Looking at all the special-deal emails and social media messages, it’s easy to think that the only thing people care about this time of year is price. But take a moment to dig a little deeper and you’ll find that’s not as true as you might think.

No doubt, price is important to many people, but it’s not always the ultimate factor when prospective customers are picking who to do business with. What’s important to the majority of us? According to a recent study by Cone Communications, when choosing between similar products with similar prices, 94% of us will choose a brand that supports a social cause over a competitor that does not. This is not a small group of idealistic big-box customers — we’re talking about Main Street!

How can your small business use cause marketing to leverage our desire to do good? Just look around; there are lots of great examples you can learn from. Here are three of them:

1. Build goodwill without asking your customers to spend money

Is there a cause that relates to your business? If yes, think about how you can show support and get your customers involved. A fun example of this is being done by Lego this holiday season, and it supports the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation. For each free Star Wars/Lego e-card that people send, Lego will donate a toy (up to a million of them) to the Toys for Tots drive. Why this is good for Lego? It aligns the feeling of doing good and the Lego brand. This is a social cause Lego has supported in the past, but now it’s enabling its brand fans to be part of the process. And, by tapping into a giant, extremely active online community that shares and talks about its products (not to mention Star Wars fans who do the same), the cause marketing message is more likely to go viral.

2. Use your own and customers’ resources to make change

One popular way to do some good is by giving back a percentage of sales this season. One business that does this is Harpoon Brewery, the ninth-largest microbrewer in the U.S. For each six-pack sold of its Grateful Ale, the brewery donates a $1 to a local food bank. A dollar may not sound like much, but if you add up all the purchases, it starts to make a big impact. In 2010, Harpoon donated $270,000 to local causes from its fundraising efforts. But the helping was not limited to money; Harpoon also leveraged its loyal customers, encouraging them to come volunteer with the Harpoon staff to support these same charities. We’re not just talking a couple of hours here, but hundreds of volunteer hours that have made a significant impact. The combination of monetary and volunteer hours from staff and loyal customers has given the small brand increased positive word of mouth in their desired market.

3. Partner up to create a greater impact

It’s great that Harpoon has the ability to rally staff and customers to provide physical help for those causes. But what happens if you want to do good but can barely run your business with the resources you have? Take a lesson from Bridgewater Candle. To combat hunger in children, it partnered with a well known nonprofit organization called Rice Bowls. In their joint Light a Candle, Feed a Child campaign, each candle sold means a child is fed for one day. This message is central to Bridgewater Candle’s marketing efforts. Understanding the direct impact of a purchase makes customers feel good and increases their willingness to talk about what they are doing.

If you have not already started to consider how cause marketing can impact your business in 2012, I would encourage you to start. In this past year, 62% of us have purchased a cause-related product. I would love to see more small business be part of that revenue generating trend.

Remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re just raising awareness — when you implement social change yourself or partner with others who are doing so, the benefit is to the greater good and your bottom line.

What is your business doing to give back this holiday season? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.