I once used the term "the floam factor"-- my invention for the relentless and overpowering marketing machines that our little, under-funded nonprofits are up against. This requires us to be especially nimble and creative in order to get our message out to peoples' hearts and minds. Here are five ways to survive and thrive in a world of flash, floam and fluff.
1. Leave the wristbands to Lance.
We have a herd marketing mentality in our sector, and, in our defense, commercial marketers do too (Dr. Pepper/Mr. Pibb, anyone?). When one nonprofit has a breakout idea that creates a lot of buzz, many others imitate. That's why we have thousands of cause-related wristbands of every color of the rainbow. The first - the LiveStrong band, and maybe the second, but only because it's Bono and the ONE Campaign, are memorable as marketing concepts, but the rest are not. The 100th wristband does not only fail to cut through the clutter, it adds to it. So don't spend your limited budget on also-ran, me-too ideas. Get something no one else has, like a chicken suit.
2. Keep the concept simple.
Convey one idea and ask for one action. That's it. There is great complexity to your work and your issues, but the more you say, the more you dilute your message and the more people tune out. It's like telling your life story on a first date. Yuck. Check, please. Once your audiences start supporting you or changing their behavior, over time, you can convey more nuanced information as you cultivate your relationship with that audience; but not in a mass marketing campaign, ever.
3. Hitch your wagon to a star.
We're all under-funded nonprofits and so to cut through the clutter, we need to connect to someone or something that's got more reach than we do. At Network for Good, we tied the idea of charity badges to the Six Degrees idea everyone already knows - and a bunch of celebrities to boot. But you don't need a celebrity to "hitch your wagon to a star." Hitching your wagon to a star just means connecting your cause to something already in the headlines - a news item, a crisis, an issue of the day. Show how you relate to what they're already interested in.
4. Seize the open-minded moment.
Get people in a moment where they can actually listen to your message and take action. This is one of the best-kept secrets of communications, sadly. Do not feel you need a brochure or billboard or big budget to compete in this world-you don't. You just need to know the magic moment when your audience will be most receptive to your marketing message. For Network for Good, it's getting "how you can help" links next to online news stories during humanitarian crises. It is not millions of banner ads on an average day. The link gets someone in the open-minded moment. The banner does not. You could spend millions on a PSA campaign on radio telling people to get fit by taking the stairs, or, if you're focused on open-minded moments, you'd do what you see below (thanks Craig LeFebvre!). Special K clearly knows a thing or too not just about where to put boxes on the cereal aisle, but also where to plug physical activity.
5. Take risks and fail.
The marketing campaigns that break through the clutter tend to be gutsy. That means some level of risk. Do all the safe stuff that already works, but also try something bold at least once a month. Not all of it will work, but some of it will - really well. And you don't know if you don't try.