Mon, October 23 2006

Natural history

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Personal •

This morning my daughters announced they wanted to go to the Natural History museum.  They seized on the idea of spending an afternoon in the insect room, and I agreed that sounded like a good plan.  So we began the hour-long process of getting dressed, combing snarls from my seven-year-old’s waist-length hair, eating a post-breakfast snack, cleaning up the post-breakfast snack, packing more snacks (because my three-year-old views any outing as requiring Edmund Hillary-level preparation), fighting over the toothpaste, brushing teeth, finding lost shoes, putting on shoes, choosing jackets… and then my three-year-old plunged prostrate to the floor and announced she needed a nap.  So we decided to delay lift-off.  Two hours later, once she woke up, we started the whole preparation process again, and one hour after that, we were buckled in the car, heading downtown. 

We had to stop at Blockbuster and RiteAid on the way, and each time the car stubbornly resisted moving from Park to Drive, which I chose to ignore.  Then it started acting like my three-year-old had in the morning - dramatically exhausted.  And right between the Hirshorn and the National Archives on 7th Street, smack-dab in the middle of the National Mall in the center of a four-lane road, the car decided it needed a nap.  It died completely.

Thanks to excellent Geico customer service, a tow truck was dispatched right away.  “Closest landmark?” the customer representative asked.  “The National Monument and the US Capitol,” I got to say.)  In the meantime three separate people pulled over and volunteered to help.  One tried to jump-start the slumbering Honda.  One offered to push it off the road.  And one, an off-duty city worker in a highway construction truck, parked behind me with a giant lit arrow in the back of his vehicle, directing traffic away from my lane.  While waiting for the tow truck, the kids and I decided to ride a carousel on the mall and to visit the Hirshorn sculpture garden, which were both next to the scene.  Culturally fulfilled, we returned to the car and the tow truck arrived right after.  The driver told me he’d drop the car off at the Honda dealership and do the paperwork for me so they’d start work on it in the morning.  Wow.

We never made it to the Natural History museum, and we never saw the insects.  But it was a beautiful fall day, and we experienced a great deal of human kindness.  I like to think that was a better education for the girls than the Madagascar hissing cockroach.  Unfortunately, in a city, it is absolutely extraordinary to experience that much civility and kindness in an hour, and I’m glad my girls got to witness it.

It must be the week for kindness, because a Linksys representative on live chat was also extraordinary on Thursday night went my wireless went down.  When our chat got disconnected, I re-entered the system and a second representative actually successfully hunted down the original representative for me.  Turns out this helper is a real hottie, because my rep thanked me profusely for giving her a reason to interact with him.  It was quite the customer service experience, because it was so human.  Today was so human too.

Being human does amazing things for you, in life, in business, as a charity.  Consider doing these three human things and see if it makes you extraordinary:

1)  Human customer care:  Have senior staff send a personal email or make a phone call when one of your supporters is upset or unhappy or especially generous.  People are absolutely stunned when a Vice President or President or Director takes the time to personally say thanks, or that they are sorry for a problem and sincerely ask how they can fix it.  In a world of robot phone systems, a non-templated, sincere response sets an organization apart in the best way.  When my Linksys representative talked to me like a real person rather than a problem to be dispensed with, she won me over.

2)  Human help:  Network for Good Chairman Scott Case rightfully said we put a personal email address or phone number online, in clear view (not hidden behind hundreds of web pages), for when people need help.  We’re going to implement this with a holiday campaign for people who can’t find the charity they are seeking to find in our system.  Not only do people appreciate it, it’s a valuable source of feedback and audience data for the organization.  Keep comments open on your blog.  You’ll be far more respected if you let people speak out and engage them in conversation than if you try to control all communication.  Look what happens when you don’t let people talk to you.  Don’t afraid to admit your flaws; acknowledge them and say how you’re addressing them.  People love when you take responsibility!

3) Human faces:  Don’t just talk about the number of people you help or the dollars you need, talk about the amazing, honest, human stories behind your programs.  That means the stories of both beneficiaries and staff of your organization.  Supporters and constituents want to know the real people they are reaching.  Think this is obvious?  It may be, but it is neglected all the time.  If you are a membership organization, or an organization that helps other organizations, you can still do this.  Tell the stories of the people that were helped as a result of the programs or partnerships you have.  Don’t talk as much about the journey to social change (workshops and partnerships aren’t that interesting except to ourselves), as much you talk about the destination.  It’s about who is at the finish line.

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Sun, October 22 2006

The art of easy & the ugliest web site ever

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Websites and web usability •

My three-year-old daughter wanted me to watch Scooby Doo with her this morning, which I did while reading the paper.  And fortunately I was paying more attention to the paper than to the maddeningly redundant show (the Groundhog Day of cartoons), because I came across a series of articles in the Washington Post ballyhooing the five-year anniversary of the iPodThis article chronicled the conversion of a Mac skeptic to an iPod addict.  The reason?  The convert says:

“My conversion to iPod is like a proverb: You can’t criticize something for being ‘too easy’... It’s not because I can’t figure out computers—it’s just easier.”

