Non-profits frequently deal with issues that most of us ignore but that these well-intentioned folks want us to care about. It’s a tough job. The best among them know that getting results – like changing minds and encouraging donations – means making the case for our emotional investment.
Here’s the primary best-practices takeaway: make your message a symbol. Take your message and combine it with an evocative visual element from which the average (time-starved) person can immediately capture its meaning without having to explore any further. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a symbol is worth a thousand pictures.
Once they have that image in their brain, it will be exponentially more difficult for them to ignore the emotional echo of that picture unless they explore the issue more thoroughly. And then you’ve GOT them!
The Emotional Knockout Punch
The strength of unique and streamlined imagery cannot be underestimated. The good news is strong imagery does a lot with a little, and one successful, radical piece can be worth a year’s worth of content and campaigns. If you’re a non-profit brand and you only have one shot to get people to start caring about what you represent, you stand to gain more by starting smaller and being more outrageous
As an example, The Economist executed a successful experiential campaign called the “Grounds for Change.” A branded coffee cart was located at select locations throughout New York City with the goal of offering passersby a free cup of coffee and some ‘food for thought’ about the little-known uses for coffee grounds. The program campaign was based on an article the Economist ran called “Oil in Your Coffee,” concerning how coffee grounds can be used to create biodiesel fuel.
The Chicago Gun Lock campaign by gun control advocacy group Brady Center. The campaign – viewable in the header of this article – “depicts an urban bike-sharing station, but instead pretends to offer people the opportunity to rent a rifle.” This is a perfect example of what we’re talking about. The installation draws you in and immediately communicates a message while making you curious to learn more. Most importantly, it turned a well-known everyday feature (the bike rack) into a powerful and distruptive symbol for gun control.
Freeing Up Emotional Bandwidth
Even though we consider ourselves rational creatures, our decisions are motivated by emotion; research on advertising shows that the emotional response to an ad influences consumers’ intention to buy much more than the ad’s follow-up content. Additionally, Princeton psychologists learned that first impressions form in less than a second.
Studies also show that images have better recall than words and can be remembered more clearly than words. Many charities understand this reality and use arresting imagery prominently in their campaigns,
The larger problem is that the average person is bombarded with so much information every day it’s easy for your cause to get lost in the noise. Fact is, you’re not competing against other non-profits, you’re competing against all advertising; and whatever social cause is leading the national conversation at the time. It’s just as much a question of message format as it is message content. Remarkable symbols and symbolic imagery win. Everytime.
Becoming The Purple Cow
Indeed, noted ad guru and author Seth Godin’s Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable made the case that being remarkable is of the utmost importance in a jam-packed marketplace of ideas. The book advocates that companies produce remarkable products and target people who are more likely to spread the message by word of mouth.
What marketers and brands must do is find the most cost effective way to deliver a critical blow that shatters the defensive shield people place around themselves. It’s the only true way to do the message justice, and tether it to a moment in their day, and a moment in time that’s relevant and current.
The best way to shatter that dome is with a fierce statement that blows the door open for the rest of your content and invites your audiences to come in, learn more, and embrace your cause.
Be bold. Be brave. Be ruthless in hitting the emotional notes hard. As well as the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of your audience.