Starbucks has gotten in some hot water recently for its #RaceTogether campaign. While our team is a big fan of proactive corporate social responsibility (see our latest Forbes article), we agree that this is another good example of marketing tactics (however well-intentioned they may be) getting ahead of organizational strategy. It is what we call “putting the cart before the horse marketing.” It happens with huge companies that spend millions on marketing, and, unfortunately, it also happens with nonprofits where marketing dollars are a luxury. To help sort out the issues, we have identified some common mistakes and some fixes:

Never forget that strategy should lead and tactics should follow. It is so easy to fall in love with shiny new tactics – a new logo, social media or app – but in the social sector we have to be clear that our bottom line is impact. Our strategy should always be about how to maximize impact through meeting customer needs and delivering best-in-class results. While we have multiple customers and may need to tailor our tactics for each group, we also need to ensure that we are clear on our value proposition, our core message(s) and how each customer wants to receive information. We also need to ensure that our tactics are in line with our brand promise. You should always ask yourself which tactics support this strategy best and measure their effectiveness in driving results.

Choose loyalty over glamour. Nationally, for every 100 donors nonprofits gained, they lost 102 through attrition. Too many of us believe that marketing is about attracting new customers through advertising or promotions. However, sometimes a better idea is to invest in stewardship strategies so donors stay engaged and are happy to renew or increase their support.

Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. We often choose strategies or tactics because they are appealing to us, but we neglect to ask our customers what is appealing to them. Once you are with an organization for a certain time period, you have an inherent bias. We often hear that research (e.g., focus groups, surveys) before the launch of a new strategic plan, logo or website is expensive. While this may be true, failure of a tactic or strategy can be even more expensive and lead to market confusion.

Consider selling your impact vs. selling your organization. Donors are shifting their preference; they are less loyal to organizations and more vigilant about hunting for the best solution. They want to “invest” in organizations that make a difference on issues they care about. Use tools like impact storytelling and prospectuses to generate positive word-of-mouth, and donors will find you.

Marketing is both an art and science, and within the social sector it is even more complex due to the need to meet the preferences of multiple customers (e.g., clients, donors, volunteers). Marketing should never be driven by tactics. We wholeheartedly agree with Peter Drucker – “the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service (or impact) fits him and sells itself.” The key is to find your value to the community and do a great job of telling your story to build an army of people who want to help you.

We welcome you to share your marketing hits and misses with us. Be sure to join us next week as we celebrate the upcoming religious holidays by looking at new trends in the faith community.

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