Wednesday, March 12, 2008

One more marketing trap

Longtime readers, either here, or of my books, know that I feel strongly that most nonprofits have a severe marketing disability that needs to be overcome if they are to be successful in providing the most mission to the most people. That disability is a trap, and now I've realized that there aren't just one, but two, traps to fall into.

The first trap/disability wraps around the issue of needs versus wants. People have needs. People seek wants, and nonprofits often get trapped in their perspective that everything really is about needs. The feds, states, United Ways---all of them do needs assessments. Nonprofits have professionals on staff in their area of expertise, and can diagnose needs very well. Whether you are a museum curator, a teacher, nurse, or rabbi, you can look at me (or my community) run some numbers (or tests) and tell me what I need. That skill is crucial to your organization's mission-success, but it runs smack up against good marketing which is all about wants. To find out about wants, you have to ask. If you don't ask, you can't give people the things they need in the way that they want them---and you don't do as much mission as you could.

(You can read more about my marketing thoughts at the Marketing Ideas section of my website.)

So, first trap: needs versus wants.

The second trap? This one has come to me slowly, kind of like a ship coming over a horizon....and it has to do with a more complex set of thoughts around generation change. Let me summarize.

Different generations are really different cultures (and sub-cultures, but that's not the issue today). Just as we are influenced by our ethnic background, just as we are shaped by our family, we are, in a very real sense, children of the times in which we grew up, shaped by the music, the culture, the experiences, the technology that surrounded us between the ages of 12 and 25 or 30. The more I talk to people about generation change, the more I see this clearly.

Why should this be surprising? It's true with ethnicity. All of us know that Caucasians and African-Americans "see" and "hear" things differently. My African-American friends often talk about the racial code words they hear in conversation, on television, or on radio that go right over my head as a Caucasian male. So experience and background can influence worldview, right? No news there.

I think it's the same for generations. If you know someone who is a Greatest Generation member, they usually think of money differently than those of us who are younger---why? They went through the Great Depression. That's an obvious influence, but there are hundreds more, often subtle ones that make up who we are.

Here's the trap.....being blind to generational differences in marketing: assuming that what I want from my generational perspective is the same as every other generation wants. This gets us back to one of my most quoted marketing truisms: Ask, Ask, Ask, and then Listen!

I'm still thinking this through, and it may not be as profound as it seems to me at the moment....we'll see.

What do you think?


Marion said...

Hi Peter,

I completely agree with you about the generational issue. I often address it from the technology issue whihc is another one that the nonprofit sector doesn't completely get. I have often explained that the online processed credit card donation has not lost a 4 - 5% processing fee rather it is much more likely one that they would not otherwise get. This is especially true for a younger generation. I have two kids in their twenties. They both have checking accounts but they do not have checks. All payments are electronically.

I'll be interested to see what more you have to say on this subject.

Marion Conway Consulting
Verona, NJ 07044

winlotto said...

Ive read this topic for some blogs. But I think this is more informative.