Thursday, July 19, 2007

But That's Not What We're About!

As a promotional stunt for the upcoming Simpson's movie, some 7-11 stores are now Kwik-E-Marts, Homer's version of Whole Foods.

Jeff Brooks over at Donor Power Blog thinks it's a nifty idea, one that some nonprofit organizations might learn from.

According to Jeff:
"So often, a company's brand image bull-headedly flies in the face of reality, stubbornly insisting in an ideal that's baldly untrue. That's why 7-Eleven's willingness to laugh, even at their own weakness, is so amazing. And appealing. They've actually left behind their phony brand image and joined the real conversation. Maybe they figured out that being authentic, even when it's less than flattering, is better than sticking to an irrelevant playbook... I'm waiting for a nonprofit that can do that."
Every nonprofit I've worked for has complained "people just don't understand who we really are and what we really do." Among the specific "misunderstandings" I've run across in my career:

1. Everyone thinks we're a bunch of hayseeds and hicks, when we're actually quite sophisticated!
2. People believe we want to use these strategies and tactics for punishment, when we're really working to improve interpersonal communication!
3. We're not trying to destroy the concept of parental consent - although a prominent radio personality keeps saying we are - while we're trying to get kids and parents to talk even more!
4. We're characterized as sadistic money-grubbing technicians, worse than auto mechanics, when we're more necessary for good health than anyone thinks, and we've got the research to prove how we're just like everyone else!

In fighting these perceptions, each organization has run to solutions based on external communications, while trying to work through a certain amount of anger at those who won't listen or have their idea set changed. I like the Kwik-E-Mart idea of taking what you fear is your biggest stereotype and, to use a touchy-feely concept, totally owning it.

Think of the fun when, in your marketing meeting, you fill the flipcharts with all the crazy, negative assumptions leveled against your organization. Think of the bumper stickers you could design with slogans based on your most cutting criticisms. Even if you decide not to proceed as 7-11 has done, oh what collective wisdom you'll unleash!

In each of my cases, I'd bring the following ideas to the table:

1. How about we develop a character right out of Green Acres as our spokesperson - and give him or her a sophisticated edge that even he or she doesn't quite believe or understand? Like mixing tractors and caviar?

2. What if we put our practitioners into corrections-inspired outfits. Maybe dayglo orange jumpsuits or old-time prison stripes. Could you imagine them delivering services in that getup? Would the clients get it, and even laugh?

3. Maybe we could develop a PSA that says "Yeah, we think parental consent SUCKS!" And we're shouting it to America over a bullhorn from atop a really high building. Then we end with ways parents, guardians and kids can work together to avoid the need for parental consent.

4. Could we really get outrageous and create a Web site gloryfying our most negative attributes, and then deliver the facts along with the myths - but it would be up to the site users to find the clues that we're pulling their collective legs?

Of course, there would be massive problems in getting a nonprofit to Kwik-E-Mart themselves. Mainly because:

Nonprofits almost always are in a struggle for money, and would fear spending time and energy on something that could blow up in their faces and ruin their fundraising.
Nonprofits deal with subject matter and issues that often aren't funny at all, and could be severely anxious about coming across as "making fun" of the sufferers.
Nonprofits rely on established practitioner methods and traditions to make themselves credible in a highly professional marketplace - and traditions stick with the grip of epoxy cement.

But, as Scott the Nametag Guy writes today, sometimes you have to dream up some really crazy ideas to get anywhere.

And it'll be interesting to see if anyone follows Jeff Brooks' call...
Meanwhile, there's a blog carnival all about authenticity over at Sea Change Strategies.

No comments: