Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When it comes to ads, the house always wins

Advertising is like gambling. The house always wins. By this I mean that the odds of scoring a big victory with your ads are not particularly good. Don’t get me wrong, ads do work. But times have changed. The world of advertising is more complicated now than it was just a few years ago. Finding success with advertising is harder. This is especially so for non-profits.

Want a bet your ad will be effective?
Look at the forces stacked against you. First, there’s the media, which have been fractured almost beyond all recognition by the Internet revolution. Readership, listenership and viewership at your local media outlets are all down. More people are getting their news, entertainment and lifestyle information elsewhere, chiefly through the Web. Some of the people in your own community don’t read, listen or watch any local media content at all. They get everything from media beaming in from elsewhere. New technology is complicating things. Now, anyone can be in the media business online, further crowding the marketplace. And new technology means that some media are being left behind. It wasn’t too long ago that a number of local TV stations in Ontario weren’t on satellite TV services, or were in a satellite channel packages most people didn’t buy. Satellite TV can have as much as 50% penetration in some Ontario cities. That meant that half the population weren’t getting their own local TV stations at home. When technology changes again, it will likely be going mobile and it will likely be leaving a number of media outlets behind in the process.

If that wasn’t enough there’s the issue of saturation. On average, you and I receive some 3,000 ad messages a day. That’s more than two every minute. Some are very big, like billboards. Some are very small, like the icon on the computer I’m working on right now. Your ad is just one in a sea of ads. And chances are, with all that competition, your humble non-profit ad will not be the one that will rise to the top. Big retailers spend millions to make their ads memorable. Let’s face it, most of the ads that come from non-profits are boring. How can they compete? A fallout from all this is that ads have a very transitory nature. We as consumers have been conditioned to digest ads quickly and move on to the next one. The staying power of any ad seems to be getting smaller.

Finally, there’s cost. Back in the days when mass media was king a single ad was so effective that it didn’t matter what it cost. A TV ad on the right 1960’s show would reach and motivate millions. Don’t believe me? Just ask a boomer to recite their favourite TV ad jingle or slogan from when they were kids. That was then. Today, mass media is dead. Reaching the same number of people is going to cost more because media outlets aren’t as powerful as they once were.

So, when you have to advertise, do some hard thinking. Placing ads is not a problem, it’s choosing where to put them that is the trick. Before you do a knee-jerk reaction and call the media outlet you read or listen to, ask what do your customers read and listen to. Making an ad is not a problem, either, it’s making one that will stand out in a crowd. Before you start creating your ads look at the others that it will likely be competing against – even those which are not in competing marketplaces. Ask yourself, if you were someone else, would you want to read your ads? If the answer is no, then go back to the drawing board. Spending money on ads is not a problem – it’s easy to spend lots of money. Ask yourself what am I buying and how effective will this really be? Odds are that you will have to use multiple ads with multiple media outlets to get noticed. In other words, to get the push you really want, it may be necessary to go big or go home. That’s an expensive proposition for any non-profit, but it’s better than spending money on a continuing basis for a few ads that no one will ever see.

Advertising is a powerful tool. And it can work wonders. The trick is to do your homework before you call the ad salesperson.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Face time on Facebook?

Just a short Blog from me before I leave for a week to take my daughter to the Ontario Summer Games. This one is on Facebook.

I once worked for a large public institution in a communications management role. Facebook was still relatively new (at least to me), but I knew it was a place I had to take our communications program. So, after a weekend thinking about it, I went to Facebook early one Monday morning at work and tried to start our corporate Facebook page.

I couldn't even get to Facebook. The IT guys at my institution had blocked it and all other social media. It all came under their "you can only use the institution's computers for work purposes" policy. Facebook access was taboo.

Undaunted, I called IT and explained what I was doing. I asked what it would take for me to get access to Facebook. It turns out I had to write a letter to the head of IT asking for permission to get on Facebook. The whole process took a week.

I finally got on and started working on the page only to find out that several links and buttons on the page didn't work. I called IT again and they told me that likely these were being blocked because they led to other social media sites that were taboo or because they led to different URLs within Facebook that I hadn't asked permission to visit.

I struggled back and forth with this for a while. For example, I could start a page, but I couldn't upload any images. After a while, I decided to make Facebook a low priority. I just didn't have time to work through all the glitches.

Social media shouldn't be this hard.

If you really want your non-profit to succeed at social media you need to embrace social media as an organization. If you can't Facebook, Tweet or do anything else at work, then your social media program is bound to fail.

Social media is like email or the photocopier once was. Business used to worry that employees would be doing personal stuff, like sending emails or making copies, at work. While it's still an issue, it isn't the problem that some thought it would be.

The bottom line is that the more your people use social media the more value it will give to your organization. Encourage them to Facebook and Tweet. Set some limits, but get them all online. Then when it comes time to create your social media program you'll be ready for  it, and your employees will be eager to help.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My corporate Facebook page sucks less than yours

The one question I get all the time is about social media. Everyone asks the same things. Do I need a Facebook page? Should I Tweet? What should I do about Social Media? 

