Monday, November 29, 2010

Create a relationship with your stakeholders

This won't work
These days, it is more important than ever to keep your stakeholders and clients close to you. There’s more competition than ever for their attention. Other charities have their hand in your donor’s pockets. Other non-profits are asking them to volunteer. Other social service agencies are taking your government funding and the clients that go with them.

The place to start is with how you think. Yes, you. Yes, how you think. Most non-profits I know have a very “retail” point of view when it comes to stakeholders and clients. It is usually transaction-based. Like a turnstile, the clients come and go. You communicate a message, they receive and process it. End of story and on to the next one. The challenge with this point of view is that it is a micro view of the world. A transaction is a good measuring stick for any non-profit, but not in and of itself.

What you need to do is think of your customers and stakeholders in terms of relationships. It is not the individual transactions they have with you that matters. It is the long-term relationship they have with you that counts. So, instead of asking whether they went through the turnstile, the real question is have they been through before and whether you can make them come back.

This may seem like semantics, but it has as real financial edge. There’s an old business rule that says it is easier and more effective to sell an existing customer than a new one. Study after study has proved this to be true. The same applies to your relationship with your stakeholders and clients. The real value is your long-term relationship with them.

And that is why most non-profit communications program fail to deliver results. They are very often transaction-based. A prime example is the quarterly newsletter. It is sent out quarterly usually because of budget concerns – monthly print newsletters are too expensive. But your stakeholders don’t actually think in terms of financial quarters. They think in terms of their own set of values and judgements. And the quarterly print newsletter doesn’t work for them. The reason is that the newsletters rarely connect the pieces of the non-profit’s communications program together. They are stand-alones, that have look and feel of a turnstile.

Now, consider what the relationship theory would do. On frequency, the theory would say that the number of newsletters should be determined by what the relationship needs. Quarterly, monthly, even weekly at times. On content, it would hold that the newsletter needs to promote long-term engagement, and that would mean tying the newsletters together and tying them into the other communications pieces to make a whole product.

And if you think that flexible approach to frequency will bankrupt you (Egads, a weekly print newsletter?), think again. Email newsletters can take up the slack. I recommend a quarterly or even yearly print publication backed up with email newsletters based on the frequency the relationship demands. That means sending emails monthly, or on special occasions, even weekly (like sending a special email to wish them a happy new year on December 31st).

Relationships are where you want to be. It will deliver more value, likely save you money over the long-term and give you greater stakeholder power.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Carrying the Message

Your people in action!
There’s an asset that you have plenty of. I know many of you find that hard to believe, but it is true. There’s a real marketing asset that each of you has. It’s cheap, and might even cost you nothing at all. It’s relatively easy to use. And it’s a source you can trust…well, most of the time. What is it? Your people and their connections.

Every non-profit has people. Staff, volunteers, supporters and donors. And each one of them has their own network of friends, family and people they know. So, why not get all of these people working for your non-profit marketing?

The bottom line is that these people are already communicating about your organization. Your staff go home and tell their spouse what happened at work. The volunteer talks about what’s happening in your organization over tea with their friends. Your donors tell others what they gave to and why. If you’re like most non-profits, you ignore this communications channel. And that means that each staff member, volunteer or donor gets to say whatever they want about you, and they usually do. Just imagine what a hodge podge of messages that creates.

Here’s what you do to turn this into an effective communications channel. First, recognize these people for what they are – community ambassadors. Then treat them that way. Give them info and messages they can use. Tell them you want them to talk about you and spread the word. Teach them how. And make sure they know that you don’t want to turn them into marketing robots who just regurgitate what you tell them to. You just want to make sure that they know what to say when someone asks them.

Second, keep them up to date. When something happens, let them know first. I used to work for a hospital. When bad stuff happened, no one said much of anything to our staff members. But when those staff members got home I’m sure their friends and family asked them all about it. If instead we had informed them first and equipped them with key messages we could have turned some very bad news into something positive.

Finally, reward them for spreading the message. Ask them to speak to others and register who does what speech to which group. Then hand out a reward for the one who does the best or the most.

You’ll find that arming your people with the sword of truth will give your non-profit the ability to slay many dragons.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Measuring BRAND

I just picked up a book on branding. The last chapter was devoted to brand measurement, especially brand ROI. I am a big believer in measurement, so I read this section with some interest. What I found surprised me.

