Guest Post – Through the Eyes of a Marketer: ServiceNation’s Summit

As promised, here is the guest post from CK following up on the proceedings from the ServiceNation Summit:

Sn_3 Having just come off of ServiceNation’s Summit I’m aflutter with thoughts. It’s not every day that I attend an event with 500+ leaders of non-profit, NGO and social change organizations. And it’s certainly not every day that I get to be at an event with such notables as Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Jon Bon Jovi, Usher, the CEOs of AARP, Habitat for Humanity and the list goes on. And on.

Dsc01352_2 The event left me humbled and heartened; I guess the best way to put it is that the event left me affected. And I admit to wiping tears from my eyes when Hillary Clinton hit the stage. Whether you voted for her or not, she has done momentous, moving things in her career. Matter of fact, whether you agree with the views or parties of any of the political leaders that were present, I hope we can all agree that these people have accomplished much (as anything else would be downright myopic).

And I give compliments to BOTH presidential candidates for doing well at Thursday night’s Presidential Summit. I didn’t come at this event to judge, but to listen. You see, this event was not a debate because this event was about uniting us all around something on which we all agree: the need to place service, in its many and myriad forms…spanning improvements to education to bettering our nation’s health to eradicating our plummeting levels of poverty…into a place of more prominence in our country, to garner more participation from the public and the need to shift many of our existing perceptions around service.

Dsc01355_2 And if we’re talking prominence and participation—and most definitely when we’re talking perceptions–we are talking my language. Um, marketing anyone?

#1 Exalt prominence: As a nation we have plenty to be proud of on service–many don’t realize what a strong nation of volunteers and efforts to improve social conditions we can boast. But we haven’t placed this as prominently as other departments. Governor Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver have worked hard to get California to appoint a Service Director to its cabinet level–and both McCain and Obama vowed to add this position to their cabinets at the federal levels as well. There are bills dedicated to service that are currently in Congress and ServiceNation unleashed a Declaration of Service that many signed at the event.

#2 Increase participation levels: Whether through activism, advocacy or volunteerism, our nation can increase its level of time dedicated to service. Corporations can make it easier for workers to dedicate a portion Rosie26hergranddaughter_3 of their time to charities. Individuals can learn how to spend a few less hours watching TV and instead teach a child or an adult to read. As marketers we can lend a few spare hours a month to helping a charity with their promotional needs. Point is, we can get creative, and dedicating time to service can be both impactful and tenable amid busy schedules.

#3 Shift pre-existing Perceptions: Obama hit on how we “need to make service cool again” and Schwarzenegger hit on how we need to “leave a space open on our resumes for service,” while Bon Jovi wants to make “service the new black, always in high fashion.” The thing is, we need to shift perceptions around (1) how much service improves our country and its citizens and (2) whom all can dedicate time to service. Remember, while the young have unparalleled levels of energy, older segments have unprecedented wisdom that can only be gained through experience–with retirees having more time they can allot to important causes (I will talk more on this later as, just like AARP underscored, we need to stop viewing the 50+ segment as a deficit when, in fact, they will likely be our biggest asset).

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not extend my gratitude to three entities:

Dsc01366_2 First, to ServiceNation: The event itself–and the overall movement–is a marketing brainchild. BRAVO! There are many organizations dedicated to improving the country’s many issues and pushing for social change so to nestle them all under “service” was clever. What’s more? ServiceNation is only about 18 month’s old, which makes their tireless efforts all the more impressive.

Second, to Echo Ditto: I am beyond impressed at how professional and respectful the EchoDigital Team were to we bloggers (big props to Brian Reich and Joseph Porcelli). They ensured we were well communicated to and had proper accommodations. So much so that, as a professional, I would have no reservations about recommending them to my clients who need help in bolstering communications and communities around their special events.

Third, to Nedra Kline Weinreich: Nedra is both teacher and friend to me. She not only provided me the reference to attend the event, Nedra helps me every day. She’s taken the time to teach me new strategies and methods on social marketing (which is NOT the same thing as social media–read more here). I find that teaching another is one of the most giving things we can do for another person; in this case it’s a huge act of service in bettering our profession.

PS: Yes, those are pictures from speakers at the event. I needed to take shots of the large screens as I wasn’t close enough to the stage to get clearer pictures (and Schwarzenegger attended via video feed). I hope it’s OK that I placed photos of the big names in this post…as I said in my opening, it’s just not every day that I’m in the company of 500 of them.

