Tag Archives: branding

Lessons From a Trust Fall

We build trust through positive actions and then use marketing channels to promote that trust.  The best nonprofits understand effective marketing communications is critical to their success. So why is there so little emphasis on measurement in so many marketing campaigns?

I saw this video the other day and it really made me laugh and then it got me to thinking. Communicating exactly what you want your audience to understand is a tough business!  How effective are you in your communications?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPOgvzVOQig&w=560&h=315]

What we have here… is a failure to communicate!

How often have you presented a simple message only to encounter an undesired reaction?  As nonprofit professionals, we understand the value of effective communications.  But, do we really know whether our message rings true and if so, to what extent?

How often do you find yourself stating and restating your directives? Are your presentations, or "asks", falling flat?  Has attendance at your events become lackluster? Do you find yourself wondering why the phone is not ringing after implementing a great new fundraising appeal?

The answer may be found in our innate inability to hear ourselves. It always sounds better in your head! We think our message is clear, but we often fail to adequately express our value in ways in which our audience will connect and understand.  Often we use too many, too few, or the wrong words, or we promote our significance in areas where our audience is not listening.

If what we are striving for is to get our great mission understood by as many in our target population as possible, it's important to first craft a great message, but then we need to know if it really is a great message.  Has it been heard, comprehended, and most importantly did it resonate? Here are five Hip Tips to get your message off and running and then humming along like a well-oiled machine.

  1. Understand your target audience.  Know what they read, listen to, watch, like, and think. Remember you can have multiple audiences for your message, so make sure your tailor your communications to each group.
  2. Test, test, test and then test some more.  In every good marketing campaign the message is test marketed and then tested some more during implementation.  Set up specific measurement tools, which will allow you to gauge your success.
  3. Find out what works and keep doing it until it doesn't.  That's how you create and maintain a consistent voice and a develop a real brand.
  4. Remember that multiple touch points reinforce the effectiveness of your message.
  5. And, don't forget the old sales adage: Tell them what you're gonna' tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.

Employ these Hip Tips in all your communications efforts and your audience's hearing will improve dramatically.

Core Strength

Seals Training - crop1The very best companies and organizations realize that marketing is a core component for success and they place its importance at a high level within their operation. So why do so many smaller organizations only consider marketing efforts as secondary, or as an after-thought?

Risk is inherent in all business and it's those businesses and organizations who minimize their risk that find themselves opposite (or, separated) from the unsuccessful. Minimizing your risk means being smart with your marketing budget. You need to focus on what is working and keep doing that until it doesn’t work anymore.

An effective marketing strategy should be at the core of your fundraising activities. While sometimes a great idea may appear from out of the blue, effective strategies are typically developed only after a great deal of research.  Understanding your "market" and separating yourself from your 'competitors" with a unique value proposition is the first step in developing your strategy. Armed with this positioning, your next step is to create a blueprint designed to inform your target audience(s) as to why you're so awesome.

And, that’s where a marketing plan comes in. Those organizations without clear marketing plans find that their marketing tends to be reactive, unstructured, and usually ineffective.

Marketing Process"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you do not know what you are doing."
W. Edwards Deming

The trouble with the marketing efforts at many organizations is they are typically only implemented when their backs are against the wall.  An effective marketing plan is on-going and dynamic; it expands and contracts as you learn from your measurement activities.  It's these metrics, which help you understand if your message is effective.  It's a process that should evolve as you and your audience progress.

Marketing without a plan is a risky gamble; marketing with a dynamic plan can minimize your risk and potentially pay off big.  Here are the core components: 1) Research your "market", 2) develop a strategy, 3) set a budget, 4) identify best tactics, 5) implement the plan, 6) measure your effectiveness, 7) research, refine, & refresh, 8) stir and continue.

One last thing, a marketing plan can have several campaigns.  Campaigns are well thought out methods of attracting donors, constituents, new stakeholders, or informing the general public.  All campaigns have a goal and they clearly state what happens next. This is important because it keeps all your stakeholders on the same page delivering a consistent message and persistent experience. This reinforces and solidifies your brand in the minds of your community.

Running an organization can be a risky business, but nonprofits can mitigate their risk with knowledge. Don’t risk everything on the roll of the dice, or the toss of a coin.  Improve your core strength by planning for success.

