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It’s time for charities to focus on brand not channel

The onset of new social channels has opened up exciting and potentially rewarding ways for charities to engage with today’s connected consumers; however, the downside of spending more time and effort on getting out through these additional channels, without more budget, can often mean that brand strategy is being neglected.

Your charity may think it has a "brand message" but is this being communicated across all channels?

Checking on your brand

The way to check you have a brand is looking at "brand focus". There is an awful lot to consider when putting together an effective marketing plan, but the first thing to get right is brand focus. Among other things, this will dictate how to take a message to market.

All too often a marketing plan is done and dusted, perhaps even underway, when the brand hasn’t been truly defined or a proposition revisited in the past 12 months.

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle strategy is very useful for scoping out a brand with the idea that we should start with "why". Asking why you do what you do, or why people respond to why you do what you do. How can you get people to support you, or buy from you, or be loyal if they don’t know why?

Moreover, starting with why is much more straightforward and valuable to a charity than to any consumer brand or B2B proposition. A charity’s why is a direct plug in to making the world a genuinely better place; and the why of a charity also carries integrity.

Constantly asking why, and asking the question across all areas of the charity, as well as supporters, can help to keep a brand focused and relevant.

New rules of engagement

So why is getting the "why" secured so important in the current media landscape? Because there are new rules of consumer engagement and tapping into these can transform the way a charity generates results through its multi-channel marketing.

The old model of customer engagement is based on the principles of the manufacturing age: “Company creates a brand (this is done through developing products and then advertising them); the brand then attracts its customer; the customer sustains the company though repeat purchase of the products.”

The new model is very similar, but with one subtle, crucial change. Instead of creating a product first, the company creates customers. This is done through product development and social media. It’s then the customer who creates and drives the brand though purchase and brand advocacy and, in turn, the brand sustains the company through brand loyalty driving repeat purchase.

This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a new way of thinking that is being embraced by some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Uber and airbnb.

They’re all making their brand something people can identify with, something people care about, something people are prepared to share. It used to be that the brand with the best products won. Now it’s the brand with the best customers that comes out on top.

Target market defines the brand

A "primacy of the customer" approach also means your brand isn’t what you say it is. Today, more than ever, your brand is what your target market says it is. If they believe in your why, they will promote your organisation. Because customers don't buy brands, customers create brands and they join brands.

The idea of "creating the customer" is so much more powerful today because customers have the tools and the audience to market themselves. Customers have the tools and the audience to market stuff they love. And customers write their own stories.

If we can provide our target market with an experience that they have a deep and emotional connection to, and with content to share, then they will want to tell people about it. Encourage them to do something inspirational, cool, daft or important and they will want to share this or post a photo of them doing it.

This is Behavioural Economics, a thinking straight out of Harvard. By garnering a following, a tribe, that has shared values with your organisation, your charity can build an army of foot soldiers who carry your message, tell your story, and market your brand.

This approach was illustrated most recently with last year’s Carers Trust Britain’s Biggest Breakfast campaign. Lots of quality content was put on the website and across social media channels, including a free downloadable recipe book featuring recipes from various food bloggers and campaign advocate Joanna Lumley. All this proved more popular than any previous years’ tactics. It generated more than 1 million unique views on Facebook alone.

While final numbers are still to be confirmed, the Carers Trust has reported considerably more participants than in previous years thanks to this latest approach.

This approach worked for England Netball and Cancer Research UK too. The partnership between the two organisations used social media to tap into England Netball’s membership of 96,000 women and girls, as well as the 1.5m who regularly play. Over five years the partnership raised over £2.5 million.

Garnering people power

People power is out there. It’s up to us to garner this power and put it to good use. Consider campaigning platform Change.org for example. Its members win “people-powered campaigns for social change” everyday, from eggs from caged hens withdrawn from supermarkets, to people saved from execution. These are massive victories and it wouldn’t be possible without the social influencers that technology has enabled over the past 10-15 years.

The "why" of a charity also shapes "how" you reach supporters in an integrated approach. In the words of Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo, “It’s not about doing ‘digital marketing’, it’s (now) about marketing effectively in a digital world.”

