Eric Karjaluoto

80% Wasted

There are countless ways to market your organization. That said, most are unnecessary, and ineffective. As such, a lot of marketing efforts are for nothing. Marketers are working as hard as ever, but organizations like yours might not be any better off for it. Often, this is because no one took the time to ask the right questions.

I’m a designer by trade. As such, prospective clients generally come to me for a “what” and a “how”. The most common request I receive is for some kind of marketing tool. This sounds something like: “We want a new website, and it should have a cutting edge look.” I then ask: “Why?”

Take, for example, one small not-for-profit I’m in discussions with. Its leadership wants a new website, prettier posters, and more likes on Facebook. My response to each of these wants? Why?

Why do you want a new website?” “What do you want it to achieve?” “Why doesn’t it already do that?”

Why do your posters need to look prettier?” “Will nicer visuals make them more effective?” “Will it lead more people to attend your events?”

Why do you need people to like your posts on Facebook?” “Will this engagement improve something for your organization?” “Will it in some way help those you serve?” “And who exactly is doing all this ‘liking’?”

The lazy (or oblivious) leader responds with vague answers. “We want our website to better reflect the nature or organization.” “We want our posters to look more ‘professional’.” And: “It’s important to have an active presence on social media.” These are weasel responses to questions that deserve explicit answers.

The question “why” leads to other—deeper—questions. For example, they might ask: “What’s critical to our organization’s existence?” Typically, this will lead to questions like: “OK—so how do we make sure that keeps happening?”

For the not-for-profit, the answer might be: “We need to access continued funding. We also need appropriate people to take part in our programs. So, we must communicate our program offerings to prospective participants. We also need to ensure they attend. Then, we need to illustrate the success of these programs, to our funders.”

Answers like these clarify your marketing objectives. No longer do you ask: “How can we maximize engagement?” “Should we hire an SEO person?” Or: “Do we need to be on Snapchat?” Instead, you know who you need to communicate with, and what you want them to do.

With such notions determined, you can now explore ways to engage these groups. You can ask which channels are most suitable. You can also start thinking about the messages you put in these materials. (Even better: You now have something to measure your marketing efforts against.)

“Yes—but that’s obvious,” you say. If these notions are so obvious, why do so many fail to take such steps? I haven’t yet encountered an organization that sets objectives for every marketing initiative. But, I often talk to people in organizations who are keen to create “general awareness”.

The 80/20 rule, which suggests that “roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”, applies to marketing. As such, there’s a whole bunch of marketing that doesn’t make a difference. If you ask the right questions, you can focus on the marketing that does.

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