Fire Your Marketing Department
Your marketing department, if you have one, is destroying you. I realize that’s an extraordinary claim for me to make, given that I know nothing about your particular marketing department.
It’s not the people in your marketing department. No doubt, they’re nice, sincere and hardworking. The problem is innate to marketing departments. As soon as marketing becomes a department, it becomes a destructive force.
I’ve watched this slow-moving catastrophe befall more nonprofits than I want to think about. So today, I’m going to show you three ways marketing departments kill nonprofit organizations. Maybe I can help you save yourself!
1. A marketing department is the wrong tool.
Note that I didn’t say, “Marketing is the wrong tool.” In fact, marketing is a critical tool for any nonprofit that intends to grow. But marketing as a discrete function will almost always lead you down very expensive blind alleys.
Who brings home the bacon in your organization? Probably your fundraising or development department. (If they don’t, fire them, too!) That’s because fundraisers are held accountable to measurable dollar goals. They become adept at pursuing those goals.
On the other hand, the outcomes of marketing are tough to quantify, so those who bother to measure at all tend to pursue vague, qualitative goals like “mindshare,” “awareness” and “brand equity.”
It doesn’t matter how much mathematical rigor you apply to measuring them. They all add up to exactly nothing you can take to the bank. You could spend literally millions of dollars to nudge your awareness index upward — and have no impact whatsoever on your bottom line. Other than the expense, of course.
Wasted money is only the beginning. Because the marketing discipline pursues goals fundamentally different from those of fundraising, their methods are fundamentally different. So different, in fact, that you will almost always end up with two parallel messaging platforms:
● Fundraising, which is built on direct-response principles and (I hope) honed by testing and discipline.
● Marketing, which aims to create clear, compelling and consistent messages of organizational self-expression.
When these two messaging strategies are segregated from each other, they can be in complete opposition. I have heard marketing experts say, without a hint of irony, “Effective fundraising may raise a lot of revenue, but it damages the brand.” In that mind-set, the organization’s “brand” actually is more precious and important than its mission.
That kind of solipsistic nonsense doesn’t last long in an environment of accountability for measurable, real-world, monetary outcomes.
2. Organizational silos are destructive.
About now, you might be thinking, “This Brooks character believes the entire discipline of marketing is just bogus.”
No, I don’t believe that. I know from experience that marketing is a very good thing — when it’s integrated with fundraising. Fundraising in a vacuum is almost as harmful as marketing in a vacuum. If you rigorously follow direct-marketing testing results with no reference to branding disciplines, your organization eventually will become completely indistinct. It will become a shadow or reflection of your target donors.
Fundraisers who “get” branding are miles ahead of those who don’t. But that’s not going to happen when marketing and fundraising are locked in different organizational silos. When that’s the case, they almost have no choice but to compete for budget, influence, recognition and respect.
The two mind-sets — already naturally divergent — grow ever farther apart. Instead of learning, synergy and a better product than either group could ever create on its own, you get pointless rivalries and squabbling over resources.
3. Everyone should be responsible for marketing.
The very existence of a marketing department seems to let everyone else off the hook. They accurately can say about marketing, “That’s not my department.”
Trouble is, marketing is too important to leave up to marketers alone. If marketing isn’t built into your entire organization from top to bottom and side to side, you’re lost. No nonprofit exists in a bubble, following its dreams with no connection to the rest of the world. They all depend on mobilizing outsiders.
It’s everyone’s job to tell your story in a way that donors, prospective donors and others can understand. It’s everyone’s job to create memorable, exciting programs that outsiders can love and support. It’s everyone’s job to take part in the conversation that’s forming around the things you impact. It’s everyone’s job to know, understand and respect donors.
I’m not proposing some kind of Age of Aquarius future, where program directors are writing direct mail and accountants are designing Web sites. You’ll always need the specific skills of good marketing: copy, design, strategy, plus media and production expertise. If you want that stuff done right, you need professionals to do their jobs.
But when the marketing department is the only group taking responsibility for marketing, it will fail. It simply can’t do it alone.
And here’s the kicker: If you leave marketing to marketers, not only will they fall short of the big job that it is, they’ll do even the stuff they can handle all wrong.
You see, locked away in their own department, they’ll come to view themselves as gatekeepers for all marketing functions. They’ll spend their time (and your money) controlling the message and shushing everyone else. Meanwhile, their eyes on the wrong prize, they’ll neglect the real job of marketing:
● building a truly remarkable organization; and
● taking part in the genuine conversation that forms around such organizations.
Maybe marketing used to be about fonts, color palettes and tightly defined messaging platforms. Today it’s about conversation, collaboration and authenticity. Complex stuff. Hard to understand. Harder to put into practice. And nearly impossible when you have an isolated, out-of-context marketing department.
So if you have a marketing department, get rid of it. Or repurpose it and integrate it, making everyone responsible for measurable goals that will move your organization forward.
If you don’t have a marketing department, spare your organization the money, time, pain and lost opportunity it will cost you.
Jeff Brooks is creative director at Columbia, Md.-based database marketing agency Merkle.