Sat, November 04 2006

The sound of the genuine

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

We all know it when we hear it—the sound of the genuine.  We hear it less and less these days, because marketing, politics and interpersonal communication often lacks honesty and authenticity.  Stephen Colbert captured the erosion of genuine with the word “truthiness.”  Here’s what he says in a new Rolling Stone interview by Maureen Dowd:

“I’m not a fan of facts,’’ he boasts. “Facts can change all the time, but my opinion will never change.” Truthiness, a word he made up just before going on air, has been hailed by New York magazine as “the summarizing concept of our age.”

Yep, it’s house of mirrors out there.  I only feel worse after spending an afternoon at SeaWorld with my children. A lovely day and a great park, really, until we saw the Shamu show, which was themed “believe” with 20 minutes of video and speeches by the trainers filled with vapid platitudes about believing in anything/everything and an Anheuser-Busch salute to troops which had way too much beer logo to be authentic.  My seven-year-old saw right through it in five minutes.  She actually was laughing by the end.  I could hardly glimpse Shamu amid all the truthiness.

Fortunately, I spent the morning here in Orlando leading a session at the Multiple Sclerosis Society national meeting and the honest, transparent and effective marketers there made me so inspired that even the saccharine-coated insincerity at the Shamu show couldn’t undo my faith in authenticity.

This is one place where we can and should claim our superiority as marketers: being genuine about our genuinely good causes.

I will leave my last thoughts on the topic to Diva Marketer Toby Bloomberg, who hit the nail on the head with her blog post this week:

Authenticity is difficult to mask… Meeting-up offline is one more reason for bloggers to stay true to the Blog Mantra of Honesty, Transparency, Authenticity and of course Passion. Honesty, Transparency, Authenticity are the building blocks of establishing trust. Sure is difficult to do business without it - online or off.



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Wed, November 01 2006

Is marketing slimy?

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Q: Is it slimy to apply marketing to nonprofits?

A: Heck no!

1. Marketing is a tool.  Tools aren’t good or evil.  They are morally neutral methods that can be used for noble reasons or not.  Marketing a good cause is a noble endeavor.

2. As people with a cause, we’re in the business of persuasion.  Marketing is a way to be more convincing so that we’re better at persuading people to buckle up, donate, sign a petition, eat healthily, etc.  Marketing isn’t “manipulation,” it’s a way of doing what we already do, better. 

3. Marketing is respectful.  Refusing to take into account the audience’s perspective and talking to people as if you’re hollering into a mission megaphone is not respectful.  Asking people what they care about and then relating our cause to their values is respectful.  Good marketing is a conversation, and that’s much less slimy than a soliloquy.

4. Marketing is efficient.  What is immoral is slimy is not doing good marketing and wasting precious taxpayer or donor dollars on dealing with social issues ineffectively.

But, as I say in the book, there is a line.

We have to be true to ourselves.  Marketing allows us to meet our audiences where they are, physically and mentally, but it does not require us to lose our own way.  We should stay true to our mission, represent ourselves honestly, and promise only what we can deliver.  In that way, we gain a competitive advantage over all the other folks using marketing for more nefarious ends.

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Wed, November 01 2006

Help!  I have no marketing budget!

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Picking up the topic from my last post, the second most common question I receive is:

Q: Is marketing really possible with practically no marketing budget?

A: Yes, if you do it right.

A lack of funds should force us to be creative, not to complain.  Most of us are never going to have fat marketing budgets.  But we don’t need a glossy brochure to succeed.  Don’t believe me?  Then I will tell you my favorite story—the chicken story.  I tell this at all my workshops, and I’ve mentioned it on my Amazon blog.

A few months back, a creative leader at a small nonprofit told me he wanted to get heavy coverage in the press and on TV, start an online donation program and just generally make a big marketing splash with almost no money.  His name was David Levinger, and his organization was Feet First in Seattle, a local group advocating for a more livable, walkable community.  A classic nonprofit mission: worthwhile, ambitious and very hard to talk about in catchy, relevant terms.  Until David started talking about chickens.  “It’s like we’re in this town where the chicken can’t cross the road,” he said.  In fact, that simile was so apt that he’d bought a chicken suit.  For about $125, if I recall correctly.  That chicken then went around Seattle trying to cross the road. 

Guess what happened.  Coverage.  In all media. Talk about photogenic. 

I loved the story and told David a chicken suit was the best non-brochure I could imagine.  But it got better with a few brainstorms - plastic eggs with a chick and message inside asking for donations.  A Network for Good recurring giving program where you “click the chicken.”

The moral(s) of the story?  If you are dangling by a marketing shoestring - or even if you have a healthy budget, remember:

1. When everyone is doing wristbands, brochures or whatever, don’t try to compete.  You don’t have enough money to stand out in a herd.  Do something entirely different, far away from the herd.  Chicken eggs are different.

