We are increasingly bombarded with information – coming at us from all directions 24 hours a day (if we allow it). In the face of this onslaught, the social entrepreneur might be inclined to give up trying to promote their enterprise or the campaigner their cause – particularly if metaphorically shouting louder and louder is just not their style.
But there are more subtle and equally effective ways to get your voice heard above the din; to differentiate yourself from competitors and keep your customers for longer. In doing and studying not-for-profit marketing for 35 years, I have identified many low/no cost ways to stand out from the rest – here are some.
Stress success: People (customers, paid and unpaid staff, financial backers, and other supporters) want to be associated with success. Use every opportunity to demonstrate the positive difference you’re making. Make good use of endorsements and good press coverage of achievements. Be specific about your success and back it up with evidence – this is not about spin.
Under promise and over provide: Don’t make inflated claims to attract business or other kinds of support. You undermine your organisation and the sector as a whole. Be positive but precise about what you can and can’t do. If I promise to send your order within a week and you get it the next day you’re impressed. If I do the opposite, I may lose your trust for ever.
Know your purpose: There’s a temptation for organisations to try to be all things to all people – avoid it! If you know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how well you’re doing it – and you can communicate this clearly inside and outside your organisation – you’ll be doing well. Every opportunity to develop the business should be assessed against your core purpose – will it take you closer to your next destination?
Take Care: Good marketing is about the efforts you make to go that extra mile to meet your customers’ needs. Think of the Friday phone call that, handled well, resulted in a £1M legacy for a Scottish medical charity. Ironically, it’s the little things that can leave more of a lasting impression (bad as well as good, so beware!) than grand gestures. And it’s not about how much money you throw at a problem.
Listen and respond: Make sure you handle complaints carefully. Done well it can turn that person into a regular customer and even an advocate. More generally, solicit and use both good and bad feedback. Always start with them – listen to what people are saying (and not saying) If you say you take feedback seriously prove it.
Everything communicates: Don’t think that promotion can be left to one member of staff or a marketing team. Whether you like it or not, everything you and your colleagues do and don’t do sends out messages. So, by design or default, all enterprises have a brand/ image even if they don’t know what it is! Make sure that you control those outgoing messages as much as you can – consistency in your publicity materials is one way of doing this.
Connect with hearts and heads: A good mix of personal stories with facts and figures make a powerful combination. Stories will connect with people at the heart, facts and figures will connect at the head. (Facts and figures also help control the wild claims). Build up your stock of photos of real people – happy customers, busy staff, interesting events – ways to make your business come alive.
Aim to surprise: And make sure the surprise is a pleasant one! The supermarket chain Aldi led the way in changing stock (and offers) in shops every week to create a sense of anticipation and surprise. Other supermarket chains have since followed suit. You don’t have to change so often, but always think how you can develop and improve your service. Small surprises (a card to thank your customer for their purchase?) can also have a big effect.
Develop and use your USP [unique selling point]: Find out why the people who use your services think you’re special. When a choir asked its members this question a consensus came up around the high standard achieved (with no auditions) and that the choir attracted local people. This was developed into a strap line “fine music, made locally”.
Don’t take loyalty for granted: People are only loyal until someone comes along and offers something better. You take the loyalty of your supporters (customers, paid and unpaid staff, members and subscribers) for granted at your peril!