Ask Amanda About Marketing – Episode 3: How Emotional Marketing Strategies Built a Nonprofit’s Brand Community

Episode 3 features our very first guest: Gayane Margaryan, the digital marketing manager at the African Wildlife Foundation, who discusses the impact of emotional marketing strategies.

In honor of her organization, here is a gif of my favorite animal being the cutest ever.

cheetah cub

In this episode, Gayane and I discuss the concept of marketing a feeling and building a community, rather than simply trying to sell a product or service.

, Ask Amanda About Marketing – Episode 3: How Emotional Marketing Strategies Built a Nonprofit’s Brand Community

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Episode 3: How Emotional Marketing Strategies Built a Nonprofit’s Brand Community – Show Notes

This week, we switched things up a bit, and I asked Gayane a question. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) just became a client of Fractl’s, and I was interested in learning more about what they’d learned from having a marketing department that’s fused together with their fundraising efforts. I asked:

What have you learned through your fundraising efforts about using marketing to spur action?

Mentioned Links / Additional Resources:

Marketing a “Feeling”

Gayane made the point that at AWF, a lot of their marketing is about a feeling rather than a product or service. When people donate to a cause they believe in, they feel good about contributing – and it’s this feeling Gayane tries to tap into.

We discuss how this applies to brands that sell products, as well, like Apple. While people purchase Apple products because of their quality, a lot of people also purchase them because they like the brand’s story; they want to be the innovative, hip Apple consumer that’s portrayed in Apple’s advertising and marketing.

Nurturing this “feeling” is done by consistently creating content, and not just any content – content that has an emotional impact.

Communicating With Your Audience

The content you create should be done with the purpose of continuing to tell your brand’s story and engaging your audience. In the case of a nonprofit, your responsibility is to continue to update your donors on your organization’s progress, detailing any current efforts – including successes and failures.

This type of communication helps solidify a partnership that allows people to see how they’re involved with the overall mission.

It’s also your brand’s responsibility to keep consumers or donors updated on what the brand is working on now that they might be interested in it. You should also be publishing thought leadership about your industry, because if your audience can’t turn to you for this information, they’ll turn to someone else.

Building a Community

You should have a mix of communication methods when it comes to connecting with your audience – whether that’s email marketing, social, and more – but Gayane says the important thing is that you’re where your audience is.

Transparency and openness are key, as well. Consider how you can open channels of communication with your consumers or donors, and they’ll feel like they’re part of a bigger community, both with other consumers/donors and with the brand. As Gayane notes, most people want to have human connections, even when reaching out to a brand, so make sure those avenues are available.

Finally, Gayane says there’s no sense in building a community if you don’t intend on listening to it. So no matter how big your organization is, make sure you’re still somehow tuned in to what your consumers or donors are saying about their interactions with you and what they’d like to see in the future.

Have a question you want to submit to the podcast?

Email me at [email protected]!

Have any additional insight you’d like to add to the discussion? Post it below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Full Transcript:

Amanda Milligan: Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answer your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get right to it.

This week. I have the pleasure of welcoming our very first guest on the show Gayane Margaryan, who is the digital marketing manager at the African Wildlife Foundation, which is the leading conservation foundation in Africa.

So Gayane, you want to talk a little bit about your position overall?

Gayane Margaryan: Sure. Thanks for having me on your podcast, Amanda. Basically, as the Digital Marketing Manager at AWF, I am not only responsible for some of the more creative campaigns that you might think about that go along with the term “marketing,” like the work that you and I are working on together in terms of content marketing campaigns. But also fundraising at that mass individual giving level of donors who are under the 1000 level, if we’re going to get into the specifics of it.

In my mind, marketing is also fundraising. Those go hand in hand together, but just to kind of show you both sides of that coin.

AM: Absolutely. So we have Gayane on the show today because as she touched on, the African Wildlife Foundation has recently become a client of Fractl’s and we’re really excited to work with them. And I thought that they would have a really good perspective in terms of a different angle that isn’t usually touched on with content marketing, that fundraising angle. She mentioned, you know, getting people to take an action—which I think translates well to a conversion-driven marketing strategy and I thought it would be interesting to turn the table this episode and have Fractl ask her a question.

So our question for you is: What have you learned through your fundraising efforts about using marketing to spur action.