Check out Sidthetalkingpig at Facebook
I tell people that I have answers, but they are asking the wrong questions.

Social Media is one of those really cool things that everybody thinks is an answer in itself to the challenges of non-profit communications. The reasoning is simple. Everyone is doing this stuff, so should we. And it does sound really cool to say that you Facebook and Tweet, just as it sounded really cool when your organization got its first web page or first email newsletter. But the reality is somewhat different.

Too many non-profits get into social media because it is a fad. They don’t understand the strategy required or the new opportunities to communicate it creates. Like a kid in a candy store, they just want it. Needless to say, many of these Facebook pages and Tweets aren’t very good. They’re boring. They lack vision. They don’t get updated very often. They have about as much in the way of social media power as a piece of furniture.

In my time, I have been guilty of all this and more. But I’ve grown up and so has social media. The way forward is clear to me. It starts with the real question, “What can we communicate through social media and what value will it give our organization?”

Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?There’s a book I’d recommend called Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin. In it he argues that the what social media requires us to actually rethink the way our organizations do business.

“Most of the time, despite the hype, organizations fail when they try to use this scattered approach. Organizations don’t fail because the Web and the New Marketing don’t work. They fail because the Web and New Marketing work only when applied to the right organization. New Media makes a promise to the consumer. If that organization is unable to keep that promise, then it fails,” Godin writes.

You want to know about Facebook and Twitter? Start with the strategy. What do you want to say and how is social media going to say it. Then figure out whether you can truly make a commitment to it. If you are just jumping on a bandwagon because others are, wait. Do social media right or don’t do it at all.

By the way, I don't actually have a corproate Facebook page. I do have a Linkedin group called Canadian Non-Profit Marketing. Go there and join the discussion.!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The two words that can change your donors’ brains

We all know why donor recognition is important. People who are honoured in even a small way are more likely to give again. That’s why most charities offer donor recognition programs, such as giving membership circles, listing the names of donors and such. Most of this activity is usually focused on the larger donors. The small meat and potatoes donors usually get a modest thank you card or letter followed by a subscription to the charity’s newsletter and a free space in the “They gave once, they may give again” section of the charity’s database.

It’s widely believed donor recognition works along the lines of positive reinforcement, but that may not be true. Think about it. What makes a powerful reinforcer? The science of reinforcement, pioneered by Pavlov and Skinner, was drilled into my head during my psychology degree at UofT, so the answer comes easily to me. Usually, it is a reward of significant value to the donor. For Skinner’s test animals, the reward was food. It also has to be timely to be effective. For example, a dog must be rewarded with a treat immediately after doing a new trick. And it has to be very much behaviour-based – they complete an action, then they get a prize.

In reality, most of the donor recognition programs at Canadian charities don’t have many of the qualities of positive reinforcement. Their rewards, which for most donors usually amount to a few words on a piece of paper, don’t really have much value. They are also very often badly timed. They are sent out days, if not weeks later after the event. It is only recently, that things like automated online giving has begun to change this. And not all of these rewards are in fact behaviour based. There are many reasons for making a donation which really don’t amount to a conscious decision to support the charity. In things like third party giving, often loyalty to the person asking for the gift or the activity at which the donation is generated is the reason behind it all.

So what is it that makes donor recognition work? The answer might be found in the science of the mind, specifically how memories are created, stored and recalled in our brains.

Our brains are not DVDs. They do not record memories like a movie and then recall them flawlessly every time (and there are no special features!). Thinking is in fact a complex mix of both thought and emotion, and most often it is unconscious. According to “How Consumers Think” by Gerald Zaltman, things like cues, goals and imagination plays a big part in the reconstruction of memories. Therefore, it is possible to influence how a memory is recalled. Zaltman says what consumers recall and what their actual experience was will differ if marketers can refer to those past experiences in positive ways. This is called Backwards Framing.

For example, Zaltman talks about a study which exposed consumers to ads after they had purchased a product and it effected their memories of their purchase. Every new encounter alters a donor’s recall of the prior experience. Every donor interaction is an opportunity to positively “change” how and why the donor made the gift in the first place. Donor recognition may work because it positively changes the recall of the memory of that gift. In other words, people may think more positively about their initial gift after being thanked for making it.

This opens several doors to understanding donor recognition. First, it means that you can’t thank donors enough for their gifts. And you can’t say enough positive things about their generosity. Far from it, it might be that a key to keeping donor loyalty is to go out of your way to thank them. On the flip side, it also means that every interaction a donor has after their gift will have a major impact on their giving. A customer service problem with a tax receipt may wind up negatively changing the way the donor thought about their gift in the first place. That’s something that won’t easily be undone.

The bottom line is that there’s no better message to your donors than saying “Thank you.”