2. Make yourself a story that gets covered instead of buying ads.  Chicken + rush hour = visual story for media.

3. Invest your marketing energy in “open-minded moments” when your audience is most likely to be thinking of your issue—like when they are about to cross the road and can’t.

4. Get a recurring online giving program going and give people a compelling reason to participate.  Regular, automatic gifts mean you don’t have to spend money asking those donors for money over and over. All you have to do is thank them.

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Mon, October 30 2006

Help!  My boss hates marketing!

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

No, not my boss.  Thankfully he agrees with me that marketing is one of the most powerful tools for nonprofits, as well as the center of the universe.  Right, Bill?

Actually, “Help!  My boss hates marketing!” is one of the most common comments I get from people who speak to me after my presentations, and today will be no exception.  I’m in Kansas City presenting at the Midwest Philanthropy Conference.  Since you’re not here with me, I thought I’d share my response.  In fact, this week, I’m going to devote my blog to the most common questions I receive, and I’ll share my answers. 

Let’s launch into today’s topic.

Q: How do I get my boss to value marketing?  (or why won’t she let me do marketing, hates marketing, won’t fund marketing, won’t listen to me, doesn’t appreciate me, etc.)

A: You don’t.  Instead, you do the following six things.

1. Don’t call it marketing.  Call it something else.

I typically ask people what they are saying to their recalcitrant boss, and the answer is instructive: “I tell my boss why marketing is important and why he should care about it.  I tell him we absolutely must do X, Y and Z because marketing is so valuable.”  What’s interesting about this approach is that it’s basically a sermon on why our boss should value marketing.  That is not walking our talk as marketers!  We should be asking our bosses what THEY care about rather than informing them that they should care about marketing. 

2.  Show how your “initiative” (which is really marketing) meets their agenda.

Don’t position your agenda as a marketing campaign; frame it as your initiative to support your boss’s goals, in your boss’s language.  Show how you are going to help make that fundraising goal, audience behavior change or front-page newspaper story happen.

3.  Make it about the audience.

A good way to depersonalize different visions for “marketing” is to make it about your audience’s preferences rather than a philosophical tug of war between you and said boss.  A little audience research is great fodder for advancing your agenda.  For example, “Mr. Board Member, I loved your suggestion to put a quote in Greek on the cover of our brochure!  I even created a draft of it and showed it to a group of our donors.  Can you believe, they didn’t get it?  For this piece, we’re going to take their suggestion about what they understood and prompted them to give.”

4. Report every wee step of progress.

Every single time anything good happens, be sure the boss knows it.  Identify some early, likely wins toward your boss’s goals and report victories. 

5. Give your boss credit and put him or her in the spotlight.

When good things happen, give credit to your boss.  Create a dashboard that shows progress against your boss’s goals and let your boss show that progress to the board.  Your boss will like you for it.  If you pitched your organization’s story in a completely new, marketing-savvy way to reporters and that yielded your boss’s photo in the paper, all the better.

6. Seek forgiveness, not permission.

If all else fails, just do what you want to do anyway, quietly, and tell your boss about it when something good happens.  People don’t get fired often in this sector anyway.

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Sun, October 29 2006

My life as a failure

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Personal •

I was so inspired by Mark Rovner‘s encouraging response to my last post that I thought I’d admit more failure.  I hate to fail, but through the cozy, comfortable viewpoint of hindsight, I can say that my failures are among the great moments in my life because they make me stretch. 

My first public speaking experience was horrific—a stammering recitation of written notes.  And I was supposed to be a moderator on a panel!  Now I think I’m a good speaker, but only because I was driven to improve by a serious fear of repeating that humiliation. 

When I wrote my book, I had to admit failure halfway through.  I realized on page 140 that the book was only starting to work and threw out everything I’d written up to then.  I finished the book, then went back and rewrote the first half.  Though I nearly went mad over the process, the book and I were better for it.

My favorite jobs are those when I feel scared at the sheer immensity of the tasks before me about 49% of the time.  I hate that discomfort, but it makes me creative, productive and excited by my work.

On NPR’s This I Believe, columnist Jon Carroll recently said:

Failure is how we learn. I have been told of an African phrase describing a good cook as “she who has broken many pots.” If you’ve spent enough time in the kitchen to have broken a lot of pots, probably you know a fair amount about cooking. I once had a late dinner with a group of chefs, and they spent time comparing knife wounds and burn scars. They knew how much credibility their failures gave them.

I have more scars than I can count.

Failure is a big part of marketing.  Most campaigns fail.  Most messages start a bit off target.  Most appeals for dollars don’t rake in cash.  That’s okay, as long as we look at them as broken pots and tweak our recipes.  Admit the dish tasted bad and go find your missing ingredients.  I’m certainly still on a quest for them myself.

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