By Tom Peterson
What I really need… or want!
One day driving on a busy street in my neighborhood I noticed little girl and boy in their yard holding up signs, flagging down cars. A few adults sat in lawn chairs watching and laughing. I was about to keep going when I realized what was going on: they were selling Girl Scout cookies! Immediately, the combination of cute kids being entrepreneurs and an anticipated taste of a thin mint kicked in. I parked and bought a few boxes.
Thirteen-year-old Danielle Lee took this to a higher level when she planted her cookie sales in front of a medical marijuana shop in San Francisco and sold 117 boxes in two hours. Shortly after, the Colorado Girl Scout officials, in a state where pot is legal, nipped this marketing idea in the bud and warned their girls: none of that! They pointed out that the kids couldn’t set up outside strip bars, liquor stores or any other adult-oriented businesses. Fair enough. But these stories raise questions for those marketing for causes, how do you legitimately tap into real needs, a perceived needs or wants?
Does anyone truly need three boxes of thin mint cookies? The primitive lizard part of our brain tells us, yes, we do! But another part of our brain kicks in: those cookies don’t fit into our plan to eat healthy! Okay, the cookies fall more in the want category. Of course, everyone wants to support the worthy Girl Scouts. Whatever motives are tapped, the cookies sell—about $800 million worth each year, 194 million boxes in 2015.
To increase the difference your group makes in the world, you probably need to grow the tribe. And mass marketing can be an effective way to do that. A key concept of marketing is the marketing exchange, it’s about trading: I give something that benefits you and you give something that benefits me. When goods (tangible), services (intangible), ideas or money are traded, each party gets something of value from the other.
The marketing exchange for even a cup of coffee isn’t always simple. You want a cup of coffee and a shop has coffee for sale. You buy a cup. But if you live or work nearby, you could have made a whole pot at a fraction of the cost. Maybe you really just wanted to get out, to meet friends or you want to work with wifi around other people. You are partly buying that third place beyond home and work. And maybe you’ll pay more if it’s fair trade coffee, because you care about the livelihood of farmers who grew it. Innovative organizations constantly obsess over this exchange, improving it and exploring new ways potential partners can win if they will help move the cause forward.
World change marketers need to study and sync with, the needs and desires of their “audience.” Nonprofit or cause marketers are looking for a donation, volunteer support, a “share” on social media, or a behavior change (like not smoking) or action for advocacy. In these exchanges, unlike commercial businesses, supporters typically don’t get anything tangible back.
Often, a supporter makes a donation and in return gets back a mere good feeling! This makes world change marketing much more challenging. Good feelings may suffice for some. But if you want to build a sustainable, growing base, give something back that your supporter wants—or even better, needs!
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