GM: Well, as I mentioned, I’m a firm believer that successful fundraising really is marketing. You’re basically just selling a different type of thing. So with fundraising, you’re kind of selling that emotion or encouraging people to give. We believe that people are inherently philanthropic or at least I like to believe that. I’m on the optimistic side of that, people are inherently philanthropic.

We just need to help them decide where to give how to give and what to give, too. You know, there’s a saying that people don’t give to nonprofits, they give through nonprofits, right? So in that case, you just need to make your mission as accessible and emotionally-driven as possible. People need to feel that connection there. They’re giving to feel good about themselves. They’re giving to feel good about the cause that they’re investing in. So as a marketer or fundraiser and you know, as I mentioned at AWF, we’re kind of a hybrid, it’s your job to convey that in your content, right? Everything is content: all of your emails, your landing pages, your website. All of this is content. So it’s your job to tell that story, to drive those emotions, and to share that impact—always closing the loop and sharing impact that you have because they are investing valuable dollars in your organization and in your mission and trusting in you.

AM: I think it’s super interesting to think about what you were saying in terms of selling or marketing a feeling rather than a product or a service. We’ve talked about this before. If you think about things just like Apple, the way they have to market themselves as—you’re not just buying a product that’s top of the line, they say that they are but portrayed in their advertising and marketing is somebody whose innovative, somebody who’s on the cutting edge and that’s a huge part of why people buy their products.

So I like that you say that because it’s an interesting correlation to probably marketing in general, really how you encompass an entire brand outside of just the specific product or service.

GM: Well, I would say I firmly believe that just really spans the spectrum because whether you’re a non-profit or a for-profit, you’re really just telling a story about your brand and you’re getting people to buy into that. Like you said, if you’re Apple, I mean, probably more than half of the people—I would guess and then that’s probably pretty generous—are not needing all of the technical specifications of an iPhone, you know, most people don’t necessarily know what their camera can do and were taking photos for Instagram and we want them to look pretty but it’s really about the feeling of having an iPhone and the latest iPhone.

Like, I love Adidas. I don’t really know if they’re the best-made shoes. I don’t care. I’ve been wearing Adidas forever and I buy the newest shoes when they send me emails because they’re determined to make me go broke when they target display ads at me. These aren’t things that I need. These aren’t products that I desperately need to put into my wardrobe to serve some function.

You know, I have a running shoe, but I’m still buying more. It’s about the way it makes you feel the way, it makes you look it. You’re buying into a brand and I think that’s really the key thing. You’re not buying produce. Right? It’s not serving your fundamental needs at the bottom of that pyramid.

AM: I think that’s a great example and something that is easy to overlook for a lot of people who work in branding or content marketing because that’s essentially the primary point of content marketing—to tell that story. While it’s important to talk about your value proposition and why you’re better than the competition, it’s also important to think, who are these people that we really want to get involved with our brand and why and what’s going to make us stand out for them, what feeling do we want them to have when they see our branding?

So I think the best thing to do is to delve into these issues a little bit more, is to talk about specific examples of campaigns you’ve worked on. Is there anything that comes to mind that reflects these topics of, you know, how you’ve tried to convince people to take action by compelling them through emotion or other persuasive means like that?

GM: So there’s probably a few examples that readily come to my mind. First off, I would say probably the story that most people are aware of—and one of the sad stories that you hear in wildlife conservation, but that also happened to be so mainstream—which was Cecil the lion who was killed by the dentist in a sport hunting situation. It was just this one lion.

The story really blew up. Yeah, it was everywhere and there was a Care2 petition started. I think or a petition started and people just signed on, asking to send this dentist to jail. People got so incensed over this incident. There was just all of this rage toward this one hunter, who’s from the United States even more so than there was sadness over Cecil the lion’s death, right?

And so in that instance, I would say people were really motivated to give because of this rage and this anger. Which is I think something that people are experiencing in this political cycle that we’re in right now where they’re looking for causes to give to that—yes, they’re invested in and they believe in—but because they’re also very angry about other things that are going on in the climate.

