by Dan Woychick
Since the widespread adoption and evolution of the internet, the vast majority of non-profit organizations have been scrambling to keep up. This extends to marketing and communications offices, with budgets under pressure, trying to adapt print conventions to the online world – or trying to eliminate print altogether.
Whether holding a TV remote, a mouse, a smartphone, or a magazine in hand, customers have a glut of options for consuming information and entertainment. And marketers, often with no idea which channel will be most attractive, hedge their bets and churn out content – everywhere.
Thirty years ago, the investment firm EF Hutton used a long-running ad campaign to tout the value of its advice: When EF Hutton talks, people listen.
Nowadays, if EF Hutton was talking, it would be competing with every other bank, broker, and insurance company to be heard. Everyone is talking – including customers – at the same time. It’s much more difficult to listen than it used to be.
Nevertheless, every project, no matter the goal, should start with listening to gain a deep understanding and appreciation for the audience it serves. For your communications to be successful, you must be able to answer your audience’s two fundamental questions:
- Why should I spend my time with you?
- What can I get from this [magazine, brochure, website, app] that I can’t get anywhere else?
Old school thinking
While nonprofits may be hampered by a lack of resources, just as debilitating they often remain true to outdated models of gathering and presenting information. Subsequently, many projects suffer from:
- Poor design
- A lack of dynamic content
- Poorly-defined audience and purpose
- Ineffective storytelling
- Not embracing the social nature of the web
- Remaining stuck in the 20th Century
After defining the audience, one must then ask: What is the purpose of this project? It should:
- Connect with audiences through storytelling, delivery and presentation
- Shape perceptions of the brand by reinforcing key messages
- Support organizational goals
To remain relevant you need to take calculated risks, look at things with a fresh eye, absorb and adapt ideas from unexpected sources and, above all, challenge the assumptions of the assignment.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. – Shunryu Suzuki
Marketing has become like the gluttonous diner at the all-you-can-eat buffet: I’ll have one of everything! The never-ending churn of producing content on every channel is self-defeating. We’ve got to know our audience well enough to make smarter choices.
Going forward, we need to acknowledge that digital media and print each have strengths, and should be considered and developed concurrently and selectively – not sequentially. When it comes to telling stories:
- Print can’t compete with digital media for timeliness.
- Digital media can be social, easily shared and searched.
- Each relies on design to aid in navigation, legibility and narrative pacing.
- Print is a less ephemeral artifact – more curated, collectible and savored.
We believe that print remains a vital communications channel worth doing well for two reasons:
- Some people – myself included – still find print the most pleasurable means of reading for information and entertainment.
- Print has a lasting visibility and presence – on coffee, bedside, and waiting room tables – that online platforms can’t match.
Working on print and digital content simultaneously and cohesively may be a more fluid process (e.g., developing design concepts from rough drafts or outlines) and can be more work – with the need for video, still photography and web development – but we believe it is the future of nonprofit marketing.