(The Humanitarian Social Network)
I've never worked as a marketer myself. But I talk to my colleagues in marketing all the time. And the most common conversation goes something like this:
Me: "That [FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN X] is embarrassingly bad and distorts the reality of what we're actually doing. Why don't we explain X or Y to our donors?"
Marketer: "Because our donors make their decision about whether to give us their money within the first 15 seconds. They don't want to know the details. They don't want to engage. We have 15 seconds to hook them, or they're off to funding our competition!"
Me: "Yes, but surely someone out there wants to fund us on the basis of something other than 'brown-eyed children with their goats' appeals. Can't we at least try having a more intellectual and, well, truthful conversation with our donors?"
Marketer: "Look - we know our donors. They want emotional, cut-and-dried wins. And by the way, this is what pays your salary... Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
Me: [thinking to myself] "I need tequila..."
First, does this ring true for anyone else? I'd love to hear from some marketers in this thread, by the way. How have I misrepresented the marketing perspective?
Second, Is it just me, or is the current paradigm of aid marketing based on a complete tautology? Basically, "we have to do it this way because this way works --> this way works because this is how we do it."
Third, while of course I understand that NGOs need marketing revenue in order to survive, I also believe that we have a moral obligation (or maybe it's an ethical obligation) to move past the 15-second marketing and tell people what's really going on. Maybe they'll opt out of hearing and engaging. Maybe it'll cost us the loss of some donors who really did believe that their $20 actually did save little Chaiwat from a life of sweatshop slavery and are now really mad to discover that it didn't.
But it's that or shouldn't that be just a cost of doing business as an NGO?
The 15-second rule just sends me around the bend these days...
Someone tell me if I'm making more out of this than is really there. Where am I wrong on this?
Playing a little devil's advocate here, I would argue that there is a moral obligation on the part of worthwhile organizations to cater to the 15-second crowd (but not just the 15-second crowd) because if "we" don't, someone else will, and that someone else may be just the kind of organization whose work makes "our" skin crawl.
Yeah, that's a good point, and one that I had considered. In recent months I've begun to think, though, that there's an element of responsibility on the part of the donor, too. A responsibility to know the difference between good aid and bad aid, and to fund the former. ...yes, all but impossible to implement/enforce...just thinking...
Your comment painted this picture in my mind:
We're at a party (probably funded by a major donor, but I might even like this major donor and his 20-something old wife). But we weren't invited to the party as guests, we are the "cater"ing team -- bringing along our platters and trays of 3 second and 15 second bull shit to serve the guests there. Suddenly, it's now an episode of cake boss and there are other cake makers there, with their stylish, magnificently decorated cakes that are organic and gluten free.
We are so hungry because we haven't eaten in days (we got stuck in the Hunger Games arena along the way to the party). We are now faced with a decision: Do we throw away our 15 second cake and partake in the fancy, pretty, rainbow cakes? But in doing so, we give in to the Gamekeepers, selling our souls to the man. But we're so hungry. What a dilemma.
There is truth in what you and the marketer are saying. I am a filmmaker and am on a one year assignment in South Sudan for a microfinance organization to produce media.
Before I left, I developed a comprehensive strategy. They were starting from ground zero. I worked to put together a selection of films that would be able to be used in different venues, reach different audiences, appeal to various attention spans, and work together.
You need some short, engaging material to draw people in that want to go deeper and stir up interest. There is also a place for longer pieces that get into the people, the work, and the heart behind what the organization does. It's kind of like a funnel that starts with a wide and diverse audience and works its way to the people interested and motivated to become a supporter and advocate. You pull people with the short stuff and get them to stay with the longer stories. Longer media is great for individuals to share with friends and organizations to use with foundations and at events as well as their website.
The 15 sec material is what should only be used on social media, tv, etc. It all works together and should be integrated into the organization's comprehensive advocacy and donor development strategy.
Yes, that makes sense. And I suppose that what I'm sort of railing against in my own work is then strong organizational reluctance to move past the sound-bite/15-second messaging into more meaningfully substantive stuff.
It's important for donor communication to see deeper into what is happening and be connected to what the organization is doing. I'm new to humanitarian media as a niche of the filmmaking and photography world, and have only worked with one organization. I haven't run into this yet, but I'm sure it's out there like you have said.
Love the funnel metaphor. I've used that to explain the blog editing process to my colleagues--i.e. when they send me stuff that sounds too academic or donor reportish, I shift sections and sentences around to create the "funnel" while retaining as much of their own personal voice as possible.
Oh, so then social media is the place for the bad marketing. And we can put the longer boring stuff on a website.
It's not about a place for bad marketing and boring stuff. It's about attention spans and who is interested. A person who wants to give and support a charity has a lot of options. The internet is a venue where you have to show them what you're about in a manner that holds their attention for the entire piece of media first.
At fundraising and awareness events, etc. people are ready and looking for longer content and more depth. That's not the reality of how many internet users work. Social media is the net. The goal is to get people to watch and engage in your longer format stories, but only a small minority will jump into that as their first ever engagement.
I'm not extremely knowledgeable about other organizations marketing strategies and programs, but I do know my own approach and I'm somewhat glad I work with a small NGO as a first timer in humanitarian media. I care about people's stories and the truth, so that is what I keep paramount. I also have to pay attention to the realities of viewer behavior in order to be successful.
attention spans are all about wording - not about message.
from one humanitarian media worker to another: im telling you, it's about word. word any message right, and you'll their attention. get their attention, and you can get their... (whatever you want).
worry less about length, and more about wording.
how are you liking the space, as a first timer?
First of all - I really, reallyyyyy need to point out the points where your information is false.
1. It's 3 seconds! 15 seconds? I don't even pay attention that long. Unless the goat is really cute.
2. They probably aren't "off to fund our competition." They probably just don't give a shit. I call those people "bad soil." (Although, some days, I think they are smarter than we are)
3. Having intellectual, truthful conversations with our donors overestimates their capacity to understand and even desire to hear it out... (Okay, not allll of them. But most. I've watched attempted intellectually driven campaigns have the life squeezed out of them by big, NFL-playing major donors -- and they squeeze hard)
4. It does pay our salaries. Wish it were more.
I agree with you about one thing -- we have a moral or ethical obligation to give at least 20 seconds of less-than-fluffy-marshmallowy-bull-shit to our donors. Unfortunately, morals don't run NGOs. Donors run NGOs. And sometimes scripture.