Cause marketing: the need beyond your pharmacy catchment

cause marketing blog: pretty Ethiopian girl in red shirt smiling

Cause marketing is a great way to get pharmacy customers to care about your business. The catch is you need to really mean it, writes Ian Shanks

There’s a lot of debate in Australia lately about the need to support our own before we help those in need overseas.

Our industry, like the country, is experiencing what we would describe as a more challenging economic environment than we’ve been accustomed to. But if we could step back for a moment from the ongoing debate about the financial state of the Australian pharmacy industry, what do we see?

A country, and an industry, which by world standards is very well off, and indeed, well protected.

As Australians we enjoy a standard of life that is the envy of the vast majority of countries on the planet. Our access to food, clean water, shelter, health and support services, is I’m sure you would agree, exceptional.

And here’s a big statement: given the collective wealth of this country, no Australian should be living in poverty. No, I’m not Bob Hawke, and I’m aware that it’s a simplistic statement; the reasons some Australians suffer poverty are many and varied, but I think the statement is valid.

In fact, the World Bank (no slouch when it comes to numbers!) lists Australia’s per capita income, via the Atlas method in US dollars, at $67,511. We’re one of the wealthiest few nations.

Meanwhile, the average of Ethiopia, a country the Fullife Foundation supports, is a paltry $472.

We work in a caring industry: we care for our customers. What I’d like to see more pharmacies do is take it a step further, and care for those in developing countries as a logical extension to that basic value.

Every dollar makes a difference. For example, a $3 coffee in Australia forgone (and best of luck buying a good one for $3!) could help save a mother’s and infant’s life in Africa, through the purchase of a $3 Safe Birthing Kit. Last year, Fullife Pharmacies provided 11,000 of these to mothers at risk in The Congo and Uganda.

Having been on the ground in Ethiopia visiting our projects with Tim Costello from World Vision, I can say that the money we donate is spent very wisely and carefully – they get amazing bang for their buck!

Before we started working with World Vision in Samre, northern Ethiopia, the population of about 150,000 went hungry for more than four months out of every 12. Now, the figure is less than two months, and improving.

The really interesting thing is this: despite the view that Australians prefer to support their own, the customer bases around our pharmacies have become actively involved in raising money for our projects. They like what we do, and vote with their feet in our pharmacies to support us.

But recent research has concluded that ‘cause’ marketing, when cynically applied, is rejected by today’s consumer: they can smell a fraud a mile off, and can check out your authenticity online.

In fact, a contrived or fake cause may actually result in the business being punished by their customers, which should serve as a warning to us all!

Our experience is this: when a cause sits authentically and transparently at the heart of your business model, when you can actually communicate the benefits and outcomes of your customers’ support, great things can happen.

For us, taking the focus off ourselves and putting it squarely on the greater good and those in need, has achieved a number of positive things:

  • a happier and a more focused team;
  • happier and more loyal customers; and
  • a more successful business.


There’s two main reasons why authentic cause marketing beyond your local catchment is worth considering.

First, it’s the right thing to do. What seem like small amounts of money to most Australians can make a huge difference to the lives of those who struggle for their very survival in developing countries.

And second, our experience is that customers love the idea of helping others, and given the opportunities, will get involved themselves, advocate for you, and support your business in doing so.

Ian Shanks is the director of Fullife Pharmacies and the Fullife Foundation.

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