Our attitude to charity has changed. Historically the big charity organisations were the banks for good causes, providing the essential infrastructure to collect and distribute funds to help others, as well as build awareness and generate revenue through their shops, fetes and charity balls.
Then in the mid-80s everything changed. Sir Bob, Midge and Bono rallied the youth icons from music, comedy and sport to raise the plight of Africa. They shook the suburban politeness of charity with the clear request to ‘give us your fokin’ money’ and focused the global marketing machine on issues rather than the charity organisations.
As mainstream charities increasingly promote the same global issues – poverty, climate change, AIDS, child welfare, third world debt, war/natural crisis – the organisations behind the causes becomes less distinct. Corporate mistrust and the global financial crisis provide further challenges for charitable organisations.
So, whilst older people and those with specific experiences of loss or illness may retain a relationship with a charitable organisation, young people are more likely to see them as outmoded tin-rattlers who represent the past rather than the future.
Even with the re-brands, creative marketing campaigns and a greater sense of delivery, charities have more to do if they are to build a sustainable relationship with youth. And as any brand manager can tell you, if you aren’t recruiting and keeping new, younger consumers your brand will eventually fail.
Although young people don’t have pots of cash, their life-time value is immense and their passion, drive and idealism can change the world. Engaging the hearts, minds and voices of the 16-25 year olds seems to be a strategic necessity for charity organisations.
The big dilemma is how to appeal to youth whilst retaining and/or building a relationship with older, cash rich consumers. Charities have approached this in different ways - we helped Christian Aid develop a new youth brand Ctrl.Alt.Shift, providing a platform for young people to contribute issues based content. UNICEF has Youth Voice targeted at 11-18 year olds. Action Aid has blended youth relevance into the main offer with music and gifting.
While these activities may be effective, charities should be thinking harder about some of the marketing basics to ensure their organisations stand out and build sustainable brands for the future. Try three simple questions to start with:
- Who are you really targeting – particularly attitudinal rather than demographic types – and what is their world all about?
- What specifically do you want from them and what can you offer them?
- How can you make sure your organisation, not just your issues, stand out and are attractive to them?
- What could make you unique, better or different in their eyes?
- How could you be more relevant to them?
- How could you initiate and build a dialogue?
- What will the overall experience be like?
These questions need to be asked with a brave heart:
- Are we prepared to take a hard look at the brand from a youth perspective... and maybe change it?
- Do we want to build a relationship and experience not just initiate a transaction?
- Do we believe that the consumer is buying something, not just giving – so we can sell and convince rather than browbeat and beg?
- Do we realise that strong brands need focus and can’t be all things to all people, meaning we will need to leave some things and some loyalists behind?
Many of the big charities have understood some of these points but still the reason to choose one charity over another is not clear.
Once a broad brand strategy is clear, innovating and creating key points of difference is essential. It ensures the organisation is distinct, relevant and connected – particularly with young people.
What might the youth market want from a charity? Our team thought of a few things:
- Insight – A good knowledge of what the charity stands for and how it relates to them
- Stimulation – Through content, events and conversation
- Social currency – The stories to share with their friends
- Personal impact – They need to feel they are making a change, not just a number
- Entertainment – Engagement through entertainment is an easy win and can help communicate key messages
- Recognition – Thank them for their time / money / input.
- Connection and community – with each other and those being helped.
Geldof broke the mould. He talked to youth in their language but, more importantly, he led them on a journey rather than simply pandering to their wishes. He mobilised, entertained, bullied and shamelessly asked everyone to stand and deliver. Then he followed through. Sometimes he failed but he learned, adapted and he stayed true to his ‘brand’. Importantly he stayed passionate and kept his can-do attitude – two things that young people like from their brands.
Whether it’s a charity or a regular brand, we always try to bring the youth world to life, ask challenging brand questions, generate ideas that can make a difference and create engaging and lasting consumer experiences. Bob would probably just tell you to give us your fokin’ brand and we’ll change the world but we think that a bit rude. Just pop your brief in the tin.