Second in a Series on Authentic Nonprofit and Association Marketing
Decided to warm up some apple pie and make it a la mode last week. But I had to pause and shake my head when I read, "This ice cream is gluten free." Really?!? "What a surprise," I said to myself. Of course it is. Let's see, it's vanilla, milk, cream and sugar. "The marketing department has run amok," I mused.
That's because all too often - unfortunately - when a new trend begins to start forming, we marketers get seemingly caught up in making every effort to appear to be following the fad-of-the-minute. None of us wants to be accused of resembling a Luddite. Conversely, we want to be perceived as trend-setters, so we try to take the lead in setting an appropriate example for our product or brand, or jump on the bandwagon and emulate others.
Countless examples of me-too marketing have been seen over time. Remember Microsoft's Zune? Didn't think so. For the uninitiated, it was Microsoft's attempt to grab a piece of the iPad-dominated music gadget business that never gained more than single-digit market share during its life, and was discontinued sometime back in 2011.
The latest? Listing "gluten free" to product packaging (like my ice cream). The example of over-doing it taken to an extreme. From salsa jars to candy canes, it seems every product maker on the planet is adding these two words to their packaging, despite the fact that about 1 in 133 people - or 0.75% of the US population - have this condition, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. Further, some reports indicate living a gluten-free lifestyle can actually be harmful to those not sensitive to gluten, since it decreases intake of certain essential vitamins and dietary fiber needed by our bodies.
Now, don't get me wrong. I realize that celiac disease is a serious matter, and certainly I mean no disrespect for folks living with this awful malady. Heck, as an assistant scoutmaster in my community, I had a young man who was required to have separate cooking utensils and his own private food stash on camping trips due to this debilitating condition. I totally get it. But when tomato sauce companies and herbal tea makers promote their "gluten free-ness" to the world, it just makes me wonder how authentic the marketing department is being with their messages. What's more,when a brand seems to be conforming for conformity's sake, it risks becoming bland, or worse - invisible.
With all the competition associations face from external sources for their services and resources, there's a lesson here: we must strive to avoid getting lost or vanishing in an over-saturated marketplace. So what's the best way to ensure your association's marketing is authentic and not 'gluten free?'
1. Be bold. Whether you love or hate them, consider shock-jock Howard Stern and Donald Trump. These two individuals have worked the bold brand phenomenon to the letter 'T' in every way. And in a world of never-ending streams of content, coupled by a significant decrease in attention spans, you must be certain to make sure your distinct message stands out. Does adding "gluten free" to your box make you unique? Nope. That's muy soso. Very bland. Does adding these words help the spicy salsa-loving customer who's looking for an amazing zesty flavor experience that creates a disco dance on his tongue make a purchase decision? Not so much.
2. Be laser-light focused. The tide has come and gone, and come again. We've gone from an era of mass marketing to micro-marketing, and now we're experiencing what I call mass-micro marketing. For example, you can become a fan of a Facebook page for a group of ambidextrous ukulele musicians from U.S. counties that start with the letter "H" who groove to polka. Okay, that's a bit of hyperbole, but you get the idea: we're living in a world of segmentation on a serious dose of steroids, with an exploding number of customized channels.
Today's technology readily allows us send messages to hyper-targeted audiences, which improves efficiency and outcomes. In fact, Marketo's Heidi Block reports that a personalized CTA (call to action) results in 42% greater conversions than a generic CTA. So, stop talking about personalization, and do it. You'll enjoy higher engagement, while eliminating marketing fatigue of non-targets. Kind of like my ice cream's off-target gluten-free message, which doesn't apply to 99.25% of the potential buyers.
3. Be genuine. Just because something is true, it doesn't necessarily mean it's authentic. Yes, your vanilla ice cream is gluten-free, but it's also cardboard- and meat-free. But you aren't likely to put those descriptions on your package, are you? Today's consumer or business customer is more informed than ever before - that's why gluten-avoiding buyers know what to be on the look out for. Therefore, slapping "gluten free" on the box is lazy; it's not detailing what your target customers want to hear from you, nor is it making the best value proposition to your audience. It's talking down to prospects, and it's stealing from your opportunity to tell the world why your service or product really rocks. Want to be even more genuine? Give a percent of your sales to the Celiac Foundation, or another cause that is aligns with your product's category. That's real.
4. Be consistent. With all their empty promises and shape-shifting on various issues in order to appeal to constituents, it's no surprise politicians rank at the very bottom of the trust food chain - with recent Gallup data reporting that only 8% of Americans have a "great deal/quite a lot" of confidence in Congress. Far below banks, public schools and organized labor. Since the last thing you want is your association's marketing experience to be anything like government, hold the line when it comes to consistent, benefit-focused messaging. Don't waffle.
For instance, if your product's message tone and voice are authoritative (e.g. your industry salary benchmark service is the industry's gold standard) - maintain that stance. Be the boss in your space. This messaging should be validated by the true, authentic brand experience - which, by the way, your users, customers and the market defines. We marketers tire of our own messaging long before the intended audience even begins hearing, seeing or experiencing what we've been sharing out. Stick with it for the long term. Unless, of course, you are using bland, gluten-free messaging.
Granted, no one behavior or approach any marketer adopts will guarantee a product will be a raving success, but association and nonprofit professionals will find that they can improve their overall messaging efforts when they create authentic marketing that resonates with members, customers and other stakeholders. Pay close attention to the details - take the extra time to truly articulate the vision, benefits and honest-to-goodness value and benefits a user will enjoy when experiencing your resources. Is it hard work? Yes. But will it be worth it? You bet.
Back to my gluten-free vanilla ice cream...but where the heck did I put that spoon?