I once received an email from Michael Moore, updating me on his recent Oprah appearance. The segment -- Sicko: It Could Happen to You -- put what "neuromarketer" Roger Dooley calls the "power of personalization" to work to engage the mass of Oprah's viewers.
More precisely, I'd call it the power of one. According to Dooley, the story of one person is far more compelling than an appeal for a group of people whose plight remains far more abstract.
- Logic tells us that a bigger problem should get more attention. One person suffering from a disease is certainly bad, but a thousand afflicted individuals should motivate us far more. But it doesn't work that way,...research shows that our brains operate in an illogical and perhaps unexpected manner.
- Paul Slovic, a researcher at Decision Research, has demonstrating this by measuring the contribution levels from people shown pictures of starving children. Some subjects were shown a photo of a single starving child from Mali, others were shown a photo of eight children. But subjects shown a group of eight starving children contributed 50% less money than those shown just one.
- Clearly, non-profit marketers need to make their marketing efforts as personal as possible - and not just on the donor side, but on the recipient side as well. This is real "one-to-one" marketing.
- Our brains are wired to respond more strongly to an individual plight than the same condition afflicting a group.
The "one" in that show was actually a couple of people fighting hard for health coverage: Former steelworker Stephen Skvara, and Civia Katz, who saw Sicko and sent her story of denied coverage for a vital, but not life-threatening fibroid removal surgery to Moore. Skvara, who retired on disability after 34 years, received a standing ovation during the presidential debate in Chicago last month when he told the Democratic presidential hopefuls that he can't afford to pay for his wife's health insurance since his former employer went bankrupt. His words and image (Svara walks with two canes) resonated hugely, and he's become a symbol of all that's wrong with our health care system.
Nonprofit marketers can learn a lot from Moore, and from Oprah. Remember that personalization works two ways -- slugging your prospective donor/program participant/volunteer's name into an email or letter; and personalizing the recipients of the donations or volunteer work. When you do, your audiences will get a real sense of the difference their gift or participation makes in a fellow human's life.
About the Author
Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications. As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company (http://www.nancyschwartz.com/), Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to organizations as varied as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, and Wake County (NC) Health Services.
Subscribe to her free e-newsletter "Getting Attention", (http://www.nancyschwartz.com/getting_attention.html) and read her blog at http://www.gettingattention.org/ for more insights, ideas and great tips on attracting the attention your organization deserves.
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