Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Empty Message

Can you have a message without action?
If you look at a lot of non-profit marketing you’d have to say yes. Many non-profit ads have a strong message, but a weak or non-existent call-to-action. Why?

To understand we need to look at how many of these ads are created. For too many non-profits buying an ad is an exercise devoid of deep thought. Many do not have brands to guide them, and many more have brands that aren’t much more than logos and colour schemes. Many also have no communications or marketing plan to give their advertising structure and purpose. I’ve read many communications plans that read more like budgets and less like a blueprint for communicating. So, the ads are often created in a strategic vacuum.

A second factor is that non-profits often turn to others to make their ads because they don’t have in-house marketing resources. These could be designers, big ad agencies or media outlets who produce cookie-cutter style ads by the thousands. This means the ads are often made by outsiders who invest little in doing the homework about the non-profit and its needs.

A final issue are the communications goals of the non-profit. Often these are poorly defined. They may have a goal like “raise our public profile” but not one that approaches anything like “We want people who hear our message to do X.”

One can begin to see how challenging finding a call-to-action can be. However, for-profits also have a challenge here as well. One reason is that finding a call-to-action is hard. Anyone can put up a website URL or phone number and call that a call-to-action. Making something more than that takes precisely the  kind of thinking that non-profits don’t usually do. With new QR code technology this has become more of an issue. Many for profits put something valuable at the end of a QR code, such as special video or a coupon. Non-profits do this to varying degrees, but many times I have seen QR codes simply lead to their website as if their URL wasn’t enough.

There is another bigger issue to think about as well. If a non-profit puts together an ad with a call-to-action, good or bad, do they have the communications infrastructure to exploit the responses?
What’s the point of the call-to-action is it doesn’t actually result in some form of engagement? But you know as well as I that when some people go to a non-profit in response to an ad they are turned off by what they find. They find content that isn’t very compelling and few things that speak to them. Worse, many non-profits spectacularly fail to capture who these new visitors are in order to turn them from strangers into stakeholders. Visitors are not presented with an email newsletter sign-up or any other way for the non-profit to figure out who they are. And so, the visitors come, see a few pages and leave, never to come back.

All of this makes it obvious to me and I hope to you that creating a call-to-action is important, but takes hard work. However, I firmly believe that taking the time to think through the entire process is very valuable. 

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