Also this is an important way to view all marketing per se. It’s time to break out of historical marketing silos and take a fresh look at integrated brand marketing, making sure that the "why" message is consistent across all brand touch points and using the channels that are the most important.

While the digital age has opened up more and more marketing channels for us to choose from and consider, this doesn’t mean we should use all channels. Also, it marks a line in the sand where offline methods now need to be superseded by digital and social – simply because they are more effective now.

Controlling the brand message

Controlling a brand message is more challenging than ever, but as we’ve identified it’s more important too. A neglect of brand strategy can risk a message being diluted, or, at worse, not present across a fragmented, ever-increasing number of channels. Moreover, why spend time operating an Instagram profile if this doesn’t reflect the rest of your comms or if your potential supporters aren’t there.

By having a clear view of who your potential supporters are, what they want from their interaction with your charity and what form of advertising has most relevance to them, and importantly using this insight to encourage consumers to promote your message, charities can really start to focus on delivering the right solutions to consumers' perceived problems with a stronger, more consistent integrated plan.

Getting involved in a shouting match, across more channels, has much less impact than ensuring cohesion, consistency and relevance of your cause at every touchpoint.

438 Marketing's Ian Sykes - if we can provide our target market with an experience that they have a deep and emotional connection to, and with content to share, then they will tell people about it.
"All too often a marketing plan is done and dusted, perhaps even underway, when the brand hasn't been truly defined or a proposition revisited in the past 12 months."
"A neglect of brand strategy can risk a message being diluted or, at worst, not present across a fragmented, ever-increasing number of channels."

Successful charity public affairs campaigns

Public affairs can seem like a daunting world shrouded in smoke, mystery and skullduggery. But over the last fifteen years the time of the backroom deals made by greying lobbyists over a cigar and whisky have been left behind as we are moving towards a more transparent politics. In turn, this leads to opportunity for charities across the country to access public affairs and influence policy to aid their cause.

Charities, no matter how big or small, can have their say. It is no longer possible for a letter to be ignored or information to be withheld, without the possibility of being called out. Add to that the pressure social media can place on politicians and a well targeted campaign can have impactful results.

Define your goals

Before embarking on any campaign, it is important to understand, at all levels of the organisation, exactly what it is you aim to achieve. Are you aiming to increase awareness amongst decision makers, increase funding or, perhaps, change policy? Whatever your goals they need to be clearly defined before the campaigns begins. There is no point focusing on 30 issues as your messaging will get lost and there will be no clear ask coming out of your campaign.

Politicians do not want to know what you think about interfaith issues in America if you are seeking funding for a UK project. Similarly, they have no interest in your view on the National Health Service if you would like to ban e-cigarettes. Rather choose a cause; you can’t do everything at once. One policy or cause is more likely to succeed, even if it is the tip of the iceberg, rather than looking to cure all the world’s ills in one campaign. This will allow you to tailor your campaign to those who can impact your charity (and come in on budget).

Animal Aid has many issues it wishes to campaign on regarding the raising, transport and slaughter of livestock. However, in the past two years it has been successful in engaging parliamentarians in its campaign by focusing specifically on the introduction of CCTV into slaughterhouses by only discussing this issue and its wider benefits. By focusing on a narrow topic they have gained media and parliamentary support as well as the backing of food leading manufacturers across the UK.

Talk to the right person

We have all been there when we have just made the world’s best complaint/pitch/plea only to be told that you are talking to the wrong person. Once you know what you want to achieve, the next step is to identify the individuals who can help you to achieve your goal. Detailed stakeholder mapping can be the difference between two good meetings and six months of chasing your own tail. Lists of councillors, elected representative and relevant trade bodies are widely available online.

Whilst local representatives – councillors, MPs and (for now) MEPs – are likely to have a vested interest in your charity, it is also good to look for others who have an interest in your cause. So if health is your cause, some desk research into members of the All Party Political Group into Health will provide you with a ready-made list of interested MPs. Many APPGs also host events that will give you an opportunity to network, engage with other interested parties and position yourself as a thought leader in your area.

Just one able advocate can take a campaign from a local excursion to a legislation changer. This is a tactic which can be employed particularly effectively by small charities. Lillian’s Law is a perfect example of how a hyper-local issue can expand to engage with the legislative process. Fourteen year old Lillian Groves was struck and killed by a speeding car driven by a man under the influence of drugs in 2010. Following her death, her family campaigned tirelessly for a zero tolerance approach to be adopted when sentencing drug drivers, in the same way as drink drivers.

The campaign was taken on by local MP Gavin Barwell, who persuaded the then Prime Minister to include the Bill in the Queen's Speech. It was eventually adopted onto the statute books and became law in 2015. All from a low level campaign run by the teenager’s family.

If you are strategic, you are more likely to be successful. Targeting a member of the Shadow Cabinet who will never be able to make progress with government, has few, if any, benefits. Knowing the political system will allow you to encourage politicians to use tools such as e-petitions, Early Day Motions or Adjournment Debates to have your issue raised and increase exposure. It is unlikely that they will come up with the ideas themselves, although it might be good if they think they did, so make sure you have the knowledge to make suggestions if needed.

Day to day campaigning

Well written letters to key stakeholders, following up to secure a meeting and being coherent when you all sit down are really important. If you are able to make it relevant, you are more likely to be able to secure a meeting, so monitoring the media is crucial. If you can link your cause to the news it suddenly becomes topical.

Make sure your messages are clear and that you have a simple and easy to follow leave behind which can be used as a briefing for the next time the politicians needs to raise the topic. It is also important to understand what influences the decision makers. Do they have an adviser who really makes most of the decisions or is their main source of information the Daily Telegraph whilst eating their cornflakes? The more your messages are seen and heard by the right decision maker, the more likely the campaign will be successful. But this does mean that low level campaigns aren’t successful.

Good PR will help any public affairs campaign. But it is more important to prepare lines to quash those opposing your campaign than to be proactive with your PR. You can be having the most productive behind the scenes discussions with public leaders but one bad article can set you back years.

It took only seven months for Kids Company to go from having a £3 million grant approved by the Government to closing its doors mired in scandal. Preparing for the worse will allow you to bat away obvious scrutiny and ensure your campaign can maintain momentum throughout.

How a good campaign works

However small a public affairs campaign, there will always be benefits for your charity. There could be anything from building relationships to gaining a more in depth understand of what’s going on in your area, all the way through to creating a new law or bringing about real change.

Before you begin, define a clear budget, resources and timescale to deliver the campaign. This will need to be regularly measured and research should be conducted throughout to back it up with statistics. There is no one size fits all in this area, rather a thorough check of how many meetings are planned or how many new followers you have on Twitter are equally good guides to the success of a campaign.

There are no short cuts

No matter what the cause, be prepared for the long haul! Nothing happens overnight and especially not in politics. Don’t overwhelm audiences with arguments, keep it simple and be prepared for the alternative views so that you can rebut criticism quickly.

Set yourself short, mid and long term goals and keep assessing what you have achieved. If you are able to make your case as local and personal as possible then your chances increase, but given time anything is possible. The effort you put in to get to know key stakeholders and their staff, even if you don’t see the results now, will pay off in the long term.

The PR Office's Aaron Bass - before you begin a public affairs campaign, define a clear budget, resources and timescale to deliver the campaign.
"One policy or cause is more likely to succeed, even if it is the tip of the iceberg, rather than looking to cure all the world's ills in one campaign."
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Creating compelling emotional engagement

Charities are missing a golden opportunity to create compelling emotional engagement.  That’s the key message emerging from our recent analysis based on research of the top UK charities. Apart from a handful of exceptional examples of good practice, most value statements have become generic, bland and undifferentiating

Playing it safe with generic values, confusing them with internal behaviours and not being bold enough are the key traps organisations are falling into in their bid to reassert trust.

The once clear delineation that existed between the charity sector and the corporate sector has blurred. Both sectors appear to have swapped their language - the corporate sector has started focusing on passion and heart whilst the charity sector is aiming to sound more effective and businesslike. Where the corporate sector is focusing on the value of doing good, charities are aiming to be seen as more professional, talking about impact, returns and investment.

