USP? BOM? WTH?
Unique selling proposition … benefit-oriented messaging … brand management — sounds like a bunch of advertising execs talking strategy, doesn’t it? Could be. Or it just as easily could be a bunch of development professionals. At least it should be!
As a marketing professional who’s spent more than two decades in both the commercial and nonprofit sectors, I’ve discovered that these two worlds are more closely aligned than many think.
The unique selling proposition
Take “mission” for example. Many committed development professionals would have you believe that the only mission in the commercial sector is to separate consumers from their hard-earned dollars. They’d be surprised to discover that in the commercial world, before any advertising is crafted, there’s lots of discussion about mission — they just call it something else. Commercial advertisers talk about the product’s unique selling proposition: what makes the product they’re promoting different from all the others. Their product must fill a need or help their customer solve a problem; in essence this is their “mission.”
There are thousands of nonprofit organizations out there. What’s the USP of your organization? How are you communicating that message to your “customers” — your donors?
If you’re an animal-welfare organization, think about your competition. You’re not just competing with your potential donor’s entertainment budget or the rising cost of gasoline — but also other charities, even other animal-welfare organizations.
Think about laundry detergents. Their advertising pits one product against another. This is how the advertiser communicates its USP. What makes your animal-welfare organization different from others? Are you clearly communicating those differences in your appeal letters?
Since we’ve already stooped to comparing our altruistic, imaginary animal-welfare organization to the likes of mere laundry detergent, let’s take a closer look at the advertising that features those detergents, the circulars that are stuffed in your mailbox every week. What can we learn from them?
Retailers have become experts at driving traffic, creating a sense of urgency with their increasing reliance on sales. They know how to get their customers up off the couch and into the stores this coming weekend. What reasons are you giving your donors to donate today?
Reread one of your direct-mail letters from last year. Could you just as easily be sending this same letter out in your next mailing? I hope not!
While the overarching reasons to give might not have changed in the last 12 months, your latest appeal letter should tell donors what you’ve done with their previous donations, how much progress you’ve made recently and how your current efforts would benefit if only they made a gift right now. Why should they give today and not next month, or even next year?
Now that you’re busy rewriting that appeal letter, take an even closer look at the reasons to give. Does your letter go on and on about whales, or dolphins caught in tuna nets, or bears in India? While this might be central to your mission and should be the cornerstone of any fundraising letter, don’t forget about what’s in it for potential donors. Why should they give? What will they get out of it?
Advertisers in the commercial sector refer to this as benefit-oriented messaging. Instead of touting that their laundry detergents now include color-safe bleach, our crafty commercial advertisers will say that their products have been reformulated to now get your whites whiter. They’re selling the “sizzle,” not the “steak.”
Promoting benefits is easy for some membership organizations. Oftentimes they have membership cards that entitle donors to discounts at local restaurants, theaters, galleries, etc. But there are other forms of benefits, too. If your organization has a donor newsletter or sends electronic updates, don’t forget to promote this benefit as well. (Example: Our quarterly newsletter will keep you updated on all our rescue efforts, so you’ll learn firsthand, from those in the field, how your dollars are making changes in India.)
Then there are all those “soft” benefits. Some complain that soft benefits are harder to sell, but any copywriter worth his or her salt can make those seem just as desirable with a turn of a phrase. Recently I read an appeal letter for a public television station. It promoted its programming as being “a window to a world of the unknown.”
“It can educate, inform and enlighten. It can take you on an amazing adventure to far off places, back in time or even into space!”
Wow! I want to go on that adventure. Sounds like a benefit to me.
Identifying your USP and crafting benefit-oriented messaging are part and parcel of your brand-management efforts.
A brand is more than a logo or a tagline. Building a brand starts from the inside, out. The cornerstone of your brand is your mission, but, ultimately, your brand is defined by the actions of your organization. Everyone in your organization needs to be able to understand and communicate the mission. In essence, everyone in your organization — not just the development or major-giving staff — is responsible for “the sale.”
Consider asking everyone in your organization to craft an “elevator speech.” How would they describe your organization and the work you do in 60 seconds or less? How do their perceptions of the organization compare to the one you “sell” in your fundraising letters? Getting everyone on the same page is brand management.
So next time you’re at a cocktail party and hear two marketers talking unique selling proposition, benefit-oriented messaging and brand management, don’t assume they work for Johnson & Johnson. They just might be two savvy development professionals. FS
Debbie Merlino is vice president, fundraising, at Plymouth, Mass.-based agency DMW Worldwide.