by Dan Woychick
Following up on this summer’s one-question survey of non-profit marketers – What is the single biggest problem you face today? – we recently flipped the question upside down and asked:
When you’ve been successful, what went right?
Our first finding? Significantly fewer people responded to this survey – about 20% as many as the first one! I know that everyone who received the survey has experienced marketing success, so why are success stories harder to come by? Digging for meaning, I wondered:
- Are painful lessons simply more memorable?
- Are we predisposed to obsess over and seek solutions for our problems?
- Does this problem-solving focus blind us to opportunities for success?
Elements of success
It’s safe to say that when we feel successful, it’s because our actions have reshaped a difficult, or less-than-optimal circumstance. We rarely celebrate business-as-usual – hooray for maintenance! We want people to do something.
When it comes to accomplishing a task, we’re of two minds. There’s the part of the assignment that appeals to the rational side of our brain, and the part that appeals to our instinctive or emotional side. The examples of successful marketing cited by our survey respondents touched on both. Common themes included:
Clear direction and planning
There are very few projects that can be handled alone. The more complex the project, the more people involved, the more important it is to clarify individual roles and communication goals. The rational mind likes nothing better than a clear-cut objective, plan and process. People attribute much of their success to being well-prepared.
One potential pitfall to this mindset is “paralysis by analysis” – if you look long enough and hard enough you never leap at all! To counteract this, define the specific initial steps to take, identify the desired outcome (paint a captivating picture of what success looks like), and then get out of the way. It’s foolish and counter-productive to attempt to plan every last detail.
Have you ever made a big decision using nothing but logic? Face it, when there’s a battle between our hearts and heads, heads lose. Provide too much information and eyes glaze over, but connect to our emotional nature – pain, pleasure, passion – and we respond with feeling.
Whether it’s getting team members on board or provoking an enthusiastic response from your target audience, developing trust and empathy are keys to generating action. One respondent noted a significant increase in her department’s marketing success closely followed a period of relationship building with an internal client. Another said her greatest successes involved “nailing the message so that our target audience takes action.” I guarantee those successful messages touched an emotional chord.
Does your audience have an emotional stake in the outcome?
Marketing success isn’t easy or inevitable, and virtually impossible without the visible support of an organization’s leaders, but we can improve our chances by making it easier for our target audience (internal or external) to behave as we’d like.
Consider any satisfying experience, especially one that is usually a hassle or even dreaded. It’s as if all hurdles and headaches have magically disappeared. Except it’s not magic. It’s an obsessive attention to making an experience easier (consider Amazon’s one-click ordering or Southwest Airlines’ no baggage fee policy).
When things don’t go as planned, instead of assuming “they’re all idiots” consider the situation. What barriers can you remove? It’s likely you’ll find ways to support the needs of your audience by paving the way to the behavior you seek.
Accentuate the positive
When we focus all of our energy on solving problems – putting out fires – it’s easy to lose sight of what’s working. Eliminating problems, counter-intuitively, may not be as beneficial as finding ways to replicate the successes you’ve already enjoyed.
Ask yourself: What are we doing right and how can we do more of it? Identify situations where the project goal was met and the desired behavior change is happening (e.g., an increase in website visits, a successful event). Celebrate those successes – they’re hard-earned and rare – and share stories with your colleagues. Then, apply the lessons learned to your next assignment.
We seem to know a lot more about what went wrong, than what went right. In your organization, how much time is spent analyzing what IS working?
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard