Category Marketing strategy

Ethical marketing (part III): the transparency trifecta


Back in 2015, Seth Godin published this powerful post (The strawberry conundrum): 

“Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?

If you do, you’ll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.

Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.

Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they’ll get over it.

A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.

Hype might not be your best option.”

It’s clearer than ever that transparency, and implicitly transparent marketing, is not only a moral imperative; it’s key for building relationships that last. A 2018 survey by Accenture Strategy showed that 66% of consumers think transparency is one of the most attractive qualities in a brand. Furthermore, in a study by Label Insight, 94% of the respondents said it was important to them that the brands and manufacturers they buy from are transparent about what’s in their food and how it is made. 

And we cannot talk about transparency without bringing trust into the conversation.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 81% of customers need to trust a brand in order to buy from them. In the same study, 67% of people agreed that a good reputation may get them to try a product, but unless they come to trust the company behind the product, they will soon stop buying it. 

What does this mean for marketing in the social impact space? Let’s have a look at three key dimensions: product, impact and customer data. 

Product transparency: ‘What’s in the box is on the box’

We’ve all experienced or at least heard of a product or service that caught the eye marketing-wise, yet fell short experience-wise. And we all know this trick never works in the long run. At the core of marketing that contributes to sustainable change and long-term success, there is:

1. A product that consistently (over)delivers on its promise
2. A communication approach that is transparent, authentic and empowering

Whenever I think of product transparency, I always think of Yoni’s (the chemical-free menstrual products company) statement: ‘What’s in the box is on the box’. I find that this tagline embodies the definition of any transparent product or service: showing and continuing to be ready to show what goes into creating that product or service. 

The long-lasting commitment to such an approach is heavily dependent on clear values being championed at every level of the organisation. As I wrote in a previous blog post, when it comes to values, “the real challenge is not in defining [them] but in integrating them into the decisions we make down the road – in making sure that they’re not only a statement plastered on a website or a document forgotten in a folder but a set of principles that inform and guide our everyday actions, the difficult decisions we face, the partnerships we forge, the recruitment choices we make and the culture we create.”

That’s why, to ensure constant transparency, we need accountability indicators and regular reality checks. Because just like a car needs regular maintenance to keep running, transparency needs systematic checks to stay on track. Consider some of the questions below and for a great example of an ethical marketing policy, check out JBMedia.

1. Are we communicating honestly and clearly on everything that goes into our products? No jargon, no inflated data, no exaggerated benefits. Companies like Yoni, Patagonia, Beauty Kitchen, Mud Jeans are examples of companies that give comprehensive and unambiguous information on what goes into their products as well as on their environmental and social impact. They also encourage customers to leave reviews directly on their websites. 

2. If an external person were to join us behind the scenes of product development, would we feel comfortable with that? As Hitesh Kenjale, co-founder of DesiHangover, is quoted in this ethical marketing post by Acumen Academy, “If tomorrow a customer walks in without notice, we’re able to show what’s happening. We invite the consumer to see the person who made the shoe and talk to them directly about the product.”

3. Is there something about the product or service that is not ideal and is hard to change at the moment? Are we acknowledging it and explaining how we’re addressing the issue? For example, check out one of Tony’s Chocolonely posts: ‘Facing up to an inconvenient truth: we’re part of the sugar problem’.

4. Is there any part of our product that we could improve but are lenient about because our good mission compensates for it? There might be a small group of customers who will accept that for a while but amplifying impact often requires a wider reach than that. And for that, a great customer experience is key. 

5. Do we talk openly about the realities of our sector? Are we acknowledging the limitations and progress that still needs to be made?

6. Do marketing, sales and product development collaborate effectively and ensure an open flow of information? Do marketing and sales fully understand the product, its benefits and its limitations and do they communicate them accordingly? Does product development regularly receive and take on board the customer feedback collected by marketing and sales? 

7. Are our promotional messages in line with the actual content of our offering? For example, is our coming webinar really providing value on the topic we mentioned or is it actually 50%+ sales?

Impact transparency: linking proof to a higher values-based goal

There is no question that impact data and stories are the lifeblood of any marketing, sales, fundraising and business development initiative in the social impact space. Showcasing an organisation’s results is key to growing its community, attracting more funding and ultimately generating more impact. To grow the cause and drive more change, we need to prove the effectiveness of our work. 

But this is where things sometimes get off course. In the pursuit for funding and under the argument that ‘it’s for a good cause’, many organisations start compromising on transparency and engaging in impact washing practices like:

• Exaggerated benefits and inflated results
• Data and stories taken out of context
• Overly doctored testimonials
• Covering up failures through splashy stories

Rejecting such practices is obviously integral to impact transparency and ethical marketing. And then there’s more. There’s the elevated commitment to transparency: a proactive approach in which transparency gets embedded in the organisation’s DNA and drives its every action. What does this mean for marketing?

First, a commitment to accountability – which is about making realistic promises, walking the talk, and when failing to do so, owning up to it. 

Cause CanvasFor example, when using the Cause Canvas marketing framework to define your organisation’s Collective Promise, you are prompted to ask: 

• What do you, together with your Community Partners, commit to doing in order to change things and move closer to the Higher Goal? The Community Partners are the communities at the core of your cause – the people who are impacted by the current state of affairs.
• How will you measure the fulfillment of your Collective Promise?

And when talking about Proof of impact, two of the guiding questions are: 

• What are the results – and how are they linked to the Higher Goal? That is, what are the stories of change and the data behind them and how are they contributing to the new state of affairs you are pursuing with your cause?
• What are the lessons learned – and how will you use them in driving more impact?

By following these guiding questions, the process of proving your impact becomes anchored in the bigger purpose – which is far more important for long-term success than a one-off enhancement to your company image or the addition of an impact statement to a promotional campaign.

For such an endeavour to truly manifest throughout your operations, end-to-end data transparency is key, from determining what data is needed to measure impact to collecting it responsibly, and sharing it openly, consistently and in a digestible way.

A social enterprise that uses this approach is Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees. Ecosia publishes monthly financial reports that ‘show exactly how much money they made from searches, and what percentage of their revenue went towards trees’. Another example is Fairphone’s mapping of their supply chain and showing the path that different phone components take from mines and factories all the way to the consumer. 

Second, a commitment to authenticity which doesn’t only show the good numbers, emotional stories and big partner names, but is equally explicit about sharing lessons learned, owning one’s failures, and addressing issues as they come up.

Everyone knows mistakes are part of the work but how many organisations are brave enough to talk about them, integrate them into the journey towards the higher goal and show how they are going to set things right – now and in the future? 

What’s more, the social impact sector is well known for its complexities and difficulties, so it’s not even credible that it’s all sunshine and rainbows along the way. Big, pompous statements will get questioned and generate a ripple effect of skepticism which on the long term can break the brand.

Customer data: permission-based personalisation

When it comes to marketing and transparency, the elephant in the room is, of course, the use of data. 

According to Statista, the volume of data created and available to companies has increased by more than 5,000% since 2010 and will continue to grow exponentially in the coming years. 

And with technology offering ever more granular targeting opportunities and marketing trends like social shopping, livestream shopping and augmented reality on the rise (and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic), the topic of data was never in bigger need for ethical considerations than today. 

SmarterHQ’s survey on privacy and personalisation shows that 86% of consumers are concerned about their data privacy, 79% believe companies know too much about them and 63% say they would stop purchasing products and services from companies that take “creepy” marketing too far. Yet, 72% say they now only engage with marketing messages tailored to their interests and 90% are willing to share behavioural data for a cheaper and easier brand experience.

These stats emphasise once again the importance of a transparent, responsible, secure and respectful approach to data and personalisation. 

Fortunately, regulators are addressing this issue with data privacy laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). And soon, Google will join Safari and Firefox in blocking third-party cookies, which will have a major impact on the world of digital advertising.