Social Media Matters

While for many, how to best use social media to promote and publicize their organization appears to be an amorphous creature that continues to escape their grasp, it's really fairly straightforward, and it's time to join the conversation.

social-networks-V2 crop

And, that is pretty much what social media is all about; it's a conversation between you and others, via the Internet, primarily with your network of constituents, but also with the outside world.  Think of it as a cocktail party, a business meeting, or networking event where you share what's new, your interests, and things you think would be valuable to those with whom you are talking.

Just as when you are in these other social settings; you do the same for your social media network.  Your goal is to create a conversation around mutual interests. So, in this dialog, you share your successes, your exciting new plan to make the world a better place, your shiny new program, or your impressive new hire.  But, you also want to talk about the community to which you both belong and you want to provide valuable information to that community.  When you think about it, it's pretty basic public relations; there are just some basic guidelines that you need to keep in mind to remain relevant (so you're not tuned out by your audience).

Mashable, a leading online news community, lists 21 rules of engagement for using social media to your advantage, here are my top 3 picks from their list:

  1. Become a true participant in each community you wish to activate.
  2. Establish and nurture beneficial relationships online and in the real world as long as doing so is important to your business.
  3. Give back, reciprocate, and recognize notable contributions from participants in your communities.

And, here are my hip tips:

  1. Start today; jump in and get your feet wet, you just need to participate. But, be careful about what you post; set up some guidelines that fit with your brand ideal and work to promote that message.
  2. Post regularly, but not constantly; keep the conversation going, but try not to dominate the conversation.
  3. Remember your audience, rather than simply entertain like you might at a cocktail party, think about your conversation as a luncheon meeting.  It's casual, but on point and message; talk about something you both find interesting.
  4. Operate outside your immediate sphere of influence, in other like arenas where interaction can be beneficial.

If you want to keep someone engaged, have a meaningful conversation that you both enjoy. If you're still stuck about where to start, give me a call, I'd be happy to help you get the conversation going.

Spin Cycle

Spin Cycle crop 800x224You never really know when negative press may hit your organization and switch your communication efforts to the spin cycle. It can easily hit the best organizations; just consider the disparaging developments at organizations like LiveSTRONG, Central Asia Institute, and Susan G. Komen.  Preparing in advance for these speed bumps, can minimize your risk and save you some pretty big headaches.

This issue was recently brought into focus by a friend who posted the following image on Facebook with the comment: "Wow, I had no idea…"

PETA imageI thought it was pretty incredible and a little shocking, so did my friend, who happens to be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). That's because, while many may consider PETA a bit extreme on some issues, I think everyone agrees they hold the rights of animals first and foremost.  So, my red flag went up on this one and I decided to dig a bit deeper.

The first thing I looked for was a values statement from PETA that might provide some guidance and insight into their organizational foundation. Throughout my search, I learned that PETA has strong and deep-seated position statements that identify their views on just about everything.

"PETA's "Uncompromising Stands on Animal Rights" is an overview of what sets PETA apart. Our positions may be controversial, but they are always true to our driving mission: to stop animal abuse worldwide."

True to form, I found a list of positions on animal rights, including euthanasia:

"Euthanasia is a sad reality caused by people who abandon animals, refuse to sterilize their animals, and patronize pet shops and breeders instead of adopting stray animals or animals from animal shelters." Read the rest of their position here.

So, that pretty much answered my question.  At the ready, PETA had provided a reasoned and pragmatic position on an important and unpleasant issue they have thoughtfully considered and then decidedly presented as their stance on the problem.  Most importantly, their preemptive strike rendered the aforementioned attack pointless and that is exactly the result you want to achieve.

So, let's briefly take a look at some of the important take-a ways on spin; it's a double-edged sword that can work to present a reasonable alternative, but it can also be used to incite and provoke.

 

 

  1. Remember that even the most innocuous statement can get spun in a different direction than intended. We see this every day on the 24 hour news programs, as they digest, regurgitate, and spin every single statement made by politicians and celebrities into something often unrecognizable from the original.
  2. You never know who is going to take a pot-shot at your work. The smart organizations are pro-active in their communications.  They develop comprehensive values statements, stick to them, clearly think through all their positions, and post them front and center.
  3. An active PR campaign with a comprehensive media contingency plan, available at the ready, can save you a great deal of heartburn, especially if they are developed in advance to a potential attack or misunderstanding.
  4. Remember that not everyone's red flag will pop up when they see something that may stray from the truth, popular belief, or reality.