It turns out that there are many ways to measure brand ROI, however, none of them seemed particularly effective. For example, one measurement was calculating all customer sales that were promoted through branding. That sounds pretty effective until you start thinking about it. Aren’t all sales tied to a brand? Perhaps in some mega-companies that operate multi-brands this makes sense, but to the garden variety for-profit or non-profit business who have only one brand this doesn’t make sense.

There were a number of other measurements. The one that seemed to make the most sense was brand recall – asking people if they remembered the brand. However, this is clouded by advertising campaigns. Brand recall will surely go up if there’s been a big advertising push. So, when McDonalds does a brand recall measurement after a more successful TV ad campaign what are they really measuring? Is it “I’m loving it” (their brand) or the ads themselves?

All this leads me to the conclusion that branding measurement only seems to work when you’re a large multi-national with multiple brands. For non-profits, it is still a very hard thing to gauge.

Branding is important. And it should be measured. But instead of trying to measure ROI or recall why don’t you measure fit and organizational understanding. This is what I mean. Ask your clients, supporters or donors whether your brand makes sense to them. Then ask them if they really, truly understand your organization. If they say yes to both (with some probing on the second question), then you know your brand is effective.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is John full of ****?

Got a comment back from one of you:

"John, you sound just like the other gurus you berate here... Aren't you in the marketing communication consulting business and trying to convince someone to work with you as well?"
Good point. For sure, we all see things from our own perspective. So, it's not surprising that we have different opinions. But I do think that marketing suffers from a "flavour of the month" syndrome which hypes up a number of things way beyond their real value. Social media is just the current example. When I worked at an ad agency in the late 90s it was e-commerce. Our agency spearheaded a conference in New Brunswick about e-commerce...just in time to see the dot-com crisis change the landscape. So, yes, I'm a bit cynical of the latest fad.
Social media certainly gives real value. However, I've seen a number of non-profits get into social media mostly because of "fad" issues rather than because of a real strategic reasons. For example, I've met a number of non-profit leaders who say they've been told they need a Facebook page or a Twitter account, but they're not really sure why. That's a problem.
The question you should have asked is whether I am full of shit or not. That's a toughie, but, no, I don't think I am. I do have opinions and I say what I think...sometimes bluntly. I hope that gives you some value in your world. There's only one real way to tell, though. Call, email or "comment" me, and see what I say!
I like comments. Feel free to send them in or call.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Media…with a grain of salt

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again. Take the marketing gurus you hear and see with a grain of salt. If we believed even half of what their predecessors said many years ago then the “dot com” bust would never have happened and we would all have our own personal brands and logos tattooed on our foreheads.

It’s not that they sell snake oil – most of them are well intentioned. No, the problem is that the cutting edge is a difficult place to predict the future from. The bottom line is that they often don’t know what will happen in the future. The other challenge with these gurus is that they often have blinkers on – they see things through a very narrow window. As Jonathan Salem Baskin says in his book Branding only works on cattle, “When you own a hammer all the problem’s look like nails.”

And what’s the latest buzz? Social media, of course. There are thousands of gurus out there right now writing books, offering seminars and making sales call with the words “social media” on their lips. They all want you to invest in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.

Baskin talks about this in his book. He says that when it comes to most social media communities, most aren’t real communities and few have real conversations. There’s a number of reasons for this.

First and foremost is that the entire world isn’t using social media. Yes, many people are, but there are still a very sizable majority who don’t use it at all, or worse, use it sparingly. This is easy to prove. Just ask yourself if you know someone who has a Facebook page but hasn’t checked it in months if not years. Likely, you know plenty.

Second, most social media really doesn’t have much of a purpose, except to the marketing and communications people who control them. They are very often simply posts from the corporate website’s news and events page. In effect, it’s just another web page, just packaged in a different way.

Third, a great deal of the effort that goes into social media from Non-profits and others is not sustainable. You’ve all seen it. Some non-profit puts some time and effort into Facebook or Twitter for a while and then stops because they lack people, resources or time. The story of social media is usually feast or famine.

It’s no wonder then that most non-profit social media is not very effective. The stats on its power are very mixed.

So what should you do? Start by trying to define a social media strategy. Ask what you really want to accomplish. And take a customer-focussed approach. Ask what your supporters and donors want from your social media, not what you want. Then, give it to them.

Cutting the Cord

Another sign today that the mobile world has arrived.

A study by Neilsen shows that one in five Americans has dropped their home landline phone and instead use only cellular service. And it is increasing. Most of the switch seems to be being fueled by young adults who have started new households with just a wireless phone service.

What does that mean for Non-profit marketing? Plenty.

