Archive for July, 2012


DATE: July 31st, 2012

Recently a very large, international organization came to us and asked us to imagine the future of their core product.


They gave us 10 days.

Within that task were a myriad of counter assumptions. First of all, what were the limits of the imaginative circle? Sure, I know that imagination — to be truly innovative — needs to be stripped of the boundaries. But we were well aware that if we didn’t work within a certain preconceived environment, the client would not understand our innovation.

Secondly, you said 10 days? Within the context of our already crazy office and boutique environment, we pulled a group of people out to imagine. Pressing such a severe deadline limits the daydream, but forces the mind to dance at a faster tempo.

Finally, we were the only agency in the mix that did not currently work for the organization. We had a small taste of their brand direction and access to some content through public sources, but we didn’t play in their sand box.

So a few of us put our heads together and imagined.

We determined an imaginative circle to limit the possibilities. That was a great way to focus on the task at hand. We started with a visionary brainstorming. Then we chose which of those ideas reflected the brand, consumer mind set  and technological capacity.

The deadline enhanced our product. There was no time to mess around. We simply identified the goal, sketched the vision and made it happen. In choosing the presentation format, we had to select a media that we could build in just a few days. It also had to be able to articulate the germ of the idea. That was probably our biggest challenge. Because the media presented the idea, we didn’t have the luxury of explaining, body language or intuition.

Finally, being a few steps outside of the inner circle was advantageous. We were not as burdened by  limitations. We were able to glean consumer knowledge from using the web sites, participating in social media platforms and immersing ourselves into the organization as a consumer.

This little test of the imagination was an amazing lesson on creativity.

Ideas don’t just happen. They live in an imaginative circle. When the circle is too big, we wander aimlessly. If the circle is too small, we are unable to think creatively. When the circle is just right (says Goldilocks), we are able to define the space with imagination.

Unlimited time does not produce unlimited ideas. There are so many interruptions and opportunities, that a wide berth of time gives us a lot of space to wander unproductively. Our minds love a challenge, but to meet that challenge is a little more difficult. Deadlines give us focus and energy.

Finally, step back and look from the outside. Seeing things from the inside out shatters your ability to relate to a consumer. Just last week I received a short piece of content from a client. This content was developed by a product designer, not a communication person. When I ran a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test on the content it was rated at Grade 19. That’s an additional 7 years of post secondary education. Considering that 80% of the American population reads at a Grade 6 or under, even if I give Canadians a couple of years’ intelligence, it’s just not friendly. Standing in the shoes of your audience is vital.

The results of the little challenge were pretty good and we were a favoured contender… it just shows what a little imagination, vision and dedication can do.

What donors want

DATE: July 5th, 2012

I just received the executive summary of the donor survey conducted by Penelope Burke’s group, Cygnus Applied Research. It’s important that non-profits read this report with care, understanding that this is a survey of what donors think they want, not what they actually respond to. There are no test results, no hard data from non-profits to test this on-line focus group.

While there are some interesting things that non-profit leaders can learn, Burke’s overall position will lead your fund raising team into a spiral downturn of overall revenue.

First of all, I completely agree that all of our fundraising should be donor centric. We need to understand our donor, their motivations, their responses and the causes that most appeal to them. It’s important that we build long term successful relationships with each donor.

But we need to understand their responses, not what they think they respond to.

According to Ms. Burke donors want to know what is accomplish, what has been accomplished and what is the latest news from the organization.

I have no doubt that that is what donors say they want from an organization. We know that financial integrity, reputation and stewardship are core elements donors look for in an organization. But we also know, by testing, that donors do not respond to more information.

Several years ago one of our clients had Ms. Burke come and teach them how to transform their fund raising activities by using the donor-centered approach. Basically, the program consisted of decreased mailing for the best donors. So when a donor gave, the next mail sent was an update on the accomplishments of their recent donation. I literally went head to head with the Executive Director to attempt to discourage this approach, but he was determined to test what Burke promoted as tested and true (Although none of the research published by her research group cites donor responses and data collected at the organizational level). So we compromised on an A/B split test for three years.

Within 18 months the organization’s best single gift donors had significantly reduced their overall giving. The test was planned for three years, but the data we collected was so dramatic, we stopped the test mid-way. We continue to fight an uphill battle to regain the donors we lost during the test.

What Burke neglects is what donors do, and she focuses on what donors say they do.

We know donors complain about over-solicitation. I am not surprised at that. But what she doesn’t point out is donors who are well-cultivated and loyal to an organization do not consider the mail from that organization as solicitation, they see it as a personal letter from the executive director.

We just completed a survey for one of our clients. Less than 1% commented on too much mail — even though we asked. They receive up to 18 pieces of mail annually.

Because Burke does not use intelligence gained from fundraising organizations, but from donors’ opinions, she misses core elements in effective fundraising strategies.

Core to effective donor cultivation and revenue growth for fundraising organizations are:

1. Donors respond to need. They do not respond to structural change, organizational policies or vague development strategies. They want to know that their charitable giving is going to impact the lives of real people.

2. Donors want to see, feel and hear the need. They do not want reports of numbers, statistics or past success. They want to know their dollars are really necessary. That makes sense. Why would I give if you had already accomplished the task. The donor wants to feel their dollars, whether a small or large gift, is needed.

In our surveys and tests of organizations that report successes regularly to their donors, we have seen incredible satisfaction reports from donor surveys while their overall giving has decreased. The donors  are very pleased that the organization they gave to is successful. And they have moved on, because the work that needed doing is done. More effective organizations communicate frequently with bold expressions of the real need, understanding that building a solid relationship with the donor requires ongoing and frequent communication.

3. While giving patterns vary from the single gift mass donor to the monthly, middle and major donor, they all are moved to give out of compassion. While middle and major donors respond well to a blend of logic and emotion, in all of our tests, taking out the emotion results in a plummeting of donations. While donors say they want logical, statistical evidence, they respond from their heart.

I often wonder why, in fundraising literature or evaluation, we feel that heart-felt giving is a negative.

Sharing our lives, dollars and time with people who need us is human. The emotional response to the suffering of another is what gives us dignity, humanity and courage.

Non-profit organizations have an incredible opportunity in the era of “I want more stuff.” They are in the front lines of patient care, development, social services, education and community aid. They walk alongside people who are afraid, lonely, sick, and caught in poverty. They are able to go where I can’t, speak where I have no voice, care where I can only imagine.

They are not about raising funds.

They are a bridge between me and the immense need. With one hand they walk with me, sharing their stories, encouraging me to come alongside. With the other hand, they walk with the community, the child, the father, the mother, the patient, the student giving them strength and courage to continue.

True Confessions #2

DATE: July 4th, 2012

QR codes…. yes, that lovely black and white graphic that links your smart phone or tablet  to the web.

Here’s how the conversation usually goes…

C: “Have you heard about QR codes?”

G: (hmmm…. how do I answer that?) “Yes!”

P.S. In existence since 1997, QR codes are becoming more prominent. While the stats look great when we see the numbers (14 million users) the percentage of active users (some stats say 5%…. but it’s hard to tell) are not as high as they should be.

C: “We think that QR codes will really boost our sales and we want them on all of our letterhead, business cards and print ads.”

G: “Great…. where to you want them to link?”

Ahhh…. this is the catch. You see QR codes are a very interesting bridge between your products and the consumer’s smart phone or tablet. Now there are some caveats. First of all, the consumer has to have downloaded an app. That just takes seconds and the savvy technology user will has no trouble doing that. Less savvy users find it frustrating and time consumer — when a coupon in the mail is right in their hand. While the published data surrounding QR codes hints at increasing usage, the graphs show early buy in and steady decline in use. The iPhone, considered the most sophisticated, has lost QR share steadily over Androids (no point in mentioning Blackberry or Windows). There is still some difficulty in scanning the code.

But let’s get back to our classic conversation….

C: “Our home page.”

OK… but there are some challenges. If the consumer is using a tablet, the home page will most likely work fine. But if they are using a smart phone, the web site must be optimized for mobile. While this is not particularly challenging, few sites have made the leap to mobile. If your site is not optimized for mobile, avoid QR codes. Don’t risk disappointment. QR codes are designed to be mobile, active and immediate.