The coverage also featured people frustrated by iTunes’ incompatibility issues and iPod’s reported lack of durability, but even the skeptics all grudgingly admired the simplicity of the iPod.  No wonder it sells so well.  The same could be said for Scooby Doo - the redundancy (and simplicity) is part of its decades-long appeal. I watched it when I was three, and so does my daughter many years later.

Everyone cites iPod ad nauseum as the gold standard of easy, so my point here is about as original as a Scooby Doo plot.  I’ll spare you another oft-cited example: Staples’ Easy Button.  The point for do-gooders is we need to make it very easy for people to interact with us and take action.  Are we in the iPod/Staples class of elegant simplicity for our supporters, or do they have to work to find our Donate Now button on our home page or expend a lot of mental energy to grasp the call to action in our year-end appeal?

Make a pledge this week to make something about your marketing easier.  Way easier.  Not like this.  Like this (only I’d make that “join” button bigger).

 

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Fri, October 20 2006

Steal, steal, steal that corporate savvy

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Since I covered death and condoms in my first day’s posts, I’m sure it will be all downhill from here.  Fortunately, there is always stealing—stealing corporate savvy, to be exact. 

Here is what the great corporate minds of America know: If you speak to an audience’s values (not your own), that audience will listen.  Savvy nonprofit marketers take that approach.  The oft-cited Don’t Mess With Texas is an anti-littering campaign that became an unofficial state motto by tapping into the macho and fiercely prideful ethos of the young men who had a tendency to toss their trash out of their truck windows.  It’s as if the campaign had stolen the approach here and said, “Hey, if that works for Guns and Ammo, let’s make it work for us!”  And they would be right on.  “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” would never work in the Lone Star state.

Identify your target audience and then check out all the advertisers trying to influence that audience.  (A brilliant trick I stole from Kristen Grimm!)  The best companies behind those ads spent a lot of money on research to figure out what makes their audience tick, and their ads speak to the audience values they uncovered.  So take those ads - from websites, magazines and TV (make notes) and plaster them on your office wall.  What are they speaking to?  How can you tie your cause to that sensibility?  If you make that connection, you just stole a lot of very valuable intelligence.

My favorite web site these days is www.care.org, because CARE has the Nike ethos nailed. 

Ads are like one big focus group out there for you to comandeer.  Just do it.

Photo from LisFace, Flickr, and screen shot of www.care.org.

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Wed, October 18 2006

The arresting opening

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

The first line of my first blog entry is about dancing corpses.  The first line of Robin Hood Marketing is about an encounter with a giant condom.  And the first line of one of my favorite books is,

“It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

  I adore Anthony Burgess.  In his work Earthly Powers, he writes a few lines later,

“I retired twelve years ago from the profession of novelist.  Nevertheless you will be constrained to consider, if you know my work at all and take the trouble now to reread that first sentence, that I have lost none of my old cunning in the contrivance of what is known as an arresting opening.  But there is nothing of contrivance about it.  Actuality sometimes plays into the hands of art.”

If we are committed to a cause, we are fortunate, because we possess intriguing actuality in the form of our compelling work.  This actuality can play into the hands of art, if we master the arresting opening.  We simply must.  We need to grab people’s hearts and minds fast, because when we seek to get attention, people will give us a glance at most.  We have just a few words in a poster, brochure, blog or email appeal to get that glance and keep that gaze with an arresting opening.  Do me a favor.  Go look at the first line (and ONLY the first line) of everything you’re using to raise money or change people’s behavior.  Does it seize you by the synapses and leave you longing for more?  If it doesn’t, read on - perhaps you’ve buried your lead, as journalists say.  Find the sentence somewhere that will arrest your audience, and put it at the top.  If you don’t have one, make one.  Write that first line as if you were Scheherezade, and your life depended on it.  Then see what happens to those messages and click throughs—they may just earn a lasting stare.

 

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Tue, October 17 2006

Dancing corpses and the art of impatience

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Personal •

When I lived in Madagascar, people would open the tombs of their dead relatives each winter, pull out the cloth-wrapped corpses of their loved ones and dance with them held aloft.  Truly.  They would party all night with their withered dead, catching the spirits up on family gossip and then wrapping the remains in new cloth before placing them back in the tomb.

The death-dancing season, which was in August (winter in the Southern Hemisphere), meant sleepless nights.  My house had many tombs nearby, and the raucous all-night parties featured the binge drinking and blaring music that you’d expect from any serious throw-down.  One night, lying in bed and listening to the festivities, I contemplated my own mortality.  (Actually, I tend to do this a lot, even when I’m not around tombs.)  I thought of how life is so very short, especially when you don’t believe your spirit will be partying with the living at your tomb after you’re laid to rest. 

I tell this story in my first post because even if you don’t live in Madagascar, I believe we should keep reminding ourselves of our own mortality and that we as do-gooders should become profoundly impatient.  Impatient to accomplish something good.  Impatient with petty things that get in the way of what is important.  Impatient to move people and make a difference. 

This blog will be about inspired impatience.  It’s about making things happen quickly by stealing corporate savvy, swapping inspired ideas and sharing the kind of thinking that gets the attention of our audience and advances our mission today.  Tomorrow we may be one more dancing corpse. 

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