In consumer marketing there’s a term called “selling the category.” For example, if your company sells spray-tan and you run an ad that says “look like George Hamilton all year,” you would be selling the category – you’re only convincing consumers of their need to buy spray-tan in general, but not your particular brand. Unless you’re the market-share leader, selling the category is not a good practice because it benefits the competition as much (or more) as it benefits you.
I’m adapting the term for the nonprofit world: selling the cause. A lot of nonprofits do this. They convince people of the general importance of a cause, but say nothing specific about their organization to position it as the solution. However noble it may be, this doesn’t help your organization build “market share” or brand equity.
It’s becoming increasingly important to avoid just selling the cause. There are more organizations than ever – 60% of nonprofits are less than 30 years old. In every single cause category the competition is getting steeper for increasingly fewer available dollars. Chances are, your nonprofit is not the biggest in the category, in which case you have to make a case for yourself not your cause.
That’s where brand comes in.
Just as consumers buy brands for the culture not just the product, people join social movements for the culture not just the cause. Whether it’s the hipster movement of the 60’s or today’s straight-edge movement, they all have a distinct culture in addition to a specific social or political agenda, because it’s that which magnetically attracts followers. The cause provides all of the tangible reasons to join a movement, but the culture provides the ultimate emotional impetus to act.
The same goes for nonprofits. They’re all based on fighting for a cause, but the ones with the most culture have the strongest brands, which is manifested in more donations, volunteers, and more loyal employees.
NPR has done a great job of building a magnetic culture. They’ve built a steady, unapologetic culture of highly educated people who value long-style, in-depth reporting and they’ve sold this culture through social media. They stopped asking for money “because public radio is important” and started defining a movement of young, thought-leaders who are growing up to discover that they’re dissatisfied with the state of journalism today.
With social media as pervasive as it is today, communications is now actually the easy part. The hard part is defining a culture that’s unique and making a dedication to selling it rather than the cause.
For help defining your culture, call BRANDEMiX.
Another Great one from Geoff
The super-ego is the part of our psychological makeup that’s responsible for making you behave in a socially acceptable manor. While your id plays the role of the devil on your shoulder, begging you to do whatever your little heart desires, your superego works to override those urges. It keeps you from acting on impulse. It’s the part of your brain that says “no” when your id tells you to burp in a nice restaurant.
Unfortunately, the superego is also the enemy to those of us in the marketing profession. Giving people all the logical reasons to do something, regardless of how poignant they may be, will only engage the part of our brains that works to PREVENT action.
In the consumer world, creating an emotional urge to buy is the gold standard. If consumers were analytical we wouldn’t have terms like “retail therapy” and no one would drive a Scion.
Social movements don’t develop because people start balancing the pros and cons of revolting against an injustice. Movements are described with words like “fever” and “momentum.” They’re collective emotional outbursts not premeditated events.
Furthermore, it’s been proved that people are more likely to donate money (and more of it) when they’re in an emotional state of mind. There’s a great case study on the subject as described in the book Made To Stick written by Chip and Dan Heath.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon conducted a test in which they sent out two versions of a donation request letter to a pool of respondents. The first version of the letter showcased statistics about problems facing children in Africa similar to: “more than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.” The second version of the letter focused on one young girl. “Any money you donate will go to Rokia, a 7-year old girl from Mali. She is desperately poor and faces the threat of severe hunger.”
The people who got the letter about Rokia donated twice as much money as those who received the other letter did. It’s been well documented that people identify more with an individual than an indeterminate problem, but what’s particularly interesting about this case is what the researchers did next. They tested a third letter that combined the statistics AND the personal story and found that the letter about just Rokia still outperformed the combined letter by a factor of 2.
The researchers theorized that when people are fed statistics they are put in an analytical state of mind and are thus less likely to act emotionally. So they conducted the study once again. This time, they primed the respondents to think analytically before reading the letter by asking them to do math problems. And amazingly, the average gift of those who read the Rokia letter was cut in half!
People who think analytically are dramatically less likely to chip in than those who are emotionally activated. And yet we still see so many communications that force people into that kind of thinking.
People don’t respond to abstract, they respond to people. That’s why social movements work. That’s why we hate dealing with employees who act like robots. It’s always tempting to build a case based on all the “right reasons” that people should donate, volunteer, or contribute in some way, but we must put those aside to appeal to the real reason they do. Empathy is an emotion all humans share – It’s just a matter of finding it more often.
For help activating people’s emotional side contact BRANDEMiX.
I’ve spent a lot of time advocating that a brand is not merely a marketing device. It’s not a spectre that operates in some ancillary business silo. It’s the culture of an organization. It’s the style, temperament, and personality of a collective – whether it’s a social movement or a non-profit.
That is, of course, where the whole idea behind SMM came from in the first place. Building and selling culture is what takes ordinary business-to-consumer relationships to a higher order of collective action.
I was reminded recently, as I stumbled upon I book I read for a college class about America in the 1960’s, what happens when a movement goes “off brand.” That is, when an organization or cause abandons its culture and personality.
The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), pronounced “snick,” was one of the most influential organizations in the American Civil Rights Movement. Originally, it started as a series of student-led meetings in North Carolina, but soon got the attention of white, liberal students in the Northeast who joined the cause.
SNCC organized “sit-ins,” “freedom rides,” and other protests designed to rebel against segregation in a non-violent way. In addition to their opposition to violence, SNCC has another unique aspect to its culture. Leadership and decision-making were democratic, not top-down. All decisions required consensus and meetings often lasted over 6 hours while everyone voiced their opinions.
It only made sense to founders like Ella Baker that a movement for the people should have an organizational structure owned by the people. It may have been inefficient, but supporters were passionate and it was certainly “on brand.”