While the numbers of people using QR codes is rising, there seems to diminishing loyalty. A lot like a shiny new toy at Christmas discarded for the card board box. In my personal experience, QR codes have been disappointing and invalid many times.

Slapping QR codes on publicity is really a waste of time unless you are strategically positioned to use them well.

True Confessions: #1

DATE: July 3rd, 2012

One of the most interesting aspect of being an agency is the little conversations we have with people outside of our work environment. Like the woman I had a beer with the other evening who just built her own web site — for NOTHING! Can you believe it? There are great little programs out there that let you build a web site on your own. Now WHY would ANYONE hire an agency to build on for you?

I bit my tongue…

In honour of Canada Day, the 4th of July and the miracle of summer, let me play out a few scenarios with you…

#1. C: “Gayle, our agency just gave us a great idea. They suggested that we launch our new web store with coupons.”

G: “Sure. Coupons are great. How does the coupon fit into your campaign and what results are you looking for?”

C: “Well, we want to get people to our web store.”

G: “Do you want people to buy something?”

C: “That would be nice.”

G: “Are you willing to discount a product to drive people to the site, letting the marketing components of the site drive them to even more great products?”

C: “Well, we want to be careful with discounts. We had a marketing meeting this morning and the team isolated a group of products that weren’t moving, we thought we’d feature them.”

G: “Hmmm, do you have any products that are high profit with great selling appeal that your customers really love?”

C: “Yeah, but we thought that we should get rid of the stuff no one is buying.”

So let’s stop right there and unravel this a bit.

First of all, marketing team is choosing to let tactics run their plan. The very first step to developing a strong and effective marketing plan is to carefully articulate what you want. What are the goals for your business? That’s really the foundation of your marketing plan.

For a company selling product, I would guess they want to sell more product. If you’re just starting out in the product selling business, you will need to experiment a bit to see what works and what doesn’t.  But there are basic premises: first of all, know your audience. My daughter-in-law is a genius in direct sales. In order to supplement the family income, while maintaining a flexible schedule to deal with children and her home and fun stuff, she has chosen to sell a skin care product through the direct home sales model. I have to say, to watch her in action is brilliant. I once watched her sell over $600 of product to 4 Mennonite women who are very prudent. AND each of them booked a show in their own home.

She is clear headed about her goal — she sells product. She knows which products sell best to each group. She carefully manages her shows to build affinity with the customer and trust for the product she sells.

The second challenge is a focused goal. You see, I don’t just want people to visit the web site, I want them to press the BUY button. The coupon has to be strategically designed to incite a sale. We all want to sell the products that are lounging in our warehouse. But focusing our sales on products that don’t move is a waste of valuable marketing dollars. Our coupons are lost leaders. The discount represents a part of the cost of the coupon. What are you willing to spend to get the customer to love your store?

Coupons are really the outer layer of marketing… they are the colour that gets people excited. But the real marketing happens underneath. It starts with knowing our target audience. Once that audience (or perhaps audiences) is defined, it lies in choosing the product that they will LOVE. They may not need it or even want it, but your job it to get them to love it. Remember, you have a specific audience. Your great aunt Martha may not even like it, she may never buy it — but refuse to listen to her unless she is the audience.

Kevin and I did a campaign a few years back. And, frankly, I hated the creative. It was oldish, cheesy and really not appealing. We tested it among the defined audience. It worked magic! When people ask me if I like it, I am careful with my answer — if I’m not the target audience, I need to test it with the right people.

Secondly, understand the emotional appeal of your product. Watching car advertising never fails to amuse me. By and large, they understand that people are not buying something to get them from Point A to Point B. They are buying peace of mind or maybe prestige or maybe joie de vive. If I’m a young mom with a new born baby, I want to make sure the vehicle protects my child. If I’m an upcoming executive with something to prove, I’m going to slide right past the safety stats to the luxury add-ons. If I’m 30 something, without kids I’m probably going to want something that delights me. Watch the ads — you’ll see the various advertisers appeal to the passion of their audience.

Stay tuned for true confession #2….