So, you want to grow your organization.

Who do you listen to for insight into how to expand your audience — your current best donors, or some new audience that you believe represents your growth opportunity? And how do you listen?

Here’s an article, via Social Media Insider, with some important cautions. It’s by Catharine Taylor, who blogs here on digital media and advertising. She makes two key points, using recent serious marketing mistakes by Tropicana, Motrin, Facebook and Sci-Fi Channel to illustrate them.

First, she advises to listen first and foremost to your most passionate existing customers (donors). In each of the examples Catharine cites, marketers made the mistake of imagining a product or service or message improvement they thought would build a larger audience, supporting their initiative with market research. But then each change got clobbered when current devoted customers revolted, in three of the cases (so far) forcing embarrassing backtracking.

Second, she uses these examples to trash focus groups, which she believes are rendered totally archaic in the face of the unmoderated, unadulterated, real-time conversations that go on about brands these days via social media — people talking to other people, including about brands they like or dislike, spontaneously. In her view, these online conversations are what brands should be paying attention to and heeding the most.

As she sums up her dual points: "I’m certainly sympathetic to the challenge companies face in trying to expand beyond their core, but, courting new lovers at the expense of the old is a recipe for disaster, and it’s only compounded when focus groups are held up as the last word in what consumers want."

I’m about 85% in Catharine’s camp.

To grow an organization, the first thing I would try to do is identify my best donors and figure out how to clone them. What common demographic or attitudinal characteristics do they share? What kinds of appeals attracted them? Exactly how/where did I acquire them? As I listened to these best donors, I’d be trying to hear and distill the essential basis of their support — emotional and rational — for my organization.

Simply put, I’d apply the marketing truism: birds of a feather …! I’d expect to be able to achieve some decent, cost-effective growth following that strategy.

Then, with the other 15% of my mind share and resources, and only when I really felt I was motoring on all cylinders with my core audience, I’d also be scanning the horizon for other growth opportunities. For example, maybe I think my 99% Anglo environmental organization might appeal to Hispanics. Not much I’m going to learn from my best donors and their Facebook chatter on that one!

I’d obviously need to test out my program and message with my hypothesized target audience. Maybe intelligently constructed focus groups would abet that process; maybe I’d also learn something from monitoring the chatter on pertinent blogs or social nets catering to Hispanics. And maybe this research would guide me to an effective marketing strategy to test.

That said, would I re-frame or re-position my organization to appeal to Hispanics? Of course not. In fact, thinking I might have a decent strategy for appealing to Hispanics, I’d probably go back to my current best (Anglo) donors and see what they thought of the whole idea. Not to give them veto power necessarily, but just to see if they shared my enthusiasm for taking their organization in a somewhat new direction, and if not, why not … so I could set my course knowingly.

Then in twenty years, when my best donors were predominantly Hispanic, I’d reverse the process!

What’s your view? Stick with your old lovers? Or court new ones?


P.S. As a marketer, I loved this point too: "Then there’s the whole question of what compels a corporation to engage in big change initiatives in the first place. More often it’s from within, rather than from without, where the consumers live."



This article was posted in: Communications, Nonprofit branding, Nonprofit management, Social media.
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