I never found a values statement for PETA, but they probably don't need one, that's because they are true to their values and clear in their vision, which they share widely.  Being true to yourself and confident in your beliefs will take you a long way, just don't let them become your little secret. Make sure you let the rest of the world know.

Bring the Rain

If you saw my last post, a humorous look at starting a movement, (if not, check out the 3 minute video under "Leadership & the Courage to Follow", it's worth your time) you may be thinking a bit about your leadership style. Perhaps you're shifting towards a better understanding of what makes followers (the critical sauce for success), well… follow!  If so, here is the question that is probably uppermost in your mind: "Is there a formula for how leadership develops a strong following?"

The answer is yes!  You can think about this process as you do with most things you build, step by step, layer by layer.  An overarching fundamental is an understanding that is best expressed by Daniel H. Pink in his book: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, "The secret to high performance and satisfaction – at work, at school, and at home – is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world".  So, here are the basics…

  1. Organizations don't have needs… People Have Needs.  Remember to embrace your followers and recognize their needs, desires, and participation. Keep this in the back of your mind as you build your programs and campaigns and you'll find your recruitment and retention efforts to be much more productive.
  2. There is one leadership fundamental that has inspired organizations for thousands of years and it’s the capacity for all involved to envision a desirable picture of the future. Building Shared Vision, illuminated by Peter Senge in his book "The Fifth Discipline", is a vision that is shared by all stakeholders that creates a rallying point, which fires up the base and gets the sauce to simmering. Shared vision is what we hope to accomplish, it's how we see the world, and it's our raison d'etre.  Shaping your vision is critical.  In order to become followers, individuals need to relate and understand; often at a primal level and for that you need to carefully build your case.
  3. Understand the Need: In order to build an effective case for gathering support, you need to develop a thorough understanding of the problem. This shouldn't be based upon a hunch, or a personal opinion.  It takes research into what the community perceives, what already exists in the environment, and an awareness of best practices.
  4. Once you have this knowledge under your belt, the next step is to: Develop an Exciting Plan, which serves to fill the need, or which solves, or alleviates the problem.  But listen closely, because here is a CRITICAL COMPONENT… Your plan needs to be both easy to understand and exciting, so as to build enthusiasm and to acquire and retain interest.
  5. Share Your Victories: Your constituents need to know, but always keep in mind that different audiences will respond to different messages and they respond best when they are moved by powerful stories of how your work affects the lives of those you serve. Remember that a brand is what people think when they hear your name. Message consistency across many touch points and lots of it are the keys to building an effective, accurate brand. A brand that lives on in the mind of donors and constituents must be developed through years of message layering. Creating campaigns designed to inform, motivate, and educate through many touch points, from web, to collateral, to white papers, which build relationships, is essential to success.

Finally, my father often used to say: "You never know unless you ask."  I never connected the dots until it was brought into focus just yesterday, while listening to an interview with former President, Bill Clinton. Essentially, he said: "People are dying to help; they just need to be asked." Click!

The key is to ask in a way that presents the community need, your vision, and your exciting plan in a way that allows each individual to see themselves as part of the solution.  That means providing a rallying point, which includes a compelling and detailed rationale for how they can participate.  You can't simply just talk about generalities.  While a vision: "World peace", or "ending homelessness" is a fundamental goal post, simply talking about your vision without a road map, will not create excitement, or commitment.

Nurture your community with personal details that help them understand and engage and you will see your followers multiply.

Build Your Brand Through Actions!

As a career-long marketing professional, I believe in truth in advertising. That is not to say you can't spin or slant your argument to present a fresh alternative, or provide a different perspective, but you need to back up your claims!

This brings me to the state of customer service, about which I often find myself wondering aloud. Haven't we all found ourselves arguing with many of our service providers?  It seems like the only way to get anywhere is by kicking and screaming and threatening to quit.  Yet, they all claim to have customer service as their number one priority.

We have also of late been inundated with political advertisements; with each candidate pointing out the others flaws, rather than presenting the case of why we should vote for them over their opponent.  In some incidences, they have been downright dishonest, presenting not just half-truths, but what I would characterize as outright lies.

These are not ways to build your ideal brand!

We have all been told that actions speak louder than words, but how often do we market ourselves by words alone?  That's why I promote a holistic approach to your nonprofit marketing activities.  Marketing that takes a holistic approach to promoting your organization is developed by thinking about your organization as a whole, which includes its place in the broader community and society, in the lives of its consumers, and its niche among other service providers.

All your activities should be viewed through the prism of your stakeholders: constituents, consumers, donors, employees, volunteers, and the community at large. Holistic nonprofit marketing takes an active and prominent place at the decision-making table.  It plays an active role in programming; examining and influencing outcomes measurement and community impact, aligning your programs and activities to coincide with your values and your vision. Marketing tactics then glean success from program and work to effectively communicate your accomplishments.

Most importantly, promoting your brand starts from within, so it lives throughout your organization. Top-down commitment and involvement of each person in the organization is fundamental to success. Your brand should become a shared vision.  It needs to live in the hearts and minds of every stakeholder in the organization; it must be embraced and promoted from inside out.

Plant these seeds, nurture them, and watch as your vision becomes reality, and your funding and sustainability grow. Remember, there’s no substitute for simply being remarkable. Work towards excellence in all things you do.  Aspire for greatness and your vision, the brand you imagine will come with ease.

A recent interview with Bob Ottenhoff, CEO of GuideStar produced some pretty folksy, but relevant advice for nonprofits looking to improve their funding position.  His comment was brilliant in its simplicity: "When asking for donations, make sure to answer the following questions:

  1. What do you do?
  2. How do you do it?
  3. How are you doing?

To these, I'd add one more question:  Why do you do this?

It's not always clear why your work is important. "The Need" should be carefully explained, so as to provide a frame of reference to your work and illuminate the uninitiated to the plight of your constituency and the significance of your mission.  Miss this point and you won't grow your audience, or win donors.

Most importantly, by answering these questions, you correctly apply the holistic marketing strategy – Triad of Value:

Triad of Value

  1. UNDERSTAND community need,
  2. DEVELOP & IMPLEMENT effective programming to address the need, and
  3. DEMONSTRATE consumer impact through outcomes measurement.

While this seems brilliant in its simplicity, you would be surprised by how many organizations that miss these important points.  Over the years, I've talked with many program officers who often shake their heads in bewilderment with regard to requests that simply don't add up.  Often it's because they miss these basic elements of building an effective argument for funding.  You need to explain why your programs are important and sing praise to your efficiency and to your success.  This means when possible, to provide numbers that enhance your success stories and that provide relevance to your work.

One last thing, don't forget to extend this messaging to all your collateral materials in order to expand your audience to new individuals.  To ensure your future growth, you need to reach out to a greater and greater audience, you never know when you will encounter a donor sympathetic to your cause.  But, only if they understand and connect emotionally!

Turning the Tables

Thanks to Anna DeBattiste, I read an article with an interesting proposition the other day: "If You Don't Like Your Future, Rewrite Your Past," by Rosabeth Moss Kanter on the Harvard Business Review's blog.  Her premise was simple, "Sometimes strategic change just means taking something from the periphery — an anomaly, a demonstration, a small innovation — and redefining it as central."  It reminded me of something I learned a long time ago… periodically your brand needs not so much an overhaul, as some strategic tweaking.

Often the notion of a re-branding effort falls under the heading of a dramatic change like a new name, logo update, or new business venture, but usually all it takes is a fresh viewpoint; a new way of telling your story. Kanter's article used an excellent example of a first rate re-branding effort by IBM.  Facing a lagging economy and tougher competition for computer hardware sales, they went back to the basics.

Early in my business career I learned that you never just sell features such as: faster, lighter, stronger; instead you sell the benefits of your work, how your products and services effect your customer's lives. That's because unless you're selling a race car, faster is not all that important.

For far too long the computer industry was all about twiddling bits: more memory, faster CPU's, higher throughput, all the basic features that combined add up to an end result.  IBM finally got it and they re-branded themselves as a solutions provider, rather than a computer hardware manufacturer, and that propelled them far into the future. They had been selling software with their hardware for years, so they didn't necessarily change their business model, they simply changed their audience's perspective, and as a result projected real value in their message resulting in increased sales.

This premise extends to the nonprofit community, so take a lesson from the big boys…

Your audience needs to get it.  Fundraising, like selling computerized solutions, is about relationships.  Building this deeper commitment only comes about when your audience completely understands and is emotionally engaged in your mission. Sometimes that means turning your program on its ear, sometimes that means a subtle change.

