Birds Eye View

What charities can learn from commercial brands

By Gabby Krite, Head of Digital Operations 

In our previous article we explored the similarities in the macro challenges between NFPs and commercial brands. We were keen to challenge the perception that charities are boring advertisers and commercial brand are all innovators – the reality is that marketing teams have the same challenges wherever they work. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t differences between the sectors and in the next two articles, Rebecca and I will delve into what each sector can learn from the other. At TKF, we are in great position to have a breadth of clients to draw knowledge from and that diversity of experiences is something we try to use in our planning and buying every day.

The core difference between the sectors is that charities are defined by their cause and brands are defined by their product and/or service – the organisational culture and direction flows down from that. Being cause led means that charities can lose sight of things like creating value for the donor, customer experience and bravery in their messaging. We’ll explore some of these areas below.

Building the business around the “consumer”

Following on from the above, being product led makes it easier for commercial brands to put consumers at the heart of their business – they are selling products to people and everything externally facing is tailored to maximising positive experience of the brand to build lifetime value. Theoretically, a charity should be doing exactly the same but their organisations are (rightly) built entirely around their cause and this muddies the waters. But in a world where public accountability is more and more important, charities cannot solely rely on the cause to do the heavy lifting of the brand. Every touch point a person has with a charity should aim to build favourability and relationships with the person. In some cases this might even mean less contact (don’t abuse that CRM list!) We have definitely seen some changes here over the last few years with the proliferation of value exchange products such as Unicef’s Paddington’s Postcards and Mind’s Paise for Mind Box. These were products created from audience insight, with their own messaging, objectives and onwards journeys. This creates a lot of tension – how do you balance the short term income from a great product, with the life time value you can generate with more cause led communications? How does a charity adopt the mentality of a product led business without losing sight of their mission? The key to me is to bring that audience led planning further into the business and put them at equal position for every decision you make.

Reducing bureaucracy

Charities have a lot of sensitivities to consider in their comms. The very nature of the existence of charities means that the services they provide are politicised. If you get the wrong message in front of the wrong person, it can have dramatic impacts (I’ve read some horrifying comments on client ads on social media). They also have to be mindful of how they portray recipients of their services and how they offer their services in their advertising. This means that they (rightly) have a lot of stages of approval to go through for external communications. But this means they loose a lot of bravery and creativity in how they speak to people. I’ve seen amazing innovation in charities, but it never bears out in their comms – everything gets iterated into the same safe template. A commercial brand often does not have the same sensitivities to consider – they can jump on trends with ease and speak with bravery and most importantly, humour. We explored emotional connection in the last article and charities are great at tapping into this but almost all of them struggle to unlock humour because of the sensitivity of what they do.

These considerations have also led to a very low uptake of influencer and PR strategies in the NFP sector. At TKF we firmly believe in an Owned, Earned, Shared, Paid philosophy where Paid media comes last to plug the gaps of the others. When they all work in tandem the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts but charities really struggle to adopt this. They face challenges with departments working in isolation, it is really difficult to justify spend for influencers/PR when they have unpaid brand ambassadors and they have to have an iron grip on the comms being put out on their behalf. Commercial brands have far more flexibility to capitalise on Earned and Shared media which makes their paid media work that much harder.

In the next article Rebecca will take you through the flip side – what commercial brands can learn from charities, a perspective we do not see much of in the industry.