As we go into Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, be ready to be moved. If early releases, such as Budweiser’s Stand by You commercial, are any indication, the game won’t be the only thing we are talking about on Monday. While our team is a big fan of proactive corporate social responsibility (see our related Forbes article), we also love companies that tie their brands directly to social good.

On the flip side, if history is any indicator, we will also see commercials that are so good the brand gets lost. You’ve seen these before – you walk away loving a clever commercial, but not knowing who or what it was for. Nor are you motivated to buy the product it was intended to promote. We call this “cart before the horse marketing.” It happens with huge companies that spend millions on marketing and advertising, 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 offer some solutions:

Strategy should lead, and tactics should follow. It is so easy to fall in love with shiny new tactics – a new logo, social media account or app – but in the social sector we have to be clear that our bottom line is impactOur strategy should always center on maximizing impact by meeting customer needs and delivering best-in-class results. While we have multiple customers (e.g., donors, volunteers, clients) 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 align with our brand promise. Develop a strategy that incorporates these critical elements. Then ask yourself which tactics best support it and measure their effectiveness in driving results.

Sell your impact, not your organization. Donors are shifting their preferences. They are less loyal to organizations and more vigilant about looking for the best solution, regardless of where it comes from. 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.

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 appeal to us, but we neglect to ask our customers what appeals to them. Once you are with an organization for a while, it’s easy to develop 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.

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.” Marketing is both art and science, and it should never be driven by tactics. Within the social sector, it is even more complex as we strive to meet the preferences of multiple customers. The key is to find your value to the community and tell your story in a way that compels people to help make your organization’s vision a reality.

We invite you to share your marketing hits and misses with us.

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