The Importance of Marketing (and some stuff about Mad Men)

While most of my knowledge of marketing is gleaned from binge-watching Mad Men, even I can appreciate it has a role to play. And while most people undoubtedly associate it with multinational corporations, Hollywood blockbusters and the like, marketing actually has a very important role to play within charities. Some – particularly the larger international NGOs – have teams of people to handle it and to get their message across. Clever marketing allows them to generate subscriptions and regular donations or publicise a particular campaign. Yet for smaller charities and organisations, marketing is also an important but often overlooked part of their work. It’s something that crops up regularly at Indigo and so I thought a quick post might be appropriate. It’s not intended as a how-to guide or a list of best practices, as I’m not sure that watching Mad Men sufficiently equips me to advertise myself as a marketing consultant. Rather, the aim of the post is just to make people stop and think about whether they have given sufficient thought to marketing (or, to give it a less commercial term, awareness raising).

Many of the proposals we receive involve elements of crowdsourcing. It might be a new SMS system to get feedback from beneficiaries of aid projects, or it might be a citizen-MP engagement platform or a problem reporting system. No matter how well built and designed such systems are, they will ultimately fail if nobody knows about them or how to use them. One of the most frequent questions we ask of applicants is ‘how will you ensure people know about your platform and use it?’ If the answer comes back ‘we will build a brilliant product and people will just use it’, we’re faced with a dilemma. There’s a 0.1% chance that the person involved is right and is about to build the next big thing. So when we decline to fund them, we’ll look a little bit silly and will end up kicking ourselves for a month. But there’s a 99.9% chance that the person just hasn’t given it enough thought and while they may have a functional product, they may well have only a handful of users. That’s why we’d recommend that organisations do include a budget line for marketing or awareness raising. The way two organisations goes about marketing and awareness raising will be different. Some of the questions they might want to think about include:

  • Who are you trying to reach? If you’re aiming for a particular constituency or geographical area, you will use different tactics to a nationwide campaign. Knowing how to reach your intended audience is crucial? Do they listen to radio or read newspapers? Are they on social media or without an internet connection?
  • How many people do you want to reach? Some projects depend on mass uptake, while others just need a handful of users.
  • Who else works with your target audience? If other groups already work with your target audience, could they help spread the work? Think about NGOs, agricultural extension officers, community health workers, community journalists etc. How could you partner with them to extend your reach?

These are just some of the questions you might want to consider and there are doubtless thousands more. While not all funders will feel comfortable supporting ‘marketing’, at Indigo we think it’s important and better in than out. We think it can lead to better and more successful projects, so bear it in mind next time you submit a proposal.