Despite these efforts, data transparency remains an issue. According to the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), 47% of privacy pros said their organizations were fully compliant or very compliant with the GDPR in 2020. This number coupled with the big fines given for breaching the GDPR in 2021 shows that a lot of work still needs to be done.

On this note, here are a few reminders:

• Ask for explicit consent to store and use the data (ie. including the option to decline)
• Be explicit about the data that is collected and why
• Explain how the data will be used and act accordingly
• Don’t collect more data than what’s needed to provide value to customers
• Only provide the content the subscriber has signed up for – no list switching without consent
• Be clear about how the data can be accessed and removed
• Make unsubscribe links easy to find and use
• Dispose of the data when not necessary anymore
• Make it easy for readers/viewers to distinguish between advertorials or native ads and pure editorial content
• In influencer marketing, make sure it’s clear when a product or service is being advertised by the influencer.

A marketing approach rooted in transparency, accountability and authenticity is key to fostering a more sustainable business ecosystem. Staying ready to listen, showing a deep understanding of our sectors’ complexities and constantly improving the way we do things will help us build lasting relationships and move closer to real impact. 

What other actions do you take to ensure transparency in your marketing? Leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 4 February 2022 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022. 

Note: We have no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned above. The information is based on their websites and social media communication and aimed at illustrating some of the principles addressed in the blog post.

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Ethical marketing (part IV): honest and empathic campaigning 

Any conversation about ethical marketing is incomplete without the topic of stakeholder engagement. Having talked about core elements like
values, collective promise and transparency, let’s now dive into the subject of stakeholder interactions and four questions that can help us design more ethical campaigns.

How can you help?

The topic of customer-centricity is on everyone’s lips, with some even talking about customer obsession. We know that for an organisation to survive in today’s hyper-connected world in which customers’ expectations are higher than ever before, a great customer experience is key.

A recent Qualtrics XM Institute report shows that customers who rate a company’s customer experience as good (compared to poor) are:
• 33% more likely to trust that the company will take care of their needs
• 34% more likely to purchase more
38% more likely to recommend the company to a friend or relative. 

Another Qualtrics report highlighted the strong connection between experience management (XM) performance and business results: “Of the respondents who rate their company’s XM as ‘significantly above average’, 89% report better revenue growth than competitors in the previous year.”

Yes, customer focus is paramount. And at the same time, I’d like to argue that the customer-centricity paradigm is limited. It implies a narrow focus most often on profit only while overlooking the other equally important stakeholders operating in an organisation’s ecosystem and beyond.

In a world facing a climate crisis, increasing poverty and growing inequality, organisations need to move from customer to stakeholder-centricity and develop stronger forms of cooperation models that are more compatible with the complex issues that need to be addressed.

In this context, what if at the core of every organisation lay the question: how can we help? How can we help our customers, partners, distributors, suppliers, employees how can we help our stakeholders and the planet thrive? 

Or to quote Thomas Kolster: “‘Who can you help me become?’ is the one essential question you need to be asking and acting on to chart a new course for your organisation, changing behaviours at scale and unlocking sustainable growth that benefits all.” (The Hero Trap)

Being a bridge between the internal world of our organisations and the external world of the people we’re serving, marketing can play a crucial role in ensuring a genuine stakeholder focus and in building partnerships that drive meaningful change.

With the question ‘How can we help?’ at the heart of the business, a wide range of marketing practices can start being questioned, challenged and transformed:
• Strengthening stakeholder cooperation: investing resources in truly understanding the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders and ensuring an empathic and collaborative way of doing business.
• Remembering that leads are people looking to solve a problem: lead generation numbers are important but not without being underpinned by a human-centered approach that’s focused on helping audiences address a challenge and meet a goal.
Providing value at every interaction: each touch point in the stakeholder journey is an opportunity to help customers, partners, suppliers etc solve a problem and cultivate meaningful relationships that last.
Developing content, products and services with the users’ needs in mind: think about the content you publish and the functionalities you develop as an answer to the needs previously expressed by your users.
Ensuring transparent messaging in all offerings: we’ve all seen bait and switch tactics like ‘freebies’ that turn out to be product brochures, webinars that turn out to be sales pitches, headlines that lead to vaguely related articles or newsletters that only try to sell. Being honest and clear about what’s in an offering or content piece is crucial for ethical brands that are here to stay.
Asking for permission to communicate: respecting data privacy and informing your audience about what they can expect to receive from you is not only about regulations but also about building a community of people who trust you and want to hear from you.  

