Marketing, advertising, public relations - each of these industries are laden with urgency and a demand-oriented culture (can you say "deadline") that can transform the most easy-going nonprofit leader into a reactive stress case. If you have found yourself (or your nonprofit administrators) flying by the seat of your pants with your outreach, it's time to slow down and determine just how much reactive marketing is costing your organization.
To fully understand the true costs of reactive marketing, and in turn, the real benefits of moving toward a more pro-active approach, let's run through a few scenarios.
Scenario #1: Plan? ... What Plan?
A results-driven marketing plan is your biggest ally to move from reactive to proactive marketing. While it's definitely important to remain flexible (after all, we sometimes don't think of every great marketing tactic during the planning phase), your plan will continually remind you where you're trying to go (the measurable objectives you want to achieve), and how you're trying to get there (what specific tactics you've put on the calendar).
And here's a critical point. Most nonprofits don't have endless staff resources In fact, most marketing resources are very limited and the challenge is to make sure they are maximized for greatest possible results. In other words, if you have 15 hours a week to devote to marketing, don't you want to know that your time has been allocated thoughtfully?
With a results-driven plan, the tactics in your plan have been chosen because they will help your reach your objectives. For every five to ten hours you spend on a tactic that isn't listed in your plan, you almost guarantee that another tactic simply won't be completed. For organizations that struggle to prove the value of marketing, this can often guarantee a lack of support by year-end.
Choose add-on tactics wisely and consider their impact on your ability to fulfill your objectives.
Scenario #2: The "cheap advertising opportunity"
Marketing can definitely stir up feelings of urgency, particularly when you work with the colleague or boss who wants to seize every "opportunity" to promote your organization. Yes, it's smart to be fully aware of opportunities that arise, but it's equally critical to evaluate each "opportunity" to see if it truly can result in meeting your objectives.
For instance, if you're right in the middle of re-branding your organization, a month away from launching a new web site that will include your first lead-capture tools, or you haven't yet honed down your marketing messaging, it isn't the best time take out an ad, or create a brochure to distribute at next week's conference.
While these may seem like great opportunities - "the ad is cheap and we can reach over 1,000 people in our target market" - remember to fully evaluate the true costs and benefits with these questions:
- How much time will it take us to create the ad/brochure now when we haven't yet solidified our messaging and/or graphic identity? Will this mean we're putting the proverbial "cart before the horse"?
- What specific, measurable results could we achieve with this opportunity? Without succinct, strategic messaging determined, what's the likelihood that we'd actually achieve our desired result?
- Does working on this ad/brochure risk our ability to meet our upcoming, pro-active deadlines like completing our messaging or graphic identity project? Does measuring results of the ad depend on completing the web site that's in progress?
- What's our call to action for this ad? Are we set up now to support that call to action in a manner that helps us meet our objectives?
- Does this opportunity (the real cost compared to the benefits we can receive) outweigh other similar tactics we have listed in our marketing plan that we'd agreed to implement after our messaging, Web site, and/or graphic identity are complete?
Scenario #3: The "it's good enough for now" Marketing Brochure
Marketing is a deadline-oriented industry, often requiring planning months (or sometimes even a year or more) in advance. With limited resources, it isn't always possible to stay ahead of the curve with developing your marketing materials, leaving some nonprofits to create materials to meet publication deadlines rather than to meet your objectives.
The downside to developing marketing materials in a reactive manner is that you run the possibility of materials that simply don't do the job their intended to do. I've conducted dozens of publication audits over the years. In each instance, my reviews saved the organization at least a few thousand dollars each year by eliminating or consolidating publications that simply didn't do the job.
Before rushing to create a publication, be sure to ask yourself if it's worth the cost of production, printing, and distribution just to meet a deadline. Sometimes it's just a matter of taking a few more days or weeks of thoughtful planning, copywriting, and design to make the publication rock solid.
Scenario #4: There's no such thing as "too much promotion"
As a matter of fact, there is such a thing as "too much promotion" when your resources are limited. And the critical thing here is to remember that your staff and volunteers are also resources - the most important resources you have, in fact. Staff and volunteer burnout due to a "we can never do too much" approach is perhaps the biggest real cost of reactive marketing.
It is so easy to get swept up into the "we have to do more" culture of marketing, particularly when you're using word-of-mouth or other difficult-to-measure tactics, or when there is not agreement about how you'll focus your resources. Without a plan that includes a list of the specific time and money you're willing to invest, your promotion runs the risk of following the lead of every new idea that comes to the surface.
The best strategy I know to stay proactive and focused is by putting a simple plan together. Make sure your entire team is in agreement that you'll stick with the tactics listed, and that each additional "opportunity" will be scrutinized to avoid costly volunteer and staff burnout, and to ensure that the opportunity is indeed in alignment with your objectives.
Proactive marketing can have substantial benefits: knowing your limited time was well-spent; the ability to measure results; going into each opportunity with consistent, strategic messaging and well-planned marketing collateral; more bang for your buck; and staff that is empowered with strategic choice.
Tiffany Meyer is president of Numa Marketing, and the author of Writing a Results-Driven Marketing Plan. Find more information about her nonprofit marketing services, register for her affordable nonprofit marketing e-courses, or sign up for her monthly e-zine The Smart Nonprofit at www.numamarketing.com. ©2007 Tiffany Meyer