Digital and social media have created a permanent role in marketing and communications plans.
There have never been more flexible, creative, direct and timely tools to connect to consumers.
On a broad scale, the trend has the power to drive political upheaval, as it did in Egypt a few months back, and political narrative, as is happening in the U.S. today.
In some cases, these efforts have changed the fortunes of marketers. In many cases, nonprofits consider digital and social media most critical elements in their arsenal.
Yet many organizations struggle with the impact - quantifiable measures of awareness, consideration, sales and loyalty.
In addition, executives (mostly off the record) will share their frustration about the time expended to maintain this presence - site and blog maintenance, frequent social-media posts - at the expense of other communication efforts.
So which of these perspectives is right?
The missing element is the customer and how they become aware of you, consider you and support you. Their journey to your mission often starts from traditional marketing environments and revisiting those seasoned strategies could shed additional insight onto your marketing mix.
The impact of traditional advertising
Consider these recent reports:
- A recent Harvard Business Review "infographic" described current consumer media usage, specifically the flow of consumers from viewing advertising in traditional media to digital outlets. In their examples, advertisers using high-reach television commercials saw their website traffic increase up to 10 times their normal rate immediately after the spot aired.
- Google recently launched a campaign to promote Chrome in the competitive browser arena. The primary media vehicle for this campaign? Network television. Why? To drive awareness and trial.
- Millward Brown, a noted brand-identity research firm, recently reported on the effectiveness of a client's integrated-marketing campaigns. Those scoring the highest in awareness and consideration were those who grabbed their prospects through traditional advertising and then cultivated them through digital - once they visited websites, blogs and social-media pages.
In each of these examples, digital interaction is the direct recipient and beneficiary of traditional promotion.
While these examples are about a specific medium, the impact can be applied broadly to all offline exposures. And they loosely describe the path of a consumer's journey toward brands and missions.
Digital and social media: A closed loop
Nonprofits that have made the commitment to digital - website, blogging, social media - are enthusiastic about its potential impact to their mission. However, they need to be realistic about its scope and potential power.
Digital is really a "closed-loop" network, like subscriber and donor lists. So leveraging this tool can contribute to overall loyalty and repeat business, but it is difficult - and perhaps unfair - to view it as the sole or primary tool in your marketing arsenal.
Tips for nonprofits
- Partnering with traditional media outlets - Local newspapers, radio and TV stations remain typically supportive of their local market and choose a handful of nonprofit missions to support. Much the same way you would make a case for funding to donors, the same case can be made to the publisher of your local newspaper or the general manager of a local station. If successful, your message will run at the discretion of the media outlet, but you will have the elements of traditional marketing at a fraction of the cost.
- Use digital for cultivation, not prospecting - Your digital network is an excellent venue for staying close to patrons, providing offers, launching fundraising efforts and the like. Unless your product lends itself favorably to a GroupOn offer (and you are willing to split your revenue 50/50 with them), it is critical for nonprofit stakeholders to acknowledge the limitations of the medium.
- Recognize the consumer journey - Even in 2011, savvy marketers are realizing that their most powerful marketing mix exploits each message as it hits consumers through their journey of awareness, consideration and purchase. They also know that guiding them through that journey - from general promotion, into your digital network and then to action - makes each element more focused and effective. While all nonprofits don't have the financial resources of Google, they can learn yet another example from them.
John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.Comment on this article