Who, or what, is your competition? (5 of 15)

competition, unique differentiator[This is part five of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

Your competition may not be who you think it is.

The next two questions on the 1,2,3 Marketing Tree are:

  • Who, or what, is your competition?
  • What makes you more compelling than your competition?

Before we can answer these questions, we need to ask another question.

What do you need?

Your organization requires many inputs from muffins for the staff meeting to grants for that new program you want to start. But, you are probably only worried about a small subset of inputs due to factors like a high impact on outcomes, supply shortages, or supply instability. Do you need clients? Funding? The attention of law-makers? When you want your voice to be heard, your biggest competition might be another nonprofit doing similar work. Then again, it might be the latest hit TV show.

Your local movie theater isn’t just worried about other cinemas. They are in competition with video games, putt-putt golf, that novel everyone is talking about, and all of the other things you might do with your free time this weekend.

The easiest way to think about competition is to step back from your own point of view and look at things from the point of view of the resource(s) you need and the people controlling that resource. Where else might the resources (e.g. money, time, energy) flow? That’s your competition.

Now think about the people making decisions about that flow. The potential volunteers deciding how to spend their time. The foundation manager designing metrics for grant evaluations. What factors are they considering as they make their decisions? Being more compelling than your competition is about being different in a way that impacts those decisions, i.e. in a way that inspires people pick you over the competition.

Who, or what, is Chirp’s competition?

Let’s turn to Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story.)

As a reminder, Chirp needs to get more students into their classes. This means they need to be thinking about what else birds might choose to get involved in. They need to know who/what their competition is and what differentiates them from that competition.

Steve the Crow’s bird choir is another organization that draws birds in from multiple flocks for a culturally enriching pursuit. This is the obvious competition. Steep competition also exists, however, from other bird pastimes like digging for worms, swimming in ponds, and pooping on cars.

Like all of us, birds use their free time to engage in activities that they find fun and meaningful. Chirp believes it is both fun and meaningful AND is distinctive in that they offer an opportunity to communicate with other flocks. Within bird culture, however, loyalty is expressed through choosing to be like all of your fine, feathered friends. So, many birds make choices about their time by simply flocking together with birds of the same feather. For this reason, Chirp will also want to show that entering its program can be a fun group activity and tout the benefits the whole flock can glean from being able to communicate with other species. By speaking with other flocks, birds can learn about cats to avoid and bushes with ripe berries.

Albert the Owl has been doing some interesting linguistic studies and has found geographic patterns in the single word songs that different flocks are using. He is proud to be part of an organization that cares about supporting such research and expects his findings to impact the way words are taught to birds in other areas. Steve’s bird choir is not engaging in any research and Albert is at a loss as to how anyone could consider the two organizations even comparable. If Chirp were competing for grant funding, this would be a compelling. From the viewpoint of a student considering entering the school, however, Albert’s research isn’t likely to be something they would participate in. So, as interesting and important as it may be, it isn’t something that makes them compelling to those birds.

In sum…

As you are thinking about who your competition is, make sure you think outside of the nonprofit box. And, as you think about what makes you more compelling than your competition, make sure you are thinking beyond the differences that matter to you and focus on what matters to the people you’re looking to engage in your mission.

So far in this series, we have been talking about some big picture aspects of what your organization is about. As we focus in on what your marketing should be about, some strategic decisions have to be made. That’s what we’ll go over next week.

Marketing is a means to an end. Period.

what are your goals?I teach a graduate course in Nonprofit Marketing at the University of Washington and Seattle University. The third week of class, we spend our entire three hours together focused entirely, exclusively, fully on gaining clarity on the ways in which marketing is a means to an end.

You’d think this class would be a no-brainer. These are super smart graduate students in public affairs and nonprofit management. They are up to their eyeballs in strategic planning, logic models and whatnot. Plus, they are goal-oriented by nature.

And yet this class, more than any other class during the quarter, leaves my beloved students bedraggled and forlorn. Their eyebrows furrowed. Their morale drooping.

This mystified me until I finally realized that it’s one thing to be told you have to set goals and another to set them, prioritize them and figure out how you and your team are going to achieve them.