Nedra here again. A big thanks to CK for her reportage and analysis, as well as the very kind things she said about me. If you would like to read other bloggers’ takes on the summit, here are some links:

Be the Change, Inc.

The New Service

Have Fun * Do Good

Allison Fine

The Toad Stool

Awearness: The Kenneth Cole Blog

Everyday Giving

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

Spark*Blog

Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP)

Social Citizens

Conservation Nation

Inside the Marketer’s Studio

My 2 Cents

China’s PR Olympics


I hope that when the International Olympic Committee meets in its cushy offices on the shores of Lake Geneva to do its postmortem of this year’s games, they have the honesty to admit that the choice of Beijing as Olympic host was a huge mistake (they won’t, of course). While the Chinese people certainly have the Olympic spirit running through their veins (and the Chinese athletes have probably had an IV drip in place since they were seven), the Chinese government did exactly what many human rights activists feared. I’ve already written about all the reasons why China should not have been awarded the games, so on the heels of the Olympic closing ceremony, let’s look at the results.

After enduring what seemed like plagues of Biblical proportions in the months running up to the Olympics (the earthquake, locusts, tons of algae covering the Olympic sailing venue, choking pollution and more), China overcame them all to put on a blockbuster show for the world. The opening ceremony dazzled fans and critics alike, but the “One World” theme would have been profoundly more meaningful if China would actually let its citizens join the rest of the world rather than surrounding them with firewalls.

Every aspect of the Olympic production was carefully orchestrated to show that China deserves to stand alongside the other nations of the world, and to showcase what China has to offer. Unfortunately, this $40 billion spectacle was created on the backs of the Chinese citizens, who the government spared no opportunity to repress in the interest of global PR. Whether it was the thousands of dissidents who were preemptively arrested prior to the influx of outside reporters, the hundreds of thousands of Beijing residents who were displaced to make way for Olympic venues without compensation, or the “undesirables” — the homeless, beggars, and street vendors — who were rounded up and sent to detention centers, I cannot look at the beautiful stadiums without thinking about the price extracted by the government to erect them.

The Chinese Olympic Committee provided assurances that things would change if they were awarded the games. They would open more access to the internet, offer opportunities for protest, allow outside reporters to have freedom in what they reported. This resulted in temporary access to some Western media sources online, which has now been clamped closed. The protest zones were empty, not because everybody was suddenly happy, but because the government arrested everyone who applied for a permit to demonstrate, including two elderly Chinese women, who were sentenced to a year in a labor camp, and at least eight American bloggers and activists sentenced to 10 days in detention. If anything, the iron fist of the government tightened during the Olympics rather than loosened.

Along the way, though, the Chinese government’s carefully constructed PR facade started showing some chinks in its armor (pun definitely NOT intended!). It was revealed that the opening ceremony’s technically amazing fireworks display included some CGI effects. A picture perfect girl was actually lip-synching to the beautiful voice of another girl, who had been deemed too unattractive to represent China. The children representing the 56 ethnic groups in China were all from the Han majority. Many sold-out events were played in front of half-filled stands to prevent the gathering of large uncontrollable crowds. And the question remains whether the Chinese government issued passports to underage gymnasts so they could compete on behalf of the country.

All this is not to say that the Olympics themselves were defective. To the contrary, the athletes that gathered from all over the world to compete exemplified the best of Olympic values, and bear no complicity in the shameful activities of the Chinese government’s preparations for the games.

Now it’s back to business as usual for China — though with a shiny new veneer of acceptability by many of the world’s citizens. We can hope that the brief encounter that the Chinese people had with the free world will be a catalyst for change from within. But none of the world’s leaders — including President Bush, who attended the opening ceremony in Beijing — have said much to counter the PR cover-up. The athletes who joined Team Darfur, or others who might have felt free to make a political statement in any other country, avoided any controversial statements, worried that, like Joey Cheek, their visas would be revoked and they would not be allowed to compete.

China definitely got what it wanted out of the deal. And the rest of us got a spin job.

Photo Credit: nataliebehring.com

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What is Your Organization’s Personality?

Last week, I finally had an opportunity to meet in person my longtime blog friend Rohit Bhargava, who writes the Influential Marketing Blog. I was excited to get to see the cover of his new book, Personality Not Included, though there were still a few more days until the actual book was set to be published and released. (I love that wind-up chicken with ‘tude!)

To celebrate the launch of the book, Rohit decided to put himself through a grueling virtual book tour, answering five questions each from over 50 bloggers within a couple of days. He even promised that he wouldn’t be cutting and pasting responses, so each interview is different (here is the list with links to each interview).

