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Three ways charities can think more like brands to connect with a bigger audience

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2nd Jun 2014
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Of the 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales, startlingly, 0.3% of those on the register (500 charities) generate almost 50% of the total income. 6% generate almost 90% of the total annual income recorded. So what are these charities – those such as NSPCC, Oxfam, Cancer Research UK and Movember – doing right? What about the other 50% of charities?

First and foremost charities must remember that they are brands, and their strategy must be developed with this in mind. Yet we need to remember that the challenges they face can be very different. Charities will always be communicating with two distinct audiences; those seeking direct support and advice from the charity, plus their family and loved ones; as such, it is imperative that their communications reflect this.

Donor fatigue

This sensitivity to its audience is demonstrated by Depression Alliance, in particular through its new site Friends In Need. The overall look and feel of the site communicates warmth and friendliness, which was conveyed through the tone of voice, colour palette and UX. UX is key to this audience; we therefore the site was built for ease and accessibility, so that users were not put off by onerous registration forms and questionnaires.   

Elsewhere, Save the Children's primary aim was to eliminate donor fatigue on its site. As such, it developed a website that provides users with an immersive brand experience by ‘dropping’ them into a slum in Sierra Leone, allowing them to connect with children there and view 360-degree images of the slum.  

It is with these projects in mind that we have developed some guidance for those charities not in the top 6% looking to extend their reach and awareness.

Use the technology at your fingertips

Maximising social media and new technology platforms is the most effective way for charities to create household names for themselves - as the top UK charities are doing. No longer are small budgets a limitation; hard-hitting campaigns spread rapidly through social channels and, thanks to the real-time nature of digital, charities are able to maintain relevance on a daily basis.

Charities that win in the digital sphere are those that aren’t afraid to make mistakes. It’s a cut-throat environment so the more they put out, the more chance they have of succeeding.

Charities are brands

Charities must hone their messaging before launching revolutionary campaigns; it is necessary to first establish internally who they are and what they stand for. Charities are brands. They must be governed by a set of principles which will form a springboard for a consistent experience across audience touch points (articulating this distinct and consistent proposition does not rely on a large marketing budget).

There are three critical ingredients of a brand: its equity, personality and visual identity.

  • Equity: this can be simply a word that succinctly summarises what the brand stands for, although it is usually a phrase. A well-defined equity is simple and creative and provides a common goal for the entire team to work towards.
  • Personality: When it comes to brand behaviour it’s best to define it by both what the brand is and what it is not. Behaviour defines the tone of voice of communications, types of partnerships that might be formed and even the channel strategy.
  • Visual identity: More than just a logo, a visual identity is how the brand appears to the world. A strong brand is always consistent enough to be recognized immediately but sufficiently versatile to meet the needs of different audiences.

Increasing recognition

An understanding of its audience’s needs is necessary for Charities to ensure its campaigns resonate with them; this will enable charities to leverage consumer truths to create powerful campaigns. It will ensure the brand cuts through the noise and embeds itself in the hearts and minds of people. Science and logic simply won’t cut it; the best brands evoke emotion and prompt action, critical ingredients to make a charity successful.

A recent example of this is Cancer Research’s hard-hitting campaign where the ‘Cancer’ is personified and attacked in the copy, leading to lines such as: “It’s Cancer’s turn to be afraid” and “In your face, Cancer, you berk”.

Extending reach

Harnessing the power of the family and friends of those who have been affected by the cause is a good way to widen the reach of the charity to a broader audience. To amplify the voice of this small percentage of the audience, social media is a great tool. Regardless of channel, creative on a low budget cannot afford to be shy, jaws must be dropped and people must start talking.

Capture your audience for the long-term

Maintaining the freshness and relevance of the brand, developing an ongoing dialogue with consumers through the right channels and building a community around the brand are three important ways to engage someone in the long run. These tactics can help charities overcome one of the biggest challenges in the category, donor fatigue.

The greater the emotional connection with a charity, the less likely a donor will be to leave. To limit the chances of this happening, keep donors up to date with charity news; creating a calendar of events and using this as a basis for communications is one way of doing this. It is also important to give donors the opportunity to assume greater ownership and control over their donations; something which is far easier now thanks to technology.

With clear internal messaging and brand identity, maximising technological innovations and social channels, charities will not fail to succeed.

Melissa Reeve is planning director at Rufus Leonard.

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