What will be different for your organization a year from now? [7 of 15]

smart

[This is part seven 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 a 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.]

Without being clear on the details of what success looks like for your organization, you will have a hard time knowing how you are doing. It would be like going on a trip without planning your route. Just knowing what your destination is won’t help you see that you missed a turn. You need to know what your route is. As you help your organization move towards its long-term destination, you need mile-markers. Like, where will you be one year from now?

The next question in the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree is, “What will be different for your organization one year from now if your marketing is successful?”

It is tempting to think that the answer to this is obvious. You want things to be better. You want more money. Or public awareness. Or maybe, you want more volunteers. But, with a vague answer like that, how will you know if you are a little off target? And, more importantly, how will you know when to throw the party when you succeed?

Here’s a handy acronym to help you think through what’s needed for a clear marketing objective:

You need a SMART marketing objective.

There are quite a few versions of what those letters stand for. I’ll talk about what I mean by them as well as embracing a bit of the controversy.

Simple: Now, if you have seen the SMART acronym before, you may already be disagreeing with me. “The S stands for Specific,” you say. I’ll admit, I’m in the minority camp here, but this whole list is about making sure you are specific so that feels like a waste of a perfectly good letter to me. I’ve also seen organizations get into the trap of starting to talk about how they are going to do something too soon. Saying that it should be specific tends to get people focused on “How?” questions like who is going to lead which committee. That comes later.

Measureable: The controversy on this one is that you need what you need whether you can measure it or not. Some things are hard to measure, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive toward them. I think this is a valid concern, but when I say something is measurable, that doesn’t mean I necessarily already have a plan on how to do so. Measuring is hard which is why I’m going to have a lot to say about it before we finish the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree. Let’s say you are trying to address donor retention by improving the esteem they hold for your organization. If your objective is a 10% increase in esteem, you could know whether or not you hit the mark or by how much you’re off. First, you’ll end up needing to figure out an appropriate survey or indicator, but it is possible to measure that. So, that is a measureable objective. Granted, you’ve just made your job a bit more complicated, but if that is what you need, that is what you need. Don’t head off in the wrong direction just because it is an easy direction to measure. But, if your objective doesn’t seem measureable at all, you need to be more specific about what you are trying to do.

Achievable: This one is about being realistic. Missing the mark is a morale buster. Also, if you and your team know you are probably not going to make it, your motivation can be sapped before you even begin. This doesn’t mean it can’t be a stretch if a stretch is what is truly needed. Stretch goals get an unfair bad rap. When you stretch your body, you make small shifts in your range over time by pushing calmly and just slightly beyond the comfortable. Yet, “stretch” has become a euphemism for extreme risks and wild, unattainable promises. Stretching is good, but we aren’t trying to dislocate any joints here.

Relevant: Your objective should clearly relate to the mission and be in line with the broader strategic direction or your organization. Everyone should know why this is important.

Time-bound: We’ve given you a head start on this one by asking you to define where you want to be “one year from now.” You may be in a situation where a one year time-frame doesn’t work for your project. Maybe it’s a six month project. That’s fine, just make sure you have some sort of time limit or measurements will be meaningless. If your time-frame is longer than a year, set an intermediate goal to help you stay on track.

Marketing Objective for Chirp:

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

Last week, we talked about Chirp’s plan. They want to conduct experiments on their teaching methods so that they can set appropriate, research-based standards. To ensure methods will work across a variety of bird subcultures, they need to bring in students from a broader range of flocks.

Chirp’s objective:

We will increase recruitment for the next school year, doubling the number of students in the school from 15 to 30 and tripling the number of distinct flocks represented from 3 to 9.

It is SMART?

  • It is simple. They state clearly what they want to achieve, but don’t go into unnecessary detail.
  • It is easily measureable.
  • Though it will certainly be a stretch, since they are small and in a growth phase, those growth rates should be achievable.
  • It is relevant to immediate research needs, which in turn is relevant to the long term growth strategy. It also supports the general educational mission of the organization.
  • The time-frame is defined. In this case, it is a little less than a year because they need a fresh batch of students before the school year begins.

Now that we know what our destination and route are, it is time to invite people along on this road trip. Next week, we will start on the “Who?” section of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree.

 

Where is your organization going? (6 of 15)

SWOT analysis napkin doodle[This is part six 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 a 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.]

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there. (Yogi Berra)

Where is your organization going?