All too often we lose sight of what it really is that we are selling. Relating to your audience is a continuous process. Over time your message can become muted and when you are too close to that message, it may become difficult for you to see that it's off center. By employing the Triad of Value, and thinking about your marketing activities holistically, you increase the odds that your audience will appreciate your vision.

I would challenge you to randomly check any unfamiliar organization's website and ask yourself the following: what do they do, why is it important, and why should I give them any money?  My guess is you will come to the same conclusion that I often come to… I really don't know.  If you are not careful, this can happen to you.  By periodically revisiting your brand, case for funding, and other marketing efforts you can avoid brand burnout and keep your audience and community emotionally engaged.

Leadership – Check Your Ego at the Door

I've had the opportunity to collaborate with, work for, and advise many nonprofits.  There's a big cultural difference in the dynamics of a nonprofit vs. a for profit business.  It's part of what I really like and it's part of what I really dislike.

There's just something dynamic about a group of diverse minds turning an idea or issue over and over again until it lands right side up.  Real diversity is more than color; it's about background, orientation, and thought process.  When you have real diversity you find more complete solutions and salient outcomes.  But therein lays the rub.  You also find individual egos superimposing themselves upon the decision process.

There's an old fundraising axiom that goes a little like the following: people give because of self-interest.  This extends to all sorts of gifts, including the in-kind gifts of expertise, connections, or other personal resources.  Board members all have an internal set of priorities they bring to the table.

It's important to illuminate that all boards of directors have certain duties to the organizations they serve.  These duties include Care, Loyalty, and Obedience.  Personal ego and the Duty of Loyalty often conflict, because board members and the board as a whole must put the best interests of the organization first.  When personal ego gets involved, people become vested in their own ideas, agendas, and futures and the organization suffers.

If you ask most nonprofit professionals about their board frustrations, you’ll find the prevailing wind blows in the direction of ego.  Many board members come from the corporate world.  It is important for those participants to remember that you can call your own shots when you own the company, but at a nonprofit, only the board acting as a unit can set strategy, direction, and policy.

More nonprofits have fallen apart at the hands of ego, check it at the door.

Framing the Argument

There has been plenty of chatter of late in the nonprofit community regarding the Susan G Komen and Planned Parenthood organizations.  The mistakes of SGK and the success of PP contain greater lessons in understanding the importance of strategy in all your decision-making activities.

Let's first take a look at the loser…

Any way you slice it; defunding PP was an extremely contentious decision for SGK to make.  Let’s not discuss the politics of the decision; they simply lead to a bottomless pit.  But at the very least, let’s agree that it is hard to believe that it was not obvious to everyone involved that this would be perceived negatively by many, many, people.

So, when you can be absolutely certain that your decision will be controversial, the very first point to remember is that how you explain your decision is just as important as why you make your decision.  Your message needs to be extremely clear, concise, and if possible, bounced off a sampling of those who will disagree in order to determine the extent of any possible damage.  It is imperative to look at both sides of the coin and to frame your argument in a manner where the opposition will take the least path of resistance.

In today’s social media fueled environment, you can’t stick your head in the sand and hope that everything will be OK.   And, you can’t assume that a controversial decision will eventually blow over.  And that leads to bad decision #2; in light of this obviously contentious decision, SGK failed to get out in front of the issue with an appropriate communications strategy.  They sat idle while the media storm built to category five hurricane proportions.

The damage they created hurt women on both sides of the issue and SGK may now be facing even closer scrutiny; they may never fully recover from their mistake.

Now the winner…

Planned Parenthood took advantage of this sleeping giant by leveraging social media to properly frame the argument in their favor.  They heard the rumblings of defunding and spent weeks preparing to debunk SGK’s decision.

Their strategy was simple and elegant; first they courted the Associated Press with an exclusive story and then they garnered support through social media presenting their argument by posting: “ALERT: Susan G. Komen caves under anti-choice pressure, ends funding for breast cancer screenings at PP health centers.”

They further leveraged social media by suggesting to interested parties that they donate, sign online petitions, post their PP badge, or tweet about the issue.  The rest was left to mainstream media and roughly 24 hours later they had won the battle.

When faced with tough decisions, developing a dynamic plan to frame your argument in the best possible light is akin to other strategic planning efforts.  You can leverage any decision if you understand the dynamics.  Marketing, branding, PR, and other communications are not for the untrained and best left to professionals who look at the world from the 30,000 foot level.