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    1 Reply Latest reply on Mar 2, 2008 9:40 AM by LUCKIEST

    Nonprofit Marketing: Follow the Yellow Brick Road?

    ibranz Wayfarer
      When the topic of “marketing” arises in a conversation, it’s always interesting to hear the numerous perceptions
      tied to this rather straightforward concept. The full spectrum of responses includes advertising, word-of-mouth,
      fluff, and my personal favorite – selling something you don’t need! I believe the problem with understanding
      marketing lies in the over-commercialization of the term and leaves business acumen, strategy, and execution at
      the front door.

      According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is defined as “Marketing is the process of planning
      and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create
      exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.” Sounds simple enough? If accountants follow
      Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and manufacturing managers utilize FIFO or LIFO for
      inventory valuation, then why does the practice of marketing not follow a similar process? Good question!
      The following brief is intended to be reflective in nature and prompt senior management to evaluate specific
      facets of their approach to nonprofit marketing. The analogy of Dorothy’s journey down the yellow brick road
      mirrors common flaws in marketing application and practice within the nonprofit arena.
      All organizations have a goal or objective they want to attain. In the process of reaching that goal, they need
      “donors” (financial supporters) who hear the message and want to be part of that journey. Organizations then
      apply traditional marketing methods to reach those targeted donors. Sound familiar? Dorothy, in that age-old
      storybook tale, had the same dilemma. To reach Emerald City and have an audience with The Wizard (to find a
      way home), she consulted the munchkins and mindlessly followed the yellow brick road.
      Marketing Plan
      The basic problem with Dorothy’s plan, as with some organizations, was the methodology she applied. Most
      plans seek traditional promotional venues to solve their immediate dilemma. If the goal is to increase donor gifts
      by 10%, most managers rush to main-stream mediums (radio, billboard, newsletters, and telemarketing) as a
      solution. What sounds good on paper may not actually work in practice. This unidirectional approach,
      sometimes called insider mentality, delivers a stream of messages from the organization to the targeted audience
      with little regard for their current circumstances. Without this understanding, the channel proposed may not be
      suitable for the intended audience.
      By starting with the donor (outside-in) and their behavioral circumstances, you will effectively gain their
      attention, mind, and heart. If Dorothy had asked the good witch the right question (early on), she would have
      known to click her heels three times and instantly returned to Kansas.
      When generating a marketing plan, start with your donor base and work your way back to the organization. This
      exercise will unveil the most direct and meaningful approach to achieving your objective. You might save
      yourself time, energy, and valuable resources in the process! How do you approach your donor base? If they
      are truly integral to your cause, understanding what’s important to them will help shape your marketing plan.
      (“Do better at doing good” HBR, May 1996)
      Value Proposition
      A value proposition accomplishes two strategic objectives: Defines what your organization can do better than
      anyone else and secondly, why that’s important to the donor. If your mission/vision statement is not clear on
      that point, how can the rest of your organization and donor base feel the same way? In the Land of Oz, the
      Wizard had a very clear and powerful value proposition despite the fact that he couldn’t deliver on his promises.
      Al Ries, noted marketing expert, said it best – “perceptions, not products” (or services). This critical point of
      contention is often over-looked, or in the planning process, is written once and then set aside. The entire
      organization must be compelled by this “rallying cry” and live the brand promise each day! (The Brand Mindset,
      The key to defining a value proposition is an arduous task and requires time, patience, and tenacity on the part
      of management. One organization I researched had a lingering problem – the perception didn’t match what they
      actually did. Although their mission, philosophy, and business plans reflected one set of attributes, the brand
      perception unveiled in donor surveys revealed a very different perception. Does your collateral material mirror
      what you do?
      Try this exercise. Approach two or more of your senior managers and ask them, in one sentence, to define your
      value proposition (what you do better and why that’s important). If you get an array of divergent responses, it’s
      time to re-align your mission statement and then infuse those beliefs into the organization.
      Marketing Public Relations
      The most widely ignored marketing tool available to all organizations is public relations (Value-added Public
      Relations, Harris). Great companies like Starbucks and The Body Shop were built on public relations and only
      used advertising later on to support/update their message. The Wicked Witch of the East made personal
      appearances throughout the story to ingrain her message into the frightened travelers. The Witch’s compelling
      message was looming and ubiquitous. Is your organization’s message compelling and meaningful?
      Most nonprofits utilize volunteers or “friends” who can acquire an occasional story in the local paper or regional
      magazine. You can follow the yellow brick road and stick with traditional media or target the places where your
      targeted donor’s work/play. The shear number of free placements in highly segmented forums is astounding.
      Internet portals that deal with your nonprofit issues are numerous and seek a continuous stream of input to
      support their site. Other than the obvious regional and local papers, a variety of more niche publications will
      gladly give you space to tout your message. If scarce monetary resources are one of nonprofit’s toughest
      dilemmas, let marketing public relations provide a venue to achieve your goal at minimal expense. Also, third
      party editorials (PR), according to Theodore Levitt of Harvard Business School, are the most credible messages
      (Marketing Imagination, Levitt).
      Dorothy had an unmistakable message throughout her journey – I want to go home! Every action she took and
      anyone who would lend an ear heard her specific cause. What is yours? Every aspect of your messaging, both
      visual and intangible, should specifically point to that mantra. When you think of Overnight Package Delivery,
      does Fed Ex come to mind? The Ultimate Driving Machine? Does BMW sound familiar? How about Just Do It?
      Try Nike.
      The human mind can only attach one specific meaning or feeling to each item. Although a brand represents a
      culmination of all attributes, we really only remember one distinct thing. Let’s start with your logo and by-line
      (sometimes called tag line). A by-line should be both emotional and descriptive (Marketing Aesthetics,
      Schmitt/Simonson). Going back to our BMW example, “ultimate” is an emotional aspect and “driving machine”
      is the descriptive. Does your by-line capture the essence of your value proposition? Does it instantly tell the
      potential donor who you are and what your purpose is?
      The by-product of your messaging should generate passion and action. Dorothy convinced the scarecrow, tin
      man, and cowardly lion to journey to Oz based on a value proposition (brand promise). Most messages are
      directed at attributes and correlate cause to effect. This approach lacks inspiration and polarizes the recipient.
      Does your message invoke passion and action?
      Simply put, every message you produce (business cards, newsletters, website, etc.) culminates into a single,
      brand position. Each additional layer of messages you generate are either acknowledged or disregarded by the
      donor based on your original pronouncement. Be mindful of the context and character your organization
      delivers. Is your message as clear and compelling as Dorothy’s?
      This brief addressed several key aspects of nonprofit marketing. A plan should center on customer
      circumstances and use public relations, a unique value proposition, and the appropriate messaging to capture the
      donor’s heart and mind. Using the analogy of Dorothy and her journey, we are reminded that a consistent and
      pervasive message should permeate out of every facet of your organization. In addition, all messaging should
      inspire your donor base to join your journey.