So in that situation, we were actually approached by a partner of ours, CrowdRise, you’re probably aware of, you know, a crowdfunding platform and very well-known. They wanted to partner with us for an effort on Cecil. Obviously, we work on lion conservation efforts across the continent and so they partnered with us on this campaign, which was very successful. We didn’t actually need to do a lot of marketing around. It sort of grew out of this situation that was already happening and it was a way to bring people together to give them an opportunity to take action in order to actually look at the continental population of lions.

So we use that situation to tell the story and really build out the story of okay, here’s what’s going on in the continent. This is one lion, but actually what’s going on to the other populations and 42% have been lost. So it’s an opportunity to tease out that story, right? So we started with this CrowdRise campaign, then we followed up with a digital experience landing page that was more informative and educational.

So a story and infographic that took them through this decline over a century and how populations are just disappearing. Why is this happening? Sport hunting is one reason, but actually, there’s human wildlife conflict. There was poaching, you know, people are using lion bones for sometimes things that you wouldn’t think of, like wine. So there’s an opportunity to sometimes funnel these feelings into something that can also be very constructive. Actually, this year—a year after his death, we followed up with a lot of these new donors that we had over the last year who came off of this campaign, who came to us because they were concerned about what was happening to lion population.

So now this is a story that we tell and it’s something that we tease through the year and we report on the impacts. So, you know, that’s kind of an example of one emotion on one side of the spectrum that I think we don’t often think about when people are giving right because we talked about that feel-good feeling and this is kind of driven by anger and rage.

Then you know, there’s other examples, like, there was a recent elephant census and even conservationists were shocked by the results. So we thought, if we’re surprised—and when I say we not even myself but you know, like the scientists that we work with it or in the field—if we’re surprised by how much populations have declined, let’s think about how surprised the layperson would be.

So, this was probably you know, it’s obviously a sad story and populations have declined by over 35 percent and it was just in the span of seven years since the last census of that scale had been done. But that’s often times something I know that you and I have talked about and something we talk about in marketing and storytelling which is, you want to tell people a story that they’re going to stop and think about something they haven’t heard before that will make them pause and think why or how.

AM: The emotional studies we’ve done where we asked people to identify the emotions and different viral images, surprised was in the top three and it continues to be one of the most compelling emotions that are involved. So it doesn’t surprise me if you were surprised—I think that’s a great indication of when you should make something a campaign, internally you’re shocked about something odds are that a lot of other people will be too.

GM: Yes, if the experts are shocked then I think probably there something to dive into there. But a census, in and of itself when you hear that word, does not sound very exciting. So, you know in this situation we’d worked with our agency and created this beautiful campaign that told the story of one elephant a really young baby elephant, you know, she was 7 years old and elephants age in the sort of the same way that humans do so, they can have a lifespan of 80 or so 7 is very very young. So she’s just a little kid basically, right?

So it introduced this one elephant. She’s seven and then it went on to say in the time that she’s been alive, she’s seen her relatives, her friends, her herd, her populations decreased by 35%. She’s lost loved ones. So then it went on to tell the larger story and bring home that bigger picture. So in a way, it’s kind of like that Cecil campaign where you’re talking about the individual but it was the ability to tell that story through the lifespan of just this one little elephant because really, you know, there is a seven-year-old elephant out there and this has happened over its lifetime.

AM: It’s interesting that you say, you know, there’s a similar life span because even just comparing the timelines like that make it so much more relatable for somebody because it’s like how do you connect to an elephant, right? Like how people feel empathy I mean outside or just generally feeling upset that the population is declining. How do you make it really personal? So I like that concept where you brought it down to the details. Are there any other reasons that you think that campaign, in particular, like really resonated with people? What do you think is the main quality, the ability to connect with it like that?

GM: Well, I think the emotional connection and driven by the surprise that we talked about being really shocked at these numbers and even in the campaign we talked about. Hey, we here are shocked at AWF, right? Scientists were stunned by the results. So not just me Gayane, not just you, Amanda? You know, the scientific community was stunned by these results. That must be a big deal, right?

And then, you know followed by the sadness that you experience over hearing about this elephant story. People are driven to action, right? And so if they don’t know who we are at AWF, they want to learn more and we obviously weave that into the campaign what we’re doing to protect these populations, how we’re protecting habitats, how we’re protecting wildlife from poaching, from trafficking, from all of these situations and these horrific threats that they’re experiencing.