Without further ado, here is my interview with Rohit:

What are the differences between an individual’s personality and that of an organization?

This is a really good question and one that I spend a part of Chapter 1 focusing on. The main reason is that we all have a shared idea of what individual personality means. It usually relates to a four letter rating from a test like Meyers-Briggs, and conjures up images of multiple choices test online. The personality of an organization is something that I try to define as much deeper. It is the unique, authentic and talkable soul of a company.

How does an organization go about creating a personality for itself?

You’re really asking the right questions here! This, to a degree is what the whole book is about. A quick snapshot of steps basically comes from my overall outline of the book:

Step 1 – Understand why organizations lose their personality
Step 2 – Look at your accidental spokespeople to see who speaks for your brand
Step 3 – Define your personality using a formula from the book
Step 4 – Create and tell your backstory
Step 5 – Overcome the barriers or roadblocks
Step 6 – Find and use your personality moments

There are other lessons in there, but that’s the snapshot view.

Are there special considerations that nonprofits and government agencies need to think about when cultivating their personalities?

Of course, I think that regulations may make it seem more difficult to do things when it comes to being a government entity – but ultimately the barriers to personality come down to the same thing … fear. It is the topic that I cover in Chapter 5 – how to overcome the different types of fear and have a personality. The one thing I might add to my list that I share in the book that is common in government is the idea of ego. This not a negative term, as many might suppose, but rather the idea that there are a lot of dedicated government workers that are trying to make a name for themselves because they may have political or career aspirations. It is a key factor that many government agencies may need to take into account when finding a way to cultivate their personalities.

What are some good examples of nonprofits or government agencies that have developed a personality for themselves?

There are a few great examples in the book, but one that I am a big personal fan of is Kiva.org. They have been one of the pioneering groups in microfinance and have also built a large following of dedicated givers because of the way that they manage to portray their brand and let their team members share their passion with the world.

What are some examples of negative nonprofit or government agency personalities, and how might they turn that around for themselves?

Good question – I think the government agencies with the lowest public perception are the ones that you might expect – eg, the IRS. How could the IRS use personality? How about taking an approach similar to what Intuit did with their popular TurboTax solution by letting people answer each other’s questions in a real time collaborative online help system? Personality is all about having a human voice and trying to avoid becoming a bureaucracy. Perhaps the better questions is which government agencies couldn’t use personality? They all could.

Thanks so much to Rohit for sharing his insights. You can download the introduction to Personality Not Included for a preview of what you can expect from the book. Is it time for you to think about your organization’s personality?

The Engagement Equation

The elusive holy grail of social media marketing is figuring out how to measure the nebulous concept of “engagement.” Evaluating our online efforts is even harder for social marketers because we don’t have the eventual sales figures to prove that they led to any changes in behavior among our audience. Before online marketing became a two-way street, way back when people would simply read information posted on a website, we could easily track things like unique visitors, page views and recency of visit. Now that the people we are talking to can talk back to us, we need to think about how to capture the value of conversations, interactions, and social networking.

I happened to see a comment on Twitter that led me to a blog post by John Johansen titled Engagement = Ingagement + Outgagement. Before I read the post, the title alone got me thinking in a new way about the concept. Turns out that John went in a different direction with the meanings of the terms than I did, so let’s just focus on the equation itself.

I see “ingagement” and “outgagement” as being similar to the ideas of inputs and outputs. “Ingagement” would refer to the marketing activities from your organization to which a particular person is exposed. That would include your website, blog, Twitter activity, emails, advertisements, etc. If someone is interested and paying attention to what you have to say, that’s a prerequisite to being engaged with your organization or issue.

“Outgagement” is the response from that person to your inputs. Does he or she leave a comment responding to your blog post, subscribe to your feed, engage in a conversation with you on Twitter, join your Facebook group, tell friends about your issue? Even better, but often not measurable through online indicators, is whether they actually adopt the behavior that you are promoting.

The outgagement is much less likely to happen unless there is some ingagement, and when both occur together, in an interactive way, we get “engagement.” Engagement can affect things like knowledge, attitudes and behaviors (though it could happen in either a positive or negative direction, depending upon the nature of the interactions). Even for commercial marketers, it’s not always easy to make a direct correlation between social media activities and increases in sales. Mike Kujawski gives some ideas on how to measure return on investment from your public sector/nonprofit online activities.

Generating engagement is not always simple, but it’s also not differential calculus. It boils down to giving people a reason to pay attention to your message and a way to interact with your issue or organization. And then it will all add up.

