Messaging: Why Consistency Is Everything
You can bet that, as you’re reading this, a tech startup—hunkered down in an exposed-brick, open-concept office somewhere in San Francisco or Austin or wherever—is working on the Next Big Social App. It’s inevitable, really. Given our insatiable appetite for all things mobile, social and sharing, it’s only a matter of time before the next Tumblr or Snapchat or Vine is upon us.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but for nonprofits that have bought in and embraced a multichannel approach to marketing and fundraising, it’s a godsend. There are more ways to reach donors than ever before, and more in the works at all times. And the staggering variety of channels makes it possible to reach just about any audience. Want tried-and-true? There’s direct mail. Want trendy? There’s Periscope, a social streaming video app. (Want both? Now you’re talking.)
But there’s a catch—and it’s a big one. How do you keep your messaging consistent across all those channels? Answering that question could be key to the success or failure of your multichannel marketing and fundraising efforts.
Why Consistent Messaging Matters
Let’s say a small, upstart animal rights organization is gearing up for a year-end fundraising drive. It decides on a multichannel campaign combining email, direct mail and several social media channels, hoping to engage potential donors across multiple touchpoints—standard operating procedure. In its email blast, the organization uses a light-blue-and-white color palette, matching its branding. In its postcards, it uses a dark blue. Its tweets are casual, informal, fun. Its Facebook posts are photos of shelter animals in need. Among all these channels, the overall message, a solicitation for donations, remains the same—but the campaign comes in well under goal.
What happened? Minor inconsistencies added up to a major mess for potential donors. The varying color schemes made it difficult to tell that the email and postcard were coming from the same organization. The inconsistent voice across Twitter and Facebook made it tough for donors to identify with the mission. The multichannel approach backfired—the campaign reached a ton of people, but it left them without a clear understanding of the organization.
It’s an easy mistake to make. In the rush to reach as many donors in as many places as possible, it’s easy to overlook the small details that, in aggregate, have a big impact on campaign success. And mistakes can be costly. “Inconsistent messaging confuses your audience,” said Angie Winschel, partner at Almanac Inc., a creative agency based in St. Louis. “When people can’t tell what you stand for, they can’t tell if they want to be a part of your cause and work. They won’t join, they won’t give, and they won’t tell your stories to their families and friends. Once you’ve created confusion, it’s very hard to clear it up.”
That confusion can transcend a single campaign, as well. The above example represents a relatively self-contained scenario—in theory, the organization could write it off as a single miss and get right back at it in its next fundraising drive. But what if the messaging inconsistencies run deeper than just slight variations in color palette and social media voice? What if everything from your website to your volunteers to your marketing materials to your press releases is out of sync? A large-scale messaging disconnect like this might not have an obvious, immediate impact, but it could be preventing your organization from reaching its maximum fundraising potential. And as Winschel explained, it comes down to branding.
“To be effective, you have to be communicating with your audiences across many channels. Your audience is using and consuming many channels every day, all day,” she said. “We like to tell our clients, ‘Your brand is alive,’ meaning it exists beyond that postcard you sent out or the email newsletter you created, and you must know that. Your audience is also carrying your brand with them and communicating about it in ways that you aren’t even aware of. To connect all those dots for people, your message has to be simple, clear and memorable.”
Stacy Maly-Rodgers, manager of direct response and database operations for the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation, offered similar advice. “Nonprofits are competing for every gift they receive, so you have to find a way to differentiate yourself from the others,” she said. “One way to do this is the consistency of your messaging. Whether it’s an email, a social media post or a direct mail piece, your donors and/or prospective donors know who you are when they receive your pieces. It makes you unique and defines you as a nonprofit.
“We have found with building this consistency, we are retaining more donors and we are successful at bringing our lapsed donors back,” she continued. “Without consistent messaging, you run the risk of donor confusion. They may confuse you with another nonprofit doing similar work. You must stand out and you must build consistency—it’s what reinforces your brand and/or identity.”