A buzzing, lunch-eating crowd sat there on Monday afternoon, eagerly waiting to hear Martha Adams, Girl Rising CCO, speak on “The Keys to Fueling a Global Movement.” From the stage, Conference Chair, Mike Gardner, stood tall and smiling as he explained that it was the hope of the American Marketing Association Nonprofit Marketing Conference board that each attendee leaves every presentation and workshop holding onto ‘three takeaways.’ “And write them down,” he added. But, rather than give you each triplet, I discuss below the three overall lessons that I left the 2017 AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference with, all inspired by bad-ass women: Martha Adams, Cynthia Round and Lisa Sherman.
1. Strategically breaking from the traditions/rules of branding can allow for a malleability that produces astounding results. Martha Adams and the crew at Girl Rising started out by making a film after the same name when they were tasked with finding a solution to global poverty. Girl Rising tells the stories of nine women and girls in nine countries and their journeys (and battles) toward getting an education. It enlightens viewers on the dismally low numbers of girls who finish school in developing countries and focuses on the meaningful impact that educating a woman has on her family and community and on global society. After several viewings of this film, people around the world took up its cry and ran with it. Girl Rising pushed forward a global movement and is now a 501(c)(3). Yet, rather than wrangling the millions of people who have joined this journey into using the same fonts, taglines, imagery, the organization has let each group shape how this movement looks and feels. Most banners, posters and signs use different fonts and coloring palettes and phrases—a traditionalist’s nightmare. But this has allowed for organic growth. Girl Rising’s pliability makes it shareable, helping it spread faster and wider. So, yeah, not having brand guidelines that dictate logo and language may make it so that thousands of iterations currently march across the globe. But this movement is spreading, and it’s already making an impact.
2. Understand the importance that your brand plays in the lives of its loyal users and then leverage that knowledge to become not just relevant but irresistible. When Cynthia Round was guiding The Metropolitan Museum of Art through a rebrand, she asked, “How is the Met significant in the lives of its users?” What she found was that the people who loved this museum, who came back time again, found the museum to be alive—despite the reputation that such institutions have for being stuffy and dark and only about the past. So, the marketing team honed the essence of what the Met does: bring “Life to art, art to lives.” And importantly, the museum intentionally decided to be inviting to all. It embraced its age-old nickname and became “The Met,” leaving its formal name for legal documents, and employees worked together to come up with hundreds of ways to let users interact with their institution in a lively, energized way. The museum brought Instagrammers into an #emptymet, allowing them to interact with its spaces in an unprecedented way and putting its collection on the feeds of millions of followers who seek out such beauty through social media. It annually invites Teens (to) Take the Met, busing in students from the five borrows so that they can feel welcome in its lively halls and become excited by culture. The museum hosts “New York’s Night Out” on MetFridays, putting on concerts and various performances in its galleries, serving cocktails on its roof and mezzanine. By knowing the vibrancy that loyal users see in their institution, the Met marketing team learned that they must “Perforate the walls,” “Democratize distribution,” “Create distinctive destinations,” “Cultivate the audience of the future” and “Convert visitors to users.” And they have made their wonderful museum irresistible, with record-high attendance and Trip Advisor traveler ratings as the #1 Museum in the World.
3. Tell authentic stories to make meaningful connections with your audiences to inspire them to action. Lisa Sherman is the President and CEO of the organization that works with sponsors to use the positive power of advertising to bring about behavioral change. Historically, the Ad Council has used PSAs like “The Crying Indian” and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” to connect deeply with people. Its recent anti-bias campaign, “Love Has No Labels,” has touched millions, its first iteration going viral. Simple and powerful, these ads show moments of genuine and beautiful interaction. Friends and families and couples of all identities embrace one another, and standers-by (complete strangers) support them with loud cheers. The campaign doesn’t scold or judge but, rather, teaches through example. It reaches its audience on an emotional level, making connections by showing others connecting. It fights bias simply by showing that love is love is love is love. It plants an idea that changes hearts and, ultimately, changes behavior.
Conference attended, and post written, by Carner Round.