If your organization has a well thought out strategic plan, great! You probably know exactly where communications fits into that. If not, never fear! I’m going to take a quick break from the 1,2,3 Marketing Tree to give you a simple tool to fill in that gap so you can move on with your marketing plan.

What the heck is a SWOT Analysis?

A strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis is a framework you can use to assess your position is in the marketplace. The strengths and weaknesses are about the internal aspects of your organization (e.g. resources, skill sets, reputation), whereas the opportunities and threats come from interactions with outside forces (e.g. collaborators, competitors, cultural shifts in a target audience).

Step #1

The first step is to makes lists in each category. This works well as a collaborative group activity, but if you have a hard time getting everyone in the same room at the same time, you can also ask everyone to submit their own list.

You will want to give explicit permission to be critical of the organization. No one will want to sound like they don’t think you’re great. Asking, “If we were to fail, what do you think the reason might be” can help. Don’t worry if there are disagreements. I was talking with an organization recently where some board members felt the large number of programs was a strength and others felt that was a weakness. It is both. The fact that there is “something for everyone” helps them engage with more people, but they also drop some important balls as they struggle to keep up with the juggling act they have created.

Step #2

Once you have lists for each category, it is time for strategy. Compare strengths & opportunities as well as weaknesses & threats. If you are weak in an area where there is a threat, think carefully about whether or not you should be there. You may want to scale back or pull out altogether. If you do continue in this area, you should prepare for this effort taking more resources as you try to convert weaknesses into strengths. Generally speaking, your resources are better spent building on existing strengths rather than turning a weakness into a strength. But it depends on your long-term organizational goals/vision.

If there is an opportunity in an area where you are strong, this is a great place to push for growth. As much as we would all like to pursue all the opportunities and overcome all the threats, that might be a tad ambitious even for an organization as amazing as yours. Hard choices will need to be made and it is wise to be realistic about your capabilities as you make those choices.

EXAMPLE: SWOT Analysis for Chirp

Let’s do a SWOT analysis for Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story.) Roxie met with her friends to brainstorm their SWOT’s and this is what they came up with:

SWOT

Analysis

Comparing Weaknesses and Threats:

Given the organization’s age, limited organizational leadership experience, and lack of established policies and procedures along with the flocking tendencies within bird culture, it seems unwise to pursue a strategy of developing a strong centralized organization with an international scope.

Comparing Strengths and Opportunities:

International ties along with their ability to set initial standards makes the development of a certification process a promising avenue for growth. Rigorous trials of teaching methods will create compelling findings as well as ensure superior training for certified teachers.

Short Term Strategy:

Start trials of different teaching methods with incoming students. To ensure methods will work across a variety of bird subcultures, marketing efforts should focus on bringing in students from a broader range of flocks.

In Sum…

A SWOT analysis doesn’t take the place of a full strategic plan. But, if you are stuck waiting for one, I’m hoping this will help unstick you. There are a lot of alternatives and they all have strengths and weaknesses. (ha!)

At the end of the day, it is just a framework so pick the one that works best for you. The important thing is to take some time to ask hard questions about where your organization should go.

Now that you have a game plan for figuring out where you’re going, we can get back to the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree. Next week, we’ll be talking about how to set marketing objectives that align with your organizational goals…which is harder than you might think AND very, very, very important!

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.

What is the most important thing your organization does? (4 of 15)

What? Letterpress[This is part four 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.]

Imagine you tell someone about the work your organization does and they think it is so interesting that they to run tell all their friends about you. Wouldn’t that be great? Here’s the catch: they aren’t going to remember the whole long list of programs or outcomes you tell them about. Not only will they not remember, but you may even overwhelm them, causing them to disengage instead. You want someone to remember and share what you tell them. For that you need to tell them just one thing.

You are probably very excited about all of the great things your organization does. I’m not saying you need to cut programs down to just one, but looking at everything as part of a single whole can bring great clarity.

There are two main reasons that it is helpful to focus on just one thing.

  1. Your organization will be more productive with a single focus. From your personal inability to multi-task to your organizations success at pursuing funding, the research is overwhelming. If you want to be good at something, focus on one thing.
  1. Your supporters will have an easier time remembering you if they can easily categorize you. Erica has a great video on mental file folders. The idea is that people are going to file your organization away in a mental folder and you need to make sure it is the right one. If you give them a whole long list of things you do, you risk being filed away in the dreaded “miscellaneous” folder. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “I would really love to collaborate with an organization that does miscellaneous things?” No? Me either.

Having trouble narrowing it down?

If you are facilitating a discussion about this, I have two helpful exercises for you.

