at Nordstrom again, “ I wrote, then continued, “May the shopping begin!”

The average adult Facebook user has 338 friends. The US has 2.8 million breast cancer survivors most of whom have Facebook or similar accounts. That's a network of almost one billion people who could be reached with one of the most successful marketing engagement models: passionate peer-to-peer endorsements. If corporations expanded cause marketing to include creating unique proprietary cause based solutions for their consumers, I believe they would inspire a new level of brand loyalty and drive sustainable long-term revenue.

Building cause based solutions is about building a genuine community with your customers in the tradition of bringing over a hot meal to help someone who is ill. Do you ever forget the neighbor who did that for you?

I will always go to Nordstrom first when given a choice. They helped lift me (pun intended) when I was at one of my lowest points.

Note: This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn. Examples of some positive responses received:

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