Before you say “wait a minute, step on the brakes, this doesn’t apply to me,” let me tell you – yes, nonprofits, you are a brand. Whether you realize it or not, you’re competing today for a consumer’s fleeting attention, volunteer time, and donation dollars. While being a nonprofit with a commitment to serving a higher social purpose does afford you a certain level of inherent goodwill with your audiences, you still have to compete against other nonprofits – some in the same categories as you and others that serve totally different needs.
Today we’re operating in a changing environment: The internet and democratization of technology have made our world flatter, resulting in a more dialogic conversation directly between consumers and brands. At the same time, millennials who have grown up with this technology expect a different relationship with the companies, or nonprofits, they choose to do business with. Consumers create brands today – they are the masters of the brand universe. Brands that realize this and embrace it will gain greater affinity than those that still try to build themselves from the inside out.
In my experience in consumer and business-to-business marketing and communications, I’ve learned there are five steps brands should take to cut through the clutter and engage their audiences.
1. Build A Brand That Gets People Talking
To do this, you have to first figure out what you stand for. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. You know the saying – if you do, then you’ll be nothing to no one. Define your values, your point of view, and your attitude. Then find the audiences who identify with who you are. To do this, you have to be comfortable saying, “If you don’t believe this, that’s ok, maybe we’re not right for you.” A recent example is CVS Health, which took a bold stance when it removed tobacco products from its shelves. This move reinforced its core values. This is also where the fundamentals of marketing come into play – the science and art part. Use data to help you target and learn more about your audience and make the creative powerful so that it resonates on an emotional level.
2. Create Experiences That Are Disruptive and Shareable
Across our marketing campaigns, we try to create experiences that are lively, unexpected, and bold. We want people to say, “I didn’t expect them to do that, but I’m glad they did.” In this creative, Mint Vinetu Bookstore transformed people into book characters in a really interesting way. We’ve taken the same tact with videos showcasing our products: for this business-focused laptop, instead of highlighting the features in an expected way, we took a different approach where we demonstrated its ruggedness as Razhel adds some beatboxing to the mix.
3. Build Interesting Partnerships
1 +1 = 2. It’s a simple message – two partners are more powerful than one. Align yourself with interesting people and partners who can help amplify your message and help you tap into new audiences. You may also want to think about unexpected partnerships not in your industry or typical circles that help you bring new value to your audiences. For example, Uber and American Airlines recognized the need from the same customers for their complementary services: round-trip transportation from home to airport and from airport to travel destination. Partnerships can be large-scale for services with other companies (or nonprofits), or they can be small-scale with influencers.
4. Use Data and Tools Wisely
While some tools may be out of financial reach, there are plenty of free and inexpensive tools that can help you understand your audiences better – don’t ignore data, you need the science part of marketing too to help you define, target, and get your audiences to act. From surveying stakeholders throughout their relationship with your organization to customer relationship management (CRM) tools to track your interactions to crowdsourcing anything from ideas to videos, you have more access today to powerful insights than ever before. Use them, but don’t get so caught up in the numbers that you forget the creative human elements. Remember, it’s the balancing the science and the art in marketing.
5. Do Fewer Things, And Make The Ones You Do Count
And finally, don’t take on too much. Resist the temptation to produce ten stories because they’re all so amazing, and focus on the one or two that really make the most difference. If you can’t decide, let your audience help you – gather the data. Once you’ve whittled down your list of potential creative ideas, make sure you’re taking a 360° approach in content creation, optimizing your campaign(s) across all your channels in the form that makes sense for each one. Now you’re being more focused and efficient, making your message clear and concise to appeal to the consumers you’re competing for today.
– Kristy Fair, Global PR and Marketing Communications Senior Manager at Lenovo Global Communications