However, things changed – Stokely Carmichael became chairman of SNCC. He was closely aligned with the Black Panthers and a major proponent of using violence. Some SNCC leaders supported Carmichael and he was able to push through some violent agendas. As these agendas progressed, Carmichael even changed the name of the organization to remove the word “non-violent” and SNCC became the Student National Coordinating Committee.
As Carmichael took SNCC out of the mainstream movement and into the radical violent one, a major rift developed within SNCC, and not surprisingly, the organizational structure became more top-down and autocratic. Carmichael expelled all white employees and volunteers, many of whom had helped start the movement. By the late 60’s SNCC had become almost entirely ineffective and by the 70’s it was all but extinct.
I think SNCC is a great example to explore because it’s both an organization and a movement. Culture is what binds a movement, and when it’s neglected, the fallout is potent enough to derail an organization with rich history and incredible popularity.
When an organization takes on a strategy that is so radically off-brand that it must change its name and management style, then you can be sure it’s destined to fail, no matter how trendy it is at the time. In many ways, this case exemplifies the power of brand. It must pervade everything from the name of an organization, to the management style, to the very personality of the people. Without that, no one inside or out, will understand where you’re going or where you’re coming from.
For help finding your organization’s personality, click here.
On a business trip to LA last year, I found myself in the unusual state of having some free time. I sat down at an outdoor table at a pub on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. As I sipped my beer, I noticed a group of 10 teenagers hanging out on the street. They walked up and down the block aimlessly – each kid being very careful not to get separated from the group. They looked like a school of fish.
All the while, each kid was frantically texting. Soon enough, kids started coming out of the woodwork, one after another, joining the school of fish. Before I knew it, there were over 30 of these “Millennials” shifting about, dominating the sidewalk.
I don’t remember hanging out in such large groups or inviting that many people to hang out on the sidewalk with me. I just did everything with the same motley, 4-man crew that I still hang out with today.
The next generation of activists, donors, volunteers, and nonprofit entrepreneurs in our country are growing up in a high-touch, ultra personal, socially sensitive, movement culture. Having had wireless connectivity since birth, Millennials are accustomed to spreading ideas quickly and involving as many peers as possible…even if the idea is just “lets go to the movies.” For this generation, Social Movement Marketing will be the norm, and nonprofits need to prepare.
Though it’s popular to lament this generation’s prospects for leadership or to lambaste them for having short attention spans and for having been raised with an “everyone wins” mentality, I think they actually represent a bright future in many ways.
They are the most diverse generation and the most culturally aware. They are the most creative, entrepreneurial generation yet – 8% of them are already making money on the Internet. They are multi-tasking machines who do more in a day than previous generations used to do in a week. William Strauss and Neil Howe call them “the next Great Generation.”
Perhaps even more encouraging is Millennials’ insistence on meaningful work. The importance of money in work has been rated lower by this generation than by any previous. Not surprisingly, they show very little loyalty to their employers as they have no patience for jobs with no social significance. Accordingly, they also show very little loyalty to brands. In fact, the only thing Millennials seem to be loyal to is people.
They see brands less as products and more as a culture of people. The line between consumer and employee is blurring as everyone is just grouped into one dynamic brand culture. This is good news for non-profits since they’re more about people than products by definition. Nonprofits that learn to build culture and create brands that employees and volunteers buy-into and promote will be the marketing gurus of the next generation.
The best way to sell culture is to get your employees and volunteers to start running their traps. They’re not just people working for the organization, they are the culture of your movement so get them to start blogging, Tweeting, and everything else. NPR requires all editorial staff to attend multimedia and social networking training and encourages them to speak up on the Internet as much as possible. How many people in your organization are blogging about your cause?
To get a head-start on building your internal culture check out BRANDEMiX.
At the end of my last post, I casually threw out the idea that people relate to people not organizations, and accordingly, organizations must take on a personality of their own or risk being perceived as ordinary.
But why is this the case?
Because personification is how humans go about understanding inanimate objects. We tend to personify things that we feel the need to have an emotional bond with. We name our cars, think of our boats as women, and treat our pets like children.
My mother used to guilt me into wearing certain sweaters when I was a kid by telling me they felt sad because “they never get to be worn like the other ones.”
We also personify what we don’t fully understand as a way to be rational about what scares us. We name hurricanes and atomic bombs. We take abstracts like God, death, and the devil and anthropomorphize them into concepts that we can deal with like the grim reaper and Mephistopheles.
You’ll notice that when we lend human personality traits to objects we are celebrating their individuality, uniqueness, and importance. By naming your convertible and talking about it like a woman, you are establishing that it’s different than all other cars on the road and that it’s of emotional importance to you. Conversely, when we want to dehumanize someone, we treat them like objects and strip them of their individuality and importance. Essentially, we un-personify them. Racists dehumanize people by saying “they all look the same” and sexists treat women like objects.
Companies build brands with human characteristics to help us find a way to relate to their products and to differentiate from the competition – essentially celebrating their corporate individuality.
NPO’s and causes are don’t sell products to which we can assign human traits, so what to do? We can sell the culture the way social movements do.
The paradoxical brilliance of social movements is that they’re able to build strong, unified cultures by encouraging individuality. Freedom of expression solidifies culture not the opposite. Aside from the traditional channels of expression for social movements like language, art, and press, web 2.0 has given us the “golden opportunity” to put the onus on all organization members to lead conversations and energize the cause. All members should be encouraged to contribute to blogs, share videos, and tweet about the cause…and it must unfiltered and authentic. Encourage self-expression through any and every channel.
Let your people build the organization’s personality for you. Without it, you’ll just be another inanimate object.
– For more information on building your internal culture visit BRANDEMiX.
– To join a free webinar on communicating the personality of your brand RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org