Birds Eye View

NFP vs commercial brands…or not?

A series from Gabby Krite, Head of Digital Operations and Rebecca Bedding, Senior Account Manager

By Gabby Krite, Head of Digital Operations

I have always known that I wanted to work in the NFP sector, but I wasn’t sure how to find the right role for me. Having left a possible career in Dementia research, I was hungry for intellectual challenge with pace and I thought working at an NFP would have too much red tape for that. I found the perfect balance when I joined TKF – an ad agency with a rich heritage in charity clients but also a range of commercial brands, offering me the well-rounded experience I wanted. Having worked here for 7 years now and seen many clients on their growth journey and whilst I joined to work with charities, I have found that their challenges are not so different from commercial brands. I think there is a perception that the two broad sectors are worlds apart and I would like to challenge that.

Rebecca Bedding (Senior Account Manager and formerly at British Red Cross and WaterAid) and I will be creating a series of articles exploring the interplay between sectors. In this article we’ll be reviewing the similarity in challenges and the transferrable knowledge between the sectors. In articles 2 and 3 we will look at behaviours we have observed from each sector and how they can learn from each other. And lastly, we’ll explore the impacts of purpose led brands on charities and their services.

NFPs and commercial brands are more similar than you think

Interviews are an interesting window into the opinions of people in the industry. I’ve interviewed a lot of people in the last few years and I always try to assess what types of brands people are keen to work on – whilst we have a diverse portfolio, you can not work here without touching a charity at some point. I have found this to be like marmite – people are either very much interviewing because of the causes we work with or they would like to avoid charities like the plague. The former are often looking for more meaning in their work and to be valued by their clients and the latter are often looking for clients that are exciting and push boundaries. I have always found this to be a false dichotomy. There are commercial brands that have meaning and there are charities that push boundaries.

Beyond this, there is a perception that the two sectors are so different that the transferrable knowledge is minimal. However, I have observed that the macro challenges discussed in meetings are often quite similar and I’ll explore this below.

Marketing is marketing and all good marketing will start from an audience first perspective. No matter what that audience is, if you have tools such as TGI and YouGov available you can better understand where to find them, how to speak to them and what their motivators are. Every single brand I have worked with has an audience challenge but the most common one is how do we speak to Gen Z without alienating Generation X/Boomers and vice versa? How does your product or cause stay relevant to your audience when the world is changing so much all the time?

The tension in the above is an example of the balancing act of short term income and long term growth. Decisions that can ensure a business is still thriving in 20 years’ time are frequently incompatible with the need to make sure money is still coming in the door. Every marketing manager is accountable to a target and that target exists for a reason. I’ve observed that people expect this dynamic with charities and not with commercials brands. It’s certainly true that the  behemoth advertisers like Coca Cola and McDonald’s won’t assess their paid media in the same way but the reality is that the vast majority of commercial advertisers do not have this luxury.

Everyone is also trying to make an emotional connection with their audience to build salience and favourability. Even products as dry as a stocks & shares ISA are focussing their content on creating emotional connection because this is what people remember when they come to decision making. And at its best an advertiser is creating emotive content that is tailored to the audience they are speaking to. But in the digital age, this is no small feat. People are bombarded by advertising all competing for their attention and there is only so much that they can give – your content must also (somehow?!) stand out from the masses.

At the risk of sounding like a fuddy duddy, advertising in the digital age is a lot harder than it used to be. After 40 years of internet led innovation we have digital first advertising platforms (Google Ads, Tik Tok) and fundamental changes to traditional media such as TV (CTV) and audio (Podcasts). How do you sign off a 30% higher CPT on VOD in comparison to linear TV, even when all the data tells you you have a sizeable audience there? With the slow, tortured death of the cookie, things are only going to get more fragmented. How do you sign off a Tik Tok campaign knowing that it likely won’t record the same conversion rate as Meta but you know that there is a unique audience there? And how on earth do you adapt your ways of working, reporting and targets to this? It’s a mammoth task and frankly, the world is changing faster than organisations can adapt.

Related to this is measurement more broadly. The bottom of the funnel is getting tougher to measure and one would assume that a product led business would find it easier to pivot than a charity but everyone is desperate for a solution. As advertisers grow and mature mid funnel measurement becomes more important – after you have converted high affinity audiences you need to create consideration amongst new people. But that mid funnel is incredibly difficult to measure as it’s so intangible in comparison to awareness (do they know your brand or not?) and conversion (did they donate/buy or not?). Even when you move into awareness, this becomes patchy at best when you include digital. Robust and consistent measurement is a challenge that all advertisers face.

When you take a step back and look at the broad challenges, there really is no difference between NFPs and commercial brands. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that vertical knowledge is not important (that is the key to unlocking nuanced craft planning) but I would like to put to rest this prevalent idea in the industry that they are worlds apart.

In the next article, we explore what charities can learn from commercial brands.