Tue, August 05 2008

Beware the bumper sticker

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I’m back from vacation!  It was excellent to take a breather.

Hot off the presses, here is my latest Fundraising Success column.  It’s inspired by a car I once blogged about here.  By the way, no offense if you have a hippy car.  In fact, if you DO have one, send me a photo via email and I’ll send you a copy of Robin Hood Marketing:)

Some time ago while driving in my home base of Washington DC, I stopped at a red light next to a Honda Civic of a certain age.  An old age.  The hatchback and bumper were covered top to bottom with bumper stickers.  You know the kind of car I’m talking about.  There’s one in every traffic jam – especially if you live in a college town.  It’s a compact car chockablock with a bewildering array of declarations of belief.  Maybe you even drive one (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

It’s fine to drive such a vehicle, really, but it’s not okay to operate like that in the office.  You see, that car got me thinking.  I can’t get the image of the thing out of my mind.  I think the reason is, that car is a rusting symbol on wheels of so many of the mistakes we make in our sector. 

Too many nonprofits are the equivalent of what I call the hippy car.  Here’s what I mean. 

1. We’ve got a bumper sticker marketing strategy.

As nonprofits, we tend to declare what we believe and think that’s persuasive.  It’s marketing by mission statement, and it’s annoying to others.

Slapping a bumper sticker on a car is a way of declaring your views that is one-way.  You speak out and everyone else is left to listen (and smell your exhaust).  That’s your prerogative as a vehicle owner, but it should not be your style as a marketer.

If you are a very loud preacher for your cause who rarely breaks to listen to your audience - or take in their perspective - you could end up with an audience of one.  Yourself.  We should be passionate, but be in a conversation with potential supporters.  Good marketing is not a stickerfest, nor is it a monologue.  It’s a give and take.

Don’t have a bumper sticker marketing strategy – go for more of a carpool experience.  We should all be on this ride together.

2. We’re getting ourselves written off as hippy dippy or irrelevant.

Tthere’s something about the whole package of that car that lacks credibility for most the drivers idling alongside it.  If we’re passionate about a cause, we may wear it on our sleeve, or on our bumper, with great pride.  Such zeal can be good and bad.  Good, in that passion can be wonderfully persuasive.  Bad, in that too much passion (especially the angry, slightly raving kind) can start to sound coo-coo.

If we push our agenda into people’s faces with this level of subtlety, we’re going to get dismissed as “out there.”  I get a certain feeling when I see cars like this: “Wow, that looks like a nice, well-intentioned person, but hope I don’t run into them at a cocktail party because they’d never stop talking.”

I guarantee that the Ford SUV with the Support our Troops ribbon and the unmarked Accords and Camrys around the hippy car were not converted to a single cause on the car because the message delivery and messenger have that icky polemic feel.  Don’t have a tone that says finger-wag.

3. We’ve got too many stickers.

The driver of the car I saw was apparently one busy dude, because he supports about ten causes, five indie bands and a score of other unidentifiable organizations, secret societies or issues I’m not hip enough to recognize. 

He also somehow found time to brake for squirrels and leprechauns.

Wow.  I wish I had those time management skills.

But seriously, this is a great example of way too many messages.  Remember, people can usually only handle about one message at a time.  And you’ll be lucky if you can consistently get your supporters to attribute one idea or concept to your organization. 

The more messages you heap on to your message delivery vehicles (pun intended), the more you seem like a raving, wide-ranging, unfocused mess.  People will react to your communications the way they would if you’d stuck bumper stickers all over your body – they’d run the other way.  Or cross to the other side of the street. 

In other words, no one is going to stick around (ha) long enough to figure out what on earth you stand for if you declare yourself like this.

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Sun, July 27 2008

Going on vacation!

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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I’m on vacation as of today!  I’ll be back blogging next week.

As I go out the door, I thought I’d share my answers to some questions posed to me by Fundraising Success:

Heroes/role models: “Great journalists like Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevareid, and determined change-makers like Michelle Rhee (chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system).”

Favorite quote: “[Nike’s] ‘Just Do It.’ It’s one of the best-ever marketing slogans and a good life philosophy. I feel that life is too short for complaining, making excuses or dillydallying when there are important ways to make a difference right now.”

Best advice you’ve ever received: “Listen. Try to listen attentively to everyone. It makes all the difference in life, relationships and even marketing.”

How do you see social networking working for nonprofit organizations and their fundraising efforts: “Social networking is simply the phenomenon of people online connecting to others. So think of your social-media strategy not as a tool set, but rather a conduit to living beings who want to engage. If you are in a position to do that as an organization, then it is worth your time to experiment. If you’re not doing that now in your conventional outreach, then think twice. You need a genuine urge and ability to start a conversation with supporters in order to succeed.”

Best advice you can give fundraisers: “Think of the donor’s interests above your needs. It transforms your relationship with your supporters.”

Have a great week!