That’s the other thing. You can’t just ask people to give things to you. But especially if you are asking them to give to you, to give to your cause, you have to demonstrate your tangible impact, how you’re going to use their money, right? Because at the end of the day, they’re not getting a pair of Adidas from you. They are investing in you and they are doing so believing that it’s going to make a difference for these elephants that we’re talking about, for these lions that we’re talking about. So you have to always explain to them how you’re going to use their money and why I’m going to make a difference.

AM: Yeah, actually that’s just made me think: how do you build that level of trust? Because trust is always going to be a factor with branding whether you expect a product to be what it’s advertised as or the service is going to fulfill your goals. But like you said, there’s nothing tangible, necessarily. What do you think goes into building that high level of trust?

GM: Sometimes it can be maybe easier with a product but on the flip side, maybe it might be harder because people might be critical about what you deliver to them. I think you really need to drive home your impact. You really need to close the loop. So, on the one hand, they’re investing in us because they believe in the case that we’ve made for that donation. So they were emotionally driven by this campaign, then we shared facts with them, and we told them about successes that we’ve had and how we can use their donation.

But you need to continue reporting on how you’ve been using those funds, what you’ve been doing. What impact have you had? Are you actually protecting wildlife populations? Have there been successes? If there have been failures, you should share that too, but tell them why these are challenging situations.

For the most part, your donors don’t expect that their $25 is necessarily going to turn around the whole wildlife trafficking industry, but it’s a give-and-take relationship. You need to be communicative and you should plan to update them about everything going on in your organization, just being transparent.

AM: So how do you communicate with them after they’ve donated? Is this mostly email marketing? Is it social? Is it a combination? You know, what do you find is the most effective way to reach out to these people?

GM: I would say just in the same way that we are reaching them initially, it spans the gamut. You should have a good mix. Email marketing is obviously very successful, it’s a very critical channel for us. But it’s social, it’s web, and that’s both our websites and other third-party sites, various partners that we have. It spans across all of the channels. You need to be present where your audiences are present. You need to be thoughtful about where you’re engaging and you need—unfortunately, because it is a capacity issue and probably for a lot of nonprofits—but if you’re strategic about it, you need to be creating content constantly, to be sharing with these audiences.

That’s how, to your point, how you’re closing that loop and how you’re constantly sharing this with them. So if they didn’t open an email from you, there should be something on your site. There should be something on social and you should be creating valuable things for these people if they’re interested, right? So you need to be giving them things. You can’t just ask donors for stuff when you need it. You can’t just say we need $25 because poachers have killed a herd of elephants. We need $75. No, you what you really need is to talk to these people continuously and you have to give them something.

Especially since you’re not producing a product, you really have to be giving them these stories and telling them what’s going on in your brand or your company and telling them about your impact. In that way, that’s what you’re giving them. We talked about at the beginning—they’re investing or they’re giving through a non-profit to a certain cause that they care about.

They want to learn and keep hearing about all of the news and if you’re not the organization of a company that’s going to be telling them everything that’s going on and reporting on it, then they will turn to someone else and so you have to be churning out these stories and it’s important. It’s important to give back because it’s a relationship.

AM: The authority comes into play, too. Even for your own brand if you’re not stepping up and giving them everything they’re looking for, they’re going to look elsewhere and that’s gonna reflect poorly on whatever initiatives you’re working on. It means you’re not following through like you said, it’s crucial.

I think I was reading one of the Cecil the lion press releases that AWF put out and at the bottom it even said “if you have a suggestion on how to handle this if you have thoughts” and they provided I think an email or phone number and that really stood out to me because it’s such a good level of engagement to open your organization up to the people that it’s connecting with. You don’t see that very often. I don’t see a lot of brands literally saying, please contact us directly. We really care about what you’re saying and it just caught me a little bit to see that.

And I realize how important that is. I was just kind of looking through it to refresh my memory and I felt involved just reading that line. So I think you’re right. I think that open communication can go a long way and keeping people continuously engaged—I want to backtrack a little bit because you would mention before that you had through the Cecil the lion campaign that you would have had some new donors who came to the organization through this issue. Once you got their interest in a campaign like this, how did you nurture those people into getting more involved in the organization or continuing to care about this and staying involved? What were over some of the efforts that went into that?