You mean it’s really free?

Lead magnets like whitepapers, ebooks, trial subscriptions, product demos and free consultations are essential for building email lists of qualified leads that can be nurtured into customers and partners. In exchange for the so-called ‘freebies’, many companies make the sign-up to their lists mandatory instead of offering a separate opt-in for other communications. But we need to remember that these ‘freebies’ are not actually free considering that data is one of the biggest currencies of our society. 

Plus, gathering contacts who aren’t actually interested in anything else than the offer at hand and who’ll most likely unsubscribe from the list quickly after is great for short-term vanity metrics, not for building a valuable database that drives long-term meaningful results. 

My suggestion is: create content that solves your audience’s problems, give the resources without mandatory sign-up, provide consistent value, and trust that people will come back and want to hear more from you because of the amazing content you offer. 

Why the rush?

Scarcity and urgency campaigns are widely used marketing tactics. The scarcity principle refers to consumers placing a higher value on products or services that are scarce than on the ones that are abundant. Perceived limited supply and urgent deadlines tend to increase appeal and consequently sales. 

‘Buy now or cry later’ 🤨, ‘3 seats left’, ‘1 item left in stock’, ‘5 people looking at it right now’, ‘50% only for today’ are statements we’ve all seen. The problem is that the language is unnecessarily pressing, with statements often not being entirely true, only taking advantage of consumers’ FOMO and loss aversion. 

It’s true that we all tend to sign up for events right before the deadline or postpone the decision of an acquisition until we desperately need it. However, using this knowledge to create campaigns that push consumers into making rushed, uncalculated decisions based on fake information or ‘now or never’ language is not only unethical but also damaging for the brand. If the next day, the event registration that was supposed to be closed by midnight is still open, the trust will break and the word will spread. 

So if you do make any urgency or scarcity statements, make sure they’re based on real data, placed in context and unchanging. Check out the Ethical Move for some great ways to ‘flip’ such tactics into fully transparent ones. 

Is it for real?

The environmental degradation, social inequities and political instability around the world make consumers think more and more about their choices, which in turn raises expectations from organisations across the board. As a result, companies experience increasing pressure to prove their commitment to a purpose that goes beyond profit. For example, Deloitte’s 2022 Global Marketing Trends report mentions purpose as a beacon for growth and states that “globally, 57% [of consumers] indicated that, in general, they are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities.”

And while many companies take the meaning of purpose seriously and make it an integral part of everything they do, many only take advantage of the ‘purpose trend’ to increase their profits while continuing business as usual.

Hence the question: Is it for real?
• Is the proclaimed ethical purpose manifested in every action and every interaction?
• Is sustainability just a buzzword or is it truly embedded in the organisation’s DNA?
• Are promises grounded in reality and being kept along the way?
• Is there an accountability framework in place to keep track of the real progress?
• Are mistakes openly shared, owned up to and used to learn from them?
• Is impact shared as it is: no exaggerated benefits and inflated results; no data and stories taken out of context, no overly doctored testimonials?
• Are all products and services delivering on the promise?
• Is any offer presented like one of a kind when in reality it’s only packaged that way?

At the core of all these questions lies a commitment to transparency, accountability and authenticity; a genuine dedication to not only talking the talk but also walking the walk, to having a set of values rooted in a higher goal and to manifesting those values at every single step of the way.

For more on the topic of transparency and values, check out these two blog posts: ‘Ethical marketing (part III): the transparency trifecta’ and ‘Ethical marketing (part I): driven by values, rooted in a higher goal’.