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Fri, July 25 2008

Benefit exchange week finale: credibility

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Here’s the last of my thoughts, pulled from my book, on benefit exchanges.  Don’t forget: you can’t ask for action without them!

If we make promises about our nonprofit, especially bold ones, we need to support them. We don’t need to quantify every reward or produce scientific evidence for every point we propose. We simply need to show that our benefit exchange is credible.  In other words, we need to ensure that the action we ask for is feasible and the reward we offer is possible.

Facts and figures are one approach to sounding reliable, but the problem is that they are quickly forgotten. Also, a lot of people don’t trust them. We need to make statistics as personal as possible so they will be remembered and believed. The average person won’t recall how many pounds of nitrates run off into a river or the concentration of E. coli in parts per million in an aquifer, but they will remember the poop in the tap water.

A slew of psychological studies have shown that vivid personal stories are incredibly convincing, far more so than quantifiable statistics. I make many decisions about the products I buy, the books I read, and the places I go based on recommendations from people I respect. I think the person who offers the testimonial or stars in the success story we use is as important as the story itself. The right messengers lend great credibility to our claims. We should choose messengers who are known or respected by our audience or their immediate peers. We can also add credibility to our message by convincing our audience it can take action without too much effort and fuss. If an action seems like a big undertaking, that perception will undermine the idea that rewards are attainable. For this reason a lot of private-sector advertising has the word easy in it. It’s also why people love remote controls and drive-through windows. We don’t want to have to work too hard to get what we want.

Another approach is showing our audience members that many people like them are taking the action. Social psychologists and marketing experts talk about the power of “social norms” or “social proof.”  Social proof is the powerful idea that if we believe everyone is acting in a certain way, we’re likely to act that way too. We’re conformists by nature, and we take our cues about how to think and what to do from those around us.

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Fri, July 25 2008

The benefit exchange: Make it value-able!

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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We can’t easily change what our audiences believe, but by plugging into their existing mind-set we unleash great power behind our benefit exchangen—and our message.

The values of our audience may have nothing to do with our cause, but we can still use them. Consider the messages we see every day and the values they represent. Ads for women’s running shoes are all about strength and empowerment. They practically scream, “I am woman!” Pharmaceutical ads during the nightly news show how certain drugs help seniors attain what they want: a happy and independent life. During a televised basketball game, an ad for men’s deodorant shows a woman ripping a man’s clothes off in an elevator. No need for interpretation there. Each of these ads reflects a value the target users of the products care about, think about, and deeply desire. And each is fairly far removed from the product in question. Is self-actualization related to running shoes? Does arthritis medication buy happiness? Are deodorants the first thing that comes to mind when you think about sexual desire? Probably not, but the associations work because the values in question are close to each audience’s heart.

A famous, frequently cited example of the value-based principle at work in social advertising is the successful Don’t Mess with Texas campaign. The phrase has become so famous that many people outside Texas don’t even realize that this is not a state slogan but rather a long-running marketing effort to get people to stop littering. The young Texan men who were the target of the campaign didn’t care about littering, but they did care about their macho image, and no one doubted the fierce pride they had for their home state. By tapping into these powerful feelings with the Don’t Mess with Texas concept, which didn’t have a thing to do with trash, the ad agency that created the campaign (GSD&M) drastically reduced roadside litter.

Remember: Make your message about what your audience’s values, not your own, if you want people to listen.

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Fri, July 25 2008

The benefit exchange: Make it personal!

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Continuing with Benefit Exchange week, keep in mind, you need to make yours personal.

Our audience members need to believe from our message that the reward we’re offering for taking action will make life better for them as individuals. The private sector understands the importance of making rewards personal. They don’t sell you a car by explaining the way the engine is built; they tell you the car is reliable, safe, or fast, depending on who you are and your personal priorities. They take the attributes of their product and translate them into personally desirable benefits.

That translation is easy to make for most products. It’s harder for good causes.

While I was living in Ukraine, the government tax authority launched a campaign to motivate taxpayers to stay honest and continue paying their taxes. The tax authority developed several ads. One was a cartoon illustration of a bee in front of a hive with a slogan celebrating the fruits of a collective contribution to the government. Another was a photograph of a new well and water pump; city residents could fill containers with fresh water from the well. An accompanying slogan thanked taxpayers for making the well and other city improvements possible. In one of my trainings, I placed the ads side by side and asked a roomful of Ukrainians which was more effective given the tax authority’s marketing goals. Not surprisingly, they were unanimous in their judgment that access to fresh water was far more personally relevant, and therefore motivating, than a role in building a metaphorical hive.

This example seems obvious, yet in our communication we often focus more on hives than on wells. We talk about saving the earth, ending poverty, or creating a great society. Every day, we have to remind ourselves that the hive is what we’re building; the well is what our audience needs to see.

At the end of the day, the personal connection, not the grand concept, grabs our attention.

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