Far more fun to think theoretically about goals and then proceed, in reality, to obsess about how many new folks are following your organization on Twitter. Never mind that Twitter isn’t the best way to achieve your goals necessarily. It feels good to have hoards of adoring fans and followers. It feels concrete. You can point to it. Each month you can put a spunky little green arrow in your report the board, indicating the upward growth occurring on the social media front for all y’all. #HipHipHooray

Unless you can clearly show how more followers and fans will lead to you achieving your organizational goals–goals like attracting more volunteers, retaining more donors, serving more people–your social media stats don’t matter one wit.

Traffic to your website or your blog. Number of people attending your event. None of these matter unless they support a specific organizational goal. That’s because marketing is nothing more–nor less–than a means to an end.

Start by setting your organizational goals. Then identify the specific ways in which marketing can help you achieve them. Always and forever in that order.

If you feel as befuddled by all this goal setting as my students do, this might help.

Jargon: It’s More Prevalent Than You Think

67bd[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

If you work for a 501(c)3 and you are not a private foundation, your nonprofit is deemed a public charity. By definition, that means you exist to serve the public. Yet, so often, you use language that is meaningless to people outside our organizations. It’s called jargon, and we’ve advised against it in the past.

What you may not know, however, is that jargon takes another dangerous form: pretentious and/or vague language. What if I told you words you use daily, words like community, impact and partnership, might be alienating the very people you’re trying to engage?

For example, say you tell someone that you are “serving the community”. You know exactly what community you’re serving. But an outsider would have no idea if you’re talking about the immediate neighborhood, the city, the county, or perhaps even another location all together.

If you’re unsure if you’re using jargon, just step back and ask yourself if someone who is not familiar with your organization would know what you mean. If the answer is no, find a more specific word. You can also check out this nonprofit Jargon Finder.

Remember, public charity workers:

“The repetitive, habitual use of insider lingo undermines the inherently public nature of the issues under discussion.” – Tony Proscio

What Twitter Taught Me About Writing

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.Delete Button

Twitter has forced me to learn something valuable. Its 140 character per post rule has shown me that, more often that not, I’m using more words than I need to.

When Twitter isn’t monitoring what I type, sometimes I don’t even know I’m using too many words. And I’ve never been the verbose type. Those who have met me know that I won’t talk your ear off without some coaxing (or without some wine). I always struggled to meet minimum page number requirements in school. Yet, even I say much more than I need to.

Take, for example, this article I shared the other day via social media. I started by quoting the article and adding my own thoughts:

Nonprofits win awards for clear communications. Why? “If there’s any (common) thread, it’s they keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

Twitter wouldn’t let me say all that and include a link to the article and a shout out to the person shared the article with me. After some deliberation, I ended up with:

Nonprofit clear communication winners “…keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

So simple. So clear. Yet, it still conveys the same information. Remember, the clearer your message is, the more people will read and understand it.

Writing concisely is not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult for most people. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

The good news is, concise writing is a habit that can be learned. A good place to start is with your organization’s mission statement. Challenge yourself to say the same thing with 3 less words. Depending on your organization, you may be able to get to 5, 10, or even 15 less words! Also, look critically at the next thing you write for your organization. It could be anything – even an email. See how short you can make your message while still keeping the original meaning. You’ll notice you often eliminate the same filler words or sentences over and over. “I just wanted to let you know…” is a common culprit. Pretty soon, you won’t even try to type those extra words.

No matter how good you get, you’ll always need to stay conscious of the words you’re using. They’re what connects you to your audience. Make the most of them.

Check it Out: How to Make Your Writing Error-Free

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

Editing (improving your initial writing) and proofreading (final reviewing before publishing) require much more than finding grammar or spelling mistakes. You have to remember to pay attention to flow, keep a consistent voice, eliminate jargon, etc. It’s a lot to keep track of. Even the experienced writer can forget to check for everything when reviewing their (or others’) work.

Recently, I stumbled across some articles that offered such a simple solution that I was surprised I hadn’t though of it sooner…. The ever-handy checklist!

Check Mark

HubSpot and Quick and Dirty Tips put together these amazing checklists (one even printable) to have by your side while editing and proofreading:

Your Essential Proofreading Checklist: 10 Things You Can’t Forget

Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist

Bookmark them and/ or print them. Now. You’ll thank me. Happy revising!