Losing value focus

Losing this focus on their values has resulted in many charities unconsciously allowing their positions to erode.

Whilst charities are naturally risk averse, they need to recognise that the only risk in this current climate is standing still. As the sector is disrupted by technology, increasing competition, and changing donor behaviour, it’s the actions they take that break through and deliver impact.

Here are some key actions to be undertaken so as to ensure a charity brand is firing on all its cylinders and using the full potential of its authentic values:

Ditch generic "table stake"values

Table stakes are those values that are shared across a sector, expected and assumed by all, but that are often considered "things that we should probably say".

The main problem with using a table stake as one of your values is that you end up stating the obvious or telling people what they already know. In the private sector the most common table stake values are "professional" and "dynamic". So what table stakes did the survey find in the charity sector? Some of the worst offenders were "honest" (10% of the charities researched), "passionate" (25%) and "committed" (25%).

These values are almost universal in the charity sector; it’s like stating that you are "altruistic". You may know a few organisations that lack these qualities in your area but chances are they will claim they have them anyway.

The bare minimum to aim for when choosing and expressing your values is to not waste your audience’s time by simply telling them what type of organisation they can expect to find in the charity sector. What’s more, it can arouse suspicion, “Why do you feel the need to say you’re honest?!”

Distinguish values from behaviours

Almost 35% of the charities looked at showed evidence of confusing "values" and "behaviours". The simple rule is this: Don’t tell me you’re funny, make me laugh! In other words, demonstrate you are professional, inclusive, transparent, etc. and use your values statement for something really engaging and differentiating.

This is understandable, as values, which are external communications tools, and behaviours, which are internal management tools, have a similar sounding, positive, meaning-laden vocabulary. Using "respect" (28%) and "effective" (16%) are examples of this.

Crucial opportunity lost

However, the key difference is that behaviours are "the standards you operate to" and values are "the principles behind your actions". When these two get confused a crucial opportunity to engage and connect is lost. In the worst examples one found values statements that read like the internal strategy documents they were probably copied and pasted from!

Your values should be about why you do what you do. They’re an opportunity to connect by saying what drives you, what you believe and what are you not prepared to tolerate. They are not an occasion to talk about your equal opportunities policy or customer focus.

In addition to those relying on generic table stakes and standard internal behaviours, 28% of the charities looked at didn’t explicitly talk about their values at all. Now, if their values shine through strong copy and engaging branding then that’s one thing, but if it is a deliberate attempt not to alienate or offend then it is a serious misjudgment.

All charities are expected to have core beliefs and want to see a change in the world. Over a third of the charities researched cited "equality" as one of their key values, therefore they should really be upsetting someone somewhere because if not, they aren’t fighting the vested interests that perpetuate inequality. 

So what to do? If playing it safe will leave you drowned out, indistinct and unengaging does that mean you have to be "dangerous"? No, not dangerous and certainly not reckless but bold, ambitious, leading and real.

Standing for something

Draw your values out from the organisation and tell them well. Tell people who you are and why it matters that you exist. If you don’t take a stand for something, you may as well not stand for anything. By trying to please everyone and playing it safe, you could risk not getting through to anyone.

Get past the obvious

Remember, in a crowded market, people will listen to you and give you time and money when they care about your cause and share the values that drive your approach.

Don’t waste the opportunity to use value statements to say something really engaging and differentiating.

When emotional engagement is the goal, lead with the "why" rather than the "what" or "how".

Driving your approach

Talk with people who care and tell them how your values drive your approach.

The solution is not to make something up; if you can’t find anything genuine then be prepared to fundamentally change who you are.

The objective is to identify the truth of what you stand for, and then tell it well.

Your values are about why you do what you do. Values are about the principles that drive you.

Stand for something, cause a reaction, get past the obvious and taken for granted, remember who you represent and find something genuine. Then people will rally to your cause, give you the funds you need and make you the change-maker you were conceived to be.

Spencer du Bois' Max du Bois - tell people who you are and why it matters that you exist.
"The once clear delineation that existed between the charity sector and the corporate sector has blurred."
"Don't waste the opportunity to use value statements to say something really engaging and differentiating."
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