From Follows to Fivers: Crowdfunding as market research.

Disclaimer: I had a Victor Kiam moment after stumbling upon hiSbe’s crowdfunding video (the subject of this post); I liked the campaign so much, I invested in the company. I’m now a proud Non-Executive Director of a social enterprise that plans to give folk on average incomes an opportunity to shop ethically (“How It Should Be”). Here’s what I learnt about crowd-funding along the way.

Crowd-funding is becoming an important source of income for startups, both nonprofit and commercial. Buzzbnk is just one of several specialist services that support ventures or enterprises that are looking to grow, to attract funding from people interested in supporting social change. Typically, campaigns run for a limited time, e.g. 2 months, people give small amounts in return for benefits, e.g. public recognition, invitations to organisation events, discounts, etc. and if they don’t raise their target amount then the money is returned to investors.

The “crowd” element shifts the focus from attracting investment from a few people, to generating small contributions (and word of mouth) from lots of people and that’s what makes it interesting in terms of market research.

An important stage in New Product Development, is test marketing, e.g. launching a product in a small way to refine it and learn more about demand before a full (expensive) roll out. Even before that, you need to test the demand for a product (or service).

Crowd-funding could serve a useful function in finding out if (enough) people really are prepared to put their money where their mouth is before a new venture is launched. An enterprise like hiSbe, that aims to leverage shopper power, will need to have local support (not least, lots of customers) in order to achieve its social goals. Running a campaign prior to opening the pilot store is one way of testing the truth of that support, and raising start-up funds at the same time. Do you want to know if your Followers, Friends, Connections, etc. really care? Ask them to whip out their credit cards.

Likes are the digital equivalent of having friends and family said they’d buy your gizmo if you were able to get it produced. Crowd-funding shows that social media backing can be skin-deep. Some proof of this can be found in the Buzzbnk archive of campaigns that were Misunderstood i.e. ended without meeting their targets. Looking a bit deeper at the projects, some of them had 1000s of Likes on their Facebook groups, but only a handful of people ended up donating a tenner. Whereas, among the Successful campaigns, we find examples where there’s less social media backing, and more financial backing e.g. Pants to Poverty, which exceeded its target.

Is it all about the idea? Or is there an art to converting people from passive supporters to active fans?

Crowd-funding is an interesting way to check whether there’s genuine, active support for your project or venture before it’s too late and raising its profile in the process. But some of the success lies in positioning as much as the product. The Guardian has some good advice on how to make Crowd-funding work well in the nonprofit sector, much of which can apply to businesses too.

No more tiers: five things that can take the pain out of decentralised marketing communications

Marketing communications is no longer just the responsibility of those with the words in their job title. Many organisations require staff in different roles to incorporate promotion, dissemination and general news-spreading into their workload. This decentralisation of marketing communications has the potential to be very effective, however it doesn’t happen by itself. Here are five things I have observed can make
a difference:

Motivation – whether from the results people hope marketing communications will bring, or from enjoying the process (using new tools, using their imagination, doing something tangible, interacting with real people, etc.). On the other hand, if staff can’t see a personal benefit to doing it, they are less likely to allocate time to it or have the enthusiasm that successful marketing communications depends on. When did a reluctant marketer every convince you to do anything?

Time – staff need genuine encouragement from their managers that they should prioritise spending time on marketing communications over other activities, rather than it being something to be done in addition to their current workload. If not, it’ll either languish at the bottom of the “to do” list making people feel depressed every time they see it, or it will get done but staff are likely to become stressed and de-motivated.

Freedom – giving people the space and permission to experiment with new communication tools, to come up with their own ideas, and make (inevitable) mistakes. But they also need to be clear what the boundaries are: e.g. house-style guidelines, approval processes, legal restrictions, etc. Staff might surprise you with their innovation and unearth hidden talents.

Focus – when people know what the specific purpose is for their marketing communications, who it should be aimed at and have measurable targets, they can use their time more effectively and see how well they are doing. Realistic, measurable targets can help with Motivation. It helps if your organisation has identified its niche (in comparison to others in the sector) and how to select which target audiences to prioritise.

Support – this can include peer support mechanisms (e.g. meetings where people can share their experiences, ideas and challenges with others), having someone to ask for technical advice or feedback, reference tools, and a champion or cheerleader for marketing communications who will persuade people to keep going. Perhaps a role for the Marketing or Communications Officer?

These are observations from a number of organisations working in the development and public sectors. How do they fit with your experiences?

(This post was originally featured on my earlier blog, Positive Influence. I’ve been told the advice and observations are still as relevant as ever, hence its reappearance here)

Marketing Gumption defined

People with gumption have common-sense and the courage to use it when it’s needed. To the uninitiated, marketing can seem inaccessible, and for those working in social change, inappropriate.The m-word is taboo.

But successful marketers have bags of gumption – marketing is based on what works in practice and from understanding how real people think and behave, although the jargon may make it seem more complicated than that. When I teach students a marketing theory or tool, the ones with gumption tend to say “Ohhh. But that’s just common-sense! I do that all the time. I didn’t know there was a name for it.”

In my work with organisations that are trying to change the world for the better, I see lots of potential for a bit of marketing gumption to help them get there quicker and more efficiently. Whether it’s in how they develop new services, make people aware of them or build relationships with stakeholders.

This blog is a place for me to share with you ideas and examples of how marketing gumption can make a difference and hopefully inspire you to give it a go.