  1. Erica created a method based on the mental file folder idea. Have the group write things you do on file folders and then start organizing them by nesting them together. Make additional folders as needed, making sure you are as specific as possible. “We do awesome things,” while true, is just another way of saying “miscellaneous.”
  1. Another way to narrow things down is tournament style elimination. This is a quick and easy way to get feedback from a large group because a simple show of hands will often be enough to settle which program or project wins. Create a bracket and then start picking between pairs asking, “Which is these is closest to the heart of what we are about?” The idea isn’t to actually cut programs, but to think about what would happen if you did. If you had to stop doing advocacy work, for example, would you become irrelevant as an organization or would you just be hampered by the loss of a tool? The interesting part of this exercise comes when two core programs square off. People will want to cheat and say, “What if instead we called that ‘x’ which would encompass both of those programs?” Perfect! This is exactly the sort of answer you are looking for.

For an example, I’ll be using Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie. Check out previous posts for the full back-story.

In many ways Chirp has an advantage here as a young organization. They haven’t had time yet to develop a whole long list of programs. They do have various goals, however, and different views on which are the most important ones. Albert, the wise owl, is a passionate student of languages. He is eager to teach words to other birds and to expand his own vocabulary even further. Myrtle, the friendly mallard, believes in the importance of fostering inter-species relationships among birds.

The single most important thing Chirp does is to teach birds how to use words to communicate with other flocks. This goal is broad enough to encompass both the language lessons and the bridging of cultural divides between flocks. Note that in merging these two ideas into a single goal, it is more specific, not vague. Words aren’t being taught for just any reason. It is about communicating with other flocks. Bird relations aren’t being improved by just any means. It is by making language accessible.

What is the most important thing your organization does?

 

Why does your organization exist? (3 of 15)

The question Why? on a cork notice board[This is part three 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.]

The first branch: Why does your organization exist? (Part II)

Why does your organization exist? Because you value something people need.

The second part of clarifying why you exist is to describe the need. In Part I I talked about values, but just because something is important does’t mean an organization should exist to advocate for it. For example, imagine an organization dedicated to safeguarding oxygen supplies. I doubt I could be persuaded to support them. I believe it is important that everyone have oxygen to breath. The importance for life is indisputable. I’m not too worked up over this issue though. Lack of oxygen isn’t a problem in the global air supply. In order to engage people’s hearts, you need to show them the need.

You are probably all too aware of the need for your organization, but others might not be. One way to get outside of your own head is to look around at the environment you are operating in. What are the goals and needs there and how do you fit within that? For example, if you are a local arts organization, you are a part of improving the quality of life for residents in your town. If you run an after school program, you are serving the broader educational needs of children.

In facilitating a conversation about the need for your organization, there are a couple of questions it is helpful to ask. As always, I’ll be using Chirp for examples. Chirp is the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, a bird with moxie. Want the back-story? Of course you do. Download it here.

  1. Why do we exist? In asking this question you want to play the role of that inquisitive kid who doesn’t stop asking why. The conversation might look like this:

“Why does our school exist?” “Because birds need a full vocabulary.” “Why do they need a full vocabulary?” “So they can express themselves and communicate with different flocks.” “Why…” and so on.

Before starting this exercise, be sure to explain what you are doing and why. Not only is it helpful for getting people into the right mindset, but without an explanation, “why” questioning can be interpreted as an aggressive challenge to something that is an important core value.

For another example, see Erica’s discussion of Charleston Park Conservancy in a post on sharing your why. They do a fabulous job of communicating where they fit within the larger goals of the city.

  1. What would be different if we didn’t exist? You can also approach the question of why you are needed by imagining a world without you in it. How dreary! It’s fun to queue the It’s a Wonderful Life melodrama, but get serious about it too. In thinking about the things you do, it is easy to be vague. The starkness of not existing, however, can bring focus and clarity. That’s why this line of questioning is a great way to find hard numbers for the impact you are having. Think about things like:

Is there another city or target demographic for which an organization like yours doesn’t exist?

Are the other organizations like yours operating at capacity making it likely the clients would go unserved without you?

Are there outcomes your methods achieve that differ from those of other nonprofits in your field?

Messaging based on the answer to this question could look like this for Chirp:

Thanks to your support, 50 of your fine, feathered friends have completed our program and learned how to put words to their own unique chirp.

As you can see, the foundation we are laying now, in clarifying what your organization is about, will be super helpful when we get to the “How?” portion of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree. Stay tuned!