What else do you do to ensure ethical campaigning? Leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 29 June 2022 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022.  

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Ethical marketing (part II): transforming your value proposition into a collective promise for inclusive change


Ethical Marketing - Collective PromiseHaving a resonating value proposition lies at the centre of any successful organisational strategy. A value proposition needs to drive each action the organisation takes, from recruitment and product development to marketing, sales and customer service. And the process of building one, though not easy, is usually clear-cut: ask your customers what they need, make sure you meet those needs, and clearly communicate the unique benefits you bring.

However, in the space of social or environmental impact, this process can get a bit more complex. The basic formula stays the same, but when multiple audiences are involved and their needs and goals might vary, how do we build a proposition that really moves the needle and creates inclusive change? How do we make sure that it is the needs of the communities and the environment to which the organisation has dedicated itself to that are first and foremost met, while still garnering all the support needed to generate impact?

The answer should be simple. Make those needs a priority and stick to that decision at all times. But as we see time and again, in the pursuit for funding, many organisations tend to compromise this principle and prioritise the requirements of their donors or investors instead. This results in top-down approaches and unintended consequences.

Take the example of the failing clean cookstove development programmes addressing women around the world. In spite of the substantial funding over the years, the adoption rate is still extremely low. As Caroline Criado Pérez writes in her eye-opening book, ‘Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’: “Despite what academics, NGOs and expatriate technicians seem to think, the problem is not the women. It is the stoves: developers have consistently prioritised technical parameters such as fuel efficiency over the needs of the stove user, frequently leading users to reject them, explains [Emma] Crewe. And although the low adoption rate is a problem going back decades, development agencies have yet to crack the problem, for the very simple reason that they still haven’t got the hang of consulting women and then designing a product rather than enforcing a centralised design on them from above.”

Although this example is about product design, we know how inextricably linked design is with an organisation’s value proposition.

The case for a Collective Promise

In light of all this, what if we started thinking of value propositions more as collective promises? What if those promises were co-created with and guided by the people for whom the organisations were started in the first place?

No-one knows better what the real problem is than the people who are directly impacted by it. That’s why, a proposition that is likely to change the status quo of a group of people needs to be co-created with that exact same group of people. Besides it being a matter of respect and morality, it also makes economic sense in the long run. When a problem is deeply understood and people are invested in addressing it, better action can be taken, leading to better results and building proof that the action works. This in turn will attract increasing support and trust, which will help create change that lasts.

As mentioned in the previous blog post on ethical marketing principles, solid values rooted in a higher goal of a more just and sustainable world can only lead to change if they’re integrated in every decision made down the road. A higher goal related to social and environmental impact is about making sure that the humans and nature most impacted can thrive. And thriving can only take place when people own their stories.

As Anne Moraa, Co-Founder and Director of The LAM Sisterhood, said at the Partos Innovation event in October 2021, “No-one is an expert at somebody else’s life. [The guiding question should always be]: “Who are you really there for?”

Cause CanvasIn the Cause Canvas – a marketing strategy framework I’ve developed for purpose-driven organisations committed to addressing these issues – the first step after defining the Higher Goal is working with the Community Partners. Only afterwards, do we look at crafting a Collective Promise.

The Community Partners are the communities impacted by the current state of affairs. They are the actual drivers of the cause, the ones from whom we can continuously learn what is needed to accelerate change and who will lead the way to lasting impact. As Sarah Page, Communications Manager at Spark, stated at the Partos event, “All you need to be is a platform”.

Setting the stage for a Collective Promise

As mentioned, the Collective Promise can be developed after tuning into the Community Partners’ needs, goals and aspirations, listening actively and with humility, and truly grasping all the issues at play. This helps prevent a top-down approach or unintended consequences. In other words, it’s about asking: Is there agreement on whether there is a problem and what the problem exactly is? Is there a common understanding as to how the problem needs to be tackled? Ensuring that all voices are included (especially those of underprivileged groups who are so often overlooked) and