GM: For anyone who’s new, we have a developed thoughtful, what you’d call a cultivation campaign or a drip campaign or whatever you want to call it. So people don’t just come in the door and then are left to languish until the next time we ask them for money or the next time that we’re planning on sending them something. They automatically receive a series of welcome messages or nurturing messages.

So they came in on a lion issue, right? Obviously, in this situation, they are passionate about Cecil so we thank them for their involvement in that campaign, but then we needed it’s our job to tell them what else we do. They might just be interested in the lion issue, but they might also care about other wildlife. So, you know, it’s our job to explain what we do, how we do it.

For us that comes through a series of emails, infographics, and just all nurturing cultivation, right? So we’re not asking them for anything at this point. Mainly we’re sharing information. We’re telling them about other species they may care about were opening the doors for them to become educated about AWF.

And then we’re also providing opportunities then after they receive a few of these emails to become further engaged and this is the case for people who also just come in the door through something like email signup or something like that. Opportunity to become engaged by taking action. So something like signing a petition or signing a pledge or sending a message to an organization or a senator. Depending on what the campaign is that we might be running at that time or the appropriate message for that kind of news cycle.

Providing people with other opportunities to engage with your organization. Providing people with content like we talked about is important for all donors—new people that are coming in the door as well as people that have been on your list for years, right? They all deserve to hear from you but more and more people also want to be able to engage with you, like you said, either by writing, sharing comments on social, sharing your content on social, taking action by raising their hand, sending a message to their senator, sending a message to the CEO of Yahoo and Japan so that they don’t sell ivory on their platform.

People don’t want to just vote with their wallets, right? They want to have these other interactions and engagements. That’s what really keeps them involved with you as time goes on.

AM: We were talking about how it’s almost an extreme where you can call directly and that’s why it’s so interesting. Yeah, it feels more like a partnership at that level rather than oh, I’m just a person who’s involved and I gave some money one time and that’s it. It’s more like, oh we’re working together to accomplish this and I can sense why that would be such a compelling thing.

I think it’s curious to think about it for other brands that are offering products. But how can they incorporate a similar feeling like—not in the same sense of, we’re all in this together, but kind of—how can you create a similar feeling of—

GM: —the community, basically, right?

AM: Exactly.

GM: If you’re buying into a brand, you’re in a community with other people. You and I love our iPhones, so in a way, we’re kind of identifying with other people that have iPhones.

AM: No, it’s absolutely true and I think that even shows in the features we were talking earlier about iMessage. That’s something literally only people with iPhones have and it makes a lot of sense when you think of it that context—they develop these features and it just continues to strengthen the communities that already exist.

But I think of a brand doesn’t have those communities, to begin with, it’s something that they really need to prioritize because it sounds like from your description, it can go a long way in keeping people engaged for years.

GM: Yeah, I think everybody wants, on some level, to have human interaction. Even if you’re interacting with a brand. Sometimes you know, the bigger you get, the harder it becomes to kind of keep an eye on things or have your “finger on the pulse,” so to speak. I think that’s why so many successful CEOs talk about sitting in on customer service calls, you know and their call center because they kind of hear what frustrations people are having or the feedback—whether it’s positive or negative.

For example, you mentioned that we had on that release or statement that people could call in or write in if they were frustrated or if they had any ideas or thoughts. I am daily in communication with the people who handle our inboxes and are on the front lines, right? So they’re talking on the phone or emailing with donors or constituents, prospects, just various audiences, kind of one-on-one. These questions are coming into them and I want to read them.

I want to know if people are having UX issues. I want to know if someone told them that they are so thankful for being able to contribute to our campaign, but when they tried to contact us, they had a really hard time reading our phone number because of the contact page. I want to know if something’s not as accessible as it should be for an older individual, an individual who may have a hard time seeing.

So even going so far as to think about how you can learn not just about that fundraising process or that marketing process but all of that goes into your brand experience. If you’re not really listening to these communities, then there’s no point in building them.

AM: Maybe it’s the perfect note to end on. That’s really poignant. Thank you, Gayane. We really appreciate you being on the show.

GM: Thanks for having me.
AM: Thanks again for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, click subscribe. Don’t leave me with the realization that I’m talking to no one and please rate and review on iTunes so I can keep making this podcast better and your lives easier. Take care.

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