– Cheryl Snapp Conner
There’s a particular challenge in the marketing of social responsibility causes. By their very nature, these programs are founded on principles of doing good. But the altruistic core of these projects is dangerously seductive: How could an idea fail when it is so badly needed, and when the motives for proceeding are so important and pure?
So there we have it. Thousands of nonprofits are abounding to advance hundreds of worthy ideas. But only some of these causes take fire and move people to action, while many others achieve only marginal progress or fade away entirely.
What makes the difference? Why do some ideas and practices spread while others simply die on the vine? There are any number of reasons a foundation may succeed or fail but, where marketing is concerned, here are a few of the primary secrets that destine a campaign or an idea to success or failure.
What’s your motivation? When I speak with the heads of social responsibility programs, it’s fairly easy to identify the full motives behind a campaign. In many cases, the program is well-researched and well-founded, such as working with veterans to address the issues of PTSD. But in other cases, it’s quickly apparent that the reasons for moving forward with an idea have more to do with the founder than the needs of the community to be served. “I used to be homeless. Now I want to travel and speak about my story to others. The people who hear me should be inspired. So I need to find sponsors.” Or “I had cancer and, when I lost my hair, a photographer chronicled that part of my history. The photos became part of an exhibit and became very important to me. So I want to publish them broadly to find sponsors and to create a team of photographers of my choosing who will now provide that experience under my direction to others.”
If the deepest motivations for proceeding with the campaign are about you, the idea will be compelling to you and to your close friends, but will be less than ideal as a way to gain traction beyond your immediate circle of friends. Test your idea carefully for size of audience and immediate applicability, and determine the amount of real impact you could make before you bring your campaign out to the world.
Have you identified the right targets? For example, an innovator named Oz Schaefer has identified a technology that can accurately and objectively identify the symptoms of concussions. But how and where would be the best way to bring this technology forward? Going to professional or college sports would require breaking through the barrier of all other programs in place, even though his own is much more effective. But what about parents and children? And, particularly, what about the parents of children who aren’t involved in competitive sports? By demonstrating the data on concussions that children experience by just being kids, and particularly the consequences of having these undetected concussions, he had now identified a vast and motivated audience for his solution: parents, youth leaders and pediatricians. Now the idea could rise above the noise to succeed or, better still, expand the attention around sports concussions into an even bigger and more important arena. His corporation, Brains Worldwide, and foundation, the Brains Worldwide Foundation, are both going strong.
In another case with a less ideal ending, Starbucks launched its #RaceTogether campaign in early 2015, printing a #RaceTogether message on its cups to encourage discussions about race and diversity – except Starbucks employees were not trained or prepared to facilitate these kinds of conversations successfully, and the agenda didn’t ring true for customers. The campaign quickly backfired as a blatant effort by a corporation to cash in on a diversity trend. Not only did the campaign fail, it created anger among the company’s customers.
One of the world’s most successful crowdfunders, documentary filmmaker Jeff Hays, makes the effort to identify a large group of aligned and motivated supporters before he begins a project. For example, parents aligned around immunizations, or a community of people who fight diabetes will be natural proponents of his documentaries and programs on those topics. By determining who they are in advance and compiling a strong list, he can ensure robust momentum from the moment his projects begin. He’s achieved six consecutive winning campaigns so far that have raised $1.5 million to address his causes.
How clear is your message? Will the value proposition be clear to your audience? Will they understand exactly what they need to do and by when in order to participate? If it’s an ongoing need or program, like annually recycling old toys or sponsoring a water buffalo for a poor family, do you have a means to keep your audience informed and involved? What means do you provide for them to share their participation, to help them feel good about what they’ve done, as well as to enrich the accomplishment even further by inviting others? Think these messages through in advance.
What’s the motivation for your selected audience to respond? Although a program may inspire interest and devotion among listeners, what will inspire and motivate them to get on board and respond? For example, a campaign to raise funds for long-term education may be unspecific enough to be an uphill climb for a crowdfunding campaign, but it will work better if there is an urgent and compelling reason for a targeted audience to respond.
A program called DLYTE is succeeding by allowing participants to contribute to causes that they choose while making purchases they were already planning at their accustomed businesses and stores. In other cases, campaigns succeed because the need is sufficiently specific and urgent (emergency medical care that could succeed in saving a life, for example) that respondents realize the need to act quickly.
What’s your plan for execution? How will the program play out over time? And how will you communicate the outcome to participants? In a crowdfund campaign, consider the crowdfund page as a permanent record that you can continue to update with the program’s status and progress, even after your campaign has ended. Or, in some cases, successful campaigners have created program URLs that allow them to segue naturally from one campaign to another, to align and continue the energy from each campaign and to ensure that anyone who’s missed the initial campaign can still join in later on as they reach the tipping point and are ready to engage.
Remember, in any sales process it often takes multiple touch points. Social selling experts talk about six contacts before a recipient acts, but for some businesses it may take as many as 27 touches before an audience member is ready to get up and engage. You can shorten the cycle by being very targeted, testing your own motivations, communicating very clearly, and providing sufficient urgency and motivation for respondents to join. By paying careful attention to each of these principles, you will significantly increase the chances that your campaign will succeed.
Cheryl Snapp Conner is founder of SnappConner PR, developer of the Content University program for helping entrepreneurs and executives learn to excel in thought leadership. Content University’s first online sessions begin in January 2016. @cherylsnapp, www.contentuniversity.com.
This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 1, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today.
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