Photo Credit: Chris Inside

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Bumper Sticker Solutions

I drove behind a car yesterday that made me wish I had my camera with me. It was a city parking enforcement vehicle, sporting bumper stickers like those I’ve often seen on other municipal vehicles such as police cars and utility trucks. But this one took it to another level. Plastered across its bumper were stickers that said:

  • DARE to Keep Kids Off Drugs
  • There’s No Excuse for Domestic Violence
  • Don’t Drink and Drive (or something to that effect)

and the kicker, delivered entirely straight-faced:

  • Keep Your Eyes on the Road.

This got me thinking about bumper stickers, as well as the context in which our messages may be seen. Bumper stickers are about as low-tech as you can get, but they’re not going away. I’m always amazed that people are willing to put a semi-permanent adhesive slogan on their otherwise unblemished car, especially when it’s for a political campaign that’s of a limited duration. That takes commitment.

And that commitment is there because the bumper stickers people choose to put on their cars are firmly tied up with issues related to their identity. Cars are often an extension of our personality, and a bumper sticker extends that even farther beyond the automotive brand to get at our core values. That’s why so many bumper stickers are political or cause-related. They can reflect the personality and values of the car’s owner, whether idealistic (“Visualize World Peace”), witty (“Visualize Whirled Peas”) or obnoxious (“F– World Peace, Visualize Using Your Turn Signals”). Bumper stickers can also become a shorthand marker for being part of a “tribe” — such as the rainbow symbol, the ichthys “Jesus fish,” or the Darwin fish.

From “Save the Whales” to “Love Animals, Don’t Eat Them” up to the current “Coexist” (with the letters made from symbols of different religions), bumper stickers have been used as part of cause-related communication and marketing campaigns over many years. Some merely promote the name and tagline of a nonprofit organization, while others try to change attitudes and behaviors.

Here are a few tips for using bumper stickers for your issue:

  • Make your words count. Like a billboard, you only have a small number of words to get your point across. Unlike a billboard, you don’t have space for graphics and need to rely on the words to convey the idea without visuals. Make sure your message is clear and succinct, and make it memorable. The best bumper stickers make you laugh and then think.
  • Make it visible. The worst bumper stickers make you squint and mutter, “What does that say?” as you drive by. Use high-contrast dark lettering on light colors or light lettering on a dark background. Don’t try to fit so many words on the sticker that you have to use a small font.
  • Make it ubiquitous. Figure out ways to encourage your supporters to put the bumper stickers on their cars. Give them away, provide incentives, pay college students to stick them around, use window clings if a sticker is too permanent for them… The more people see your bumper sticker, the more it will provide confirmation that support for your cause is socially acceptable and desirable.
  • Make it a social object. Bumper stickers can be conversation starters or a way for people to identify common interests. In junior high, a KLOS bumper sticker on our Pee-Chee folders was a coveted status symbol designating that we were cool enough to listen to that radio station.
  • Make it build curiosity. Drive around the US enough, and you will eventually see a car sporting a bumper sticker that says, “Where the heck is Wall Drug?” If you don’t know the answer, the more you see cars with that sticker, the more it will continue to irritate those three neurons in the back of your brain devoted to the idea of Wall Drug. If you ever have the opportunity to find out the answer, you will do so just to satisfy that nagging curiosity. (Here in California, I often see bumper stickers that say, “I saw the Mystery Spot.” Similar idea.) Ask a question. Make people wonder about the answer.
  • Make it special. If your bumper sticker is one of 20 (or even four) covering the back of someone’s car, the message will be diluted (see the photo above). For more impact, your bumper sticker should be the only one on the car. Encourage your supporters to get rid of extraneous stickers so that yours will stand out.

Pundits often decry politicians’ use of “bumper sticker solutions” to tackle tough issues. While bumper stickers may not actually lead to world peace (or whirled peas, for that matter), they can be an effective way of building awareness of your cause and perhaps getting people to think about it in a new way.

UPDATE: Rob adds a couple more excellent tips in the comments:

  • Make it memorable. A message that’s genuinely funny, for instance will stick to more than just bumpers; it will be something people remember, even repeat to their friends. And that can magnify its impact tremendously.
  • Think about the stickee. When someone slaps a sticker on their bumper, it isn’t just to say something about their cause; they’re taking on a little piece of your identity as their own. What does sporting this bumper sticker say about your supporter? How can you make that statement as appealing as possible?

Photo Credit: Thomas Cizauskas

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