First, phone numbers are more precious than ever -- for you and your donor/supporter. For them, there may a reluctance to give you their number because it is a cell phone (to which some time of day or length or call changes may apply). For you, it is an opportunity. With their cell phone number, you can begin to think about text-based cell marketing opportunities and possibly even wireless donations.

Further, the switch to cell phones can give you an insight into your services. For example, if you begin to notice more and more cell phones in your database, review your website. That's because while most cell phones today can navigate the Internet, most websites aren't geared for mobile users. Make sure they are in synch.

And finally, the switch to cell phones can give you a better insight into your marketing mix. More cell phones means that more electronic channels make sense. Add email and social media and jettison print.

The study can be found here:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mass Collaboration

What are some of the essential strategies for today’s non-profit marketing? You likely know many of them. Using technology. Personalization. Relationship building. Data mining. But there’s one that you probably don’t know. I call it mass collaboration.

All together.
The term is not new. It comes from mass production – the bedrock of industrialization and marketing. Mass production was simple, even elegant in its expression. Make large numbers of very few things for very large numbers of people at competitive prices. Marketing mass production was simple, too. You made a TV or radio ad and put it everywhere. End of story. Back in the 1950s, this worked. Today, it doesn’t. Replacing mass production has come mass personalization. Now, organizations are making things their individual customers want and can change to suit their own personal needs. Marketing has also changed. Now, instead of using a shotgun to send your marketing message, most organizations are trying to find a more narrow group of targets through social media, niche advertising, online ads and more.

But something is missing. Mass production or mass personalization, most non-profits are usually in a position where any kind of marketing is a challenge. The main reason? A lack of resources. They don’t have the cash, the people or the skills to execute even the simplest marketing program. That’s no one’s fault. It’s just a hard reality. This challenge may not be the most important, but it certainly is the most immediate. And overcoming it will be one of the essential strategies for the future.

The key is changing the way non-profits think. As underfunded, understaffed and sometimes unloved as they are, I always find it curious that non-profits are so adverse to seeking partnerships. They are in fact the perfect group for such an endeavour. They are usually community-based. They have some expertise. They need help. What they need is to embrace partnership not only in their service offerings, but also in their marketing.

This is mass collaboration. It starts with the realization that there are others out there who share your goals. They can be other non-profits, governments or businesses. They may be in the same boat as you in terms of resources. But if you pool your talent, time and treasure you will be able to do more than any of you could individually.

How can that help in your marketing? There are plenty of ways to partner. The first is to share resources. How about building a website together to save money? Engage the same web designer, but get them to make two different versions. Likely, that will save you money. How about creating an advertising cooperative? You and your new friends can pool your money and buy ads together to save on costs. A single designer could help, too. Why not even design ads that in fact promote all of the members of the partnership? And, pushing this idea even further, you could hire a communications person or agency that you could share.

On the business side, mass collaboration means more than just sponsorship. It means engaging businesses to help you with things like distribution of your marketing materials and even lending you some of their staff. Instead of just asking for money, why not get your next sponsor to help send an email to their workers, suppliers and customers about your next fundraising event?

So, put on your thinking cap and start thinking of ways to collaborate. That’s the way of the future.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New study finds sheds light on fundraising marketing

The guy on the right is the donor!
A new study released in August has some surprising things to say about fundraising marketing. The study by Russ Reid, a Pasadena, California company that provides direct-marketing services to non-profits, found that one the greatest indicators for giving is whether a donor’s parents were involved in helping non-profits. Parental involvement in non-profits increased the odds of a child becoming a donor by more than 80 percent.

The study also concluded that social media has yet to become a giving medium. While 57 percent of all donors said they used social media, only 6 percent actually gave money that way.

The big “no brainer” for the study was that a charity’s website was the single, most critical marketing vehicle. Most donors went there to get more information, and many of them went to there to give online.

So, where does that leave your non-profit?

First, if parental involvement is a big deal, encourage it. Why not seek out two generation families that give to your charity? Take their picture and put it in your newsletter and on your website for all to see. You could also create giving products aimed at parents and their children.

On the social media scene, the research is mixed. It may not be a place where people give, but it certainly is a place where people have relationships with each other and your organization. So, forget the hard sell on Facebook and instead use it keep donors engaged.

Finally, you need to look at your website for what it is – the centre of all non-profit marketing. It has to be good, easy-to-use, engaging and, most of all, up-to-date. Don’t be tempted to just leave it as it is in hopes that it can stand the test of time. That will be the kiss of death for the thing. Your website is the single greatest investment in marketing you can make. Support it with content and maintenance.