Marketers love telling nonprofits how to market their social solutions. They get miffed when they see a perceived slow road to change, an underfunded website written by someone in their 20s, and a general failure to resolve society’s ills. Of course, the answer must be the crappy marketing. Having worked with both types of organizations closely, it’s easy to definitively say social change marketing is much harder than marketing a product or service.
Look, whatever your experience is — Procter & Gamble, Old Spice, Cisco, start-up sold — great! Yes, selling domain names and marketing organic strawberries is hard. But the difference between marketing and activism will always revolve around this truth — People want stuff, but they don’t want to change. Getting people to want to change themselves is much, much harder.
Think about it. Do you want to change? Do you want to buy a more expensive electric car (kudos to Ford for announcing the world’s third major electric car at CES)? Yeah, most Americans get sustainability — it’s one of the most over-marketed words out there. But when push comes to shove, people don’t want to change, otherwise green legislation (forget electric cars) would be a top priority in the United States.
How about cigarette smoking? In spite of every marketing trick in the book including severely negative product packaging deployed by the best minds in the business via the Ad Council, in spite of every piece of cancer causing knowledge out there, 20.6% of U.S. adults still smoke.
Beyond that core communications difference, causes are not businesses. They do different things than shilling burgers or IT services. Causes and people fight to affect social change. They have to make every donor dollar count. They don’t have the resources, staff or the wherewithal that a business does.
There are too many causes because every entrepreneur who made a little scratch goes off and starts yet another Foundation or cause to do it “their way.” And for every fat well-known cause out there like Komen, there are dozens fighting an avalanche of apathy, scrapping to make ends meet.
Yet business people think they suck because they don’t market right. Maybe the marketers are that good, but there’s only one way to find out… By doing some actual field work. Please report back the research!
What do you think? Is it easier to communicate for causes or for-profit endeavors?