Many organizations waste money on marketing campaigns that don’t deliver. What was intended as a wise investment turned out to be a significant cost.
If you’re the leader of a nonprofit organization or small business, the results can be devastating. Your already-modest budget is reduced even further, and you begin to question yourself. After all, if Fancy Graphics Marketing Firm can’t help you, maybe there’s something wrong with your organization’s mission or your business’s services.
But what if the problem isn’t your mission, products, or services? What if the problem is the way you talk about your organization’s mission or your business’s products and services? More likely than not, that’s the problem. You must clarify your message if you want customers to buy or donors to give.
Unfortunately, most marketing campaigns fail in one of two ways: the message they convey is either confusing or incomplete. That’s because many marketing firms are obsessed with pretty logos and fancy graphics. Their experts know everything about Canva and Square Space but very little about effective messaging.
Yet, message clarity is the single most important element of marketing. You must simplify and clarify your message if you want your constituents to listen. Once you gain severe clarity about the message, you can deliver it in a way that is simple, relevant, and memorable.
It’s a well-told story that will propel your organization to center stage.
The human brain wants clarity rather than confusion. It wants to see the big picture rather than settle for random and incomplete snapshots. Thus, if you can find a way to convey your message clearly so that the audience sees the “big picture,” you win.
Fortunately, there is a simple and effective solution: convey your message by telling a story. Stories are powerful because our brains are hardwired for story. And this fact affects us in several ways.
First, storytelling has the power to grab and keep a person’s attention. If you convey information by means of a systematic presentation, a small portion of your audience will perk up. But if you introduce characters, a plot, and a conclusion, it’s much more likely the whole audience will be drawn in.
Second, stories supercharge our brain’s capacity for memory. Research reveals that narratives are up to 22 times more memorable than prosaic arguments, bullet points, systematic expositions, and other types of information. And that’s half the battle, right? If you cause your audience to remember your organization’s brand, you’re well on the way to winning them over.
Third, stories significantly alter our state of mind and the functions of our body. Neurologists have discovered that narrative triggers our brains to release dopamine (pleasure), cortisol (fight or flight), endorphins (pleasure), and oxytocin (empathy, trust, romance). Additionally, stories activate our auditory, olfactory, visual, sensory, and motor cortices. They cause our palms to sweat, hearts to race, and eyes to dilate.
To summarize, when you convey information by means of a well-crafted story, your audience will lean in rather than tune out; remember rather than forget; and feel the effects of it in their mind and body.
It’s the other person’s story, not yours, that matters the most.
The marketing industry has been pretty slow to pick up on the significance of narrative. For the past half-century, interest in narrative has spiked in fields as diverse as anthropology, education, psychotherapy, sociology, philosophy, and theology. But it hasn’t been until the past decade or so—and thanks to bestselling books by Tamsen Webster, Miri Rodriguez, Donald Miller, and others—that marketers as a whole have perked up their ears.
More to the point, only in the past several years has the marketing industry begun to latch onto the specific type of story that draws an audience in and drives them to action: stories that are built around your target audience’s story rather than your organization’s mission. It’s not that your organization’s mission doesn’t matter. It does. But for effective marketing, your mission only matters to the extent that it plays a role in your audience’s story.
In essence, your prospective customers, clients, or constituents aren’t all that interested in the grandfather who founded your business or the overseas trip that inspired you to start a nonprofit. And, if they are interested, it’s only to the extent that your story connects in with their own, personal, story arc.
As Donald Miller puts it in Building a Storybrand, your audience isn’t looking for you to be their hero. They consider themselves to be the main character—hero—of their own story, and they are hoping that your business or nonprofit will be the guide who helps them overcome challenges and attain their aspirations. Think Gandalf to Frodo, Yoda to Luke.
That’s how you win. That’s how you move your organization to center stage. You convey your message in such a way that your business or nonprofit is an empathetic and credible guide who can help them get what they want.
This shift changes everything. If you are a business, you are the guide who can help a prospective customer through your excellent product, valuable content, or exceptional customer service. If you are a nonprofit organization, you are the wise facilitator who can help prospective donors be good stewards of their money or connect a soon-to-be volunteer with an invaluable opportunity to serve. If you are a college, you are the sage institution who stands ready to provide graduating high school students with a well-rounded education and much-needed life skills.
It's your entire organization, and not just the marketing wing, that will be transformed.
As your organization learns to tap into the audience’s life story, your marketing efforts will improve immediately and dramatically. All of the sudden, the marketing budget will punch above its weight. The story you tell will reach out, grab your target audience by the hand, and pull them in. And once you’ve drawn them in, you’ll be able to drive them to action—whether that’s sales, donations, enrollments, or volunteer participation.
But that’s not all. Not by a long shot.
When you refine your understanding of your target audience’s story, and how it connects with your organization, you will experience transformative effects in other areas as well.
You will experience a transformation of your organizational culture. You learn to invite your team into a story, explain to them why the story matters, and give each of them a significant role to play in the story. Very quickly, they will understand their significance within the organization. You’ve vested their professional life with significance, and they will respond with passion.
You will experience a revolution in your personal productivity. Leaders have great demands on their time, and sometimes are unsure of how to prioritize their time. The complexity and lack of clarity can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. But when the leader comes to understand his audience’s story, and his organization’s role within that story, he gains severe clarity about the organization’s mission and his own role within that mission.
You will experience a brisk uptick in your organization’s target numbers—whether that’s business sales, nonprofit fundraising, or college enrollment. Sales, fundraising, and recruitment are really the same: they are all about conveying to your audience, with crystal clarity, why your organization can solve their problem. So, you tell them a story in which they—your audience—solve their own problem and feel good about themselves in the process.
It's smaller organizations who will benefit most.
Do you have limited marketing resources? Then don’t waste money on campaigns that don’t deliver. Devote your budget to a proven method—brand storytelling where the audience is the hero and the organization is the guide. Do that, and your marketing budget will punch above its weight.
What’s more, you’ll experience a transformation in your organizational culture, personal productivity, and end-of-year results—whether that’s represented in purchases, donor development, or recruitment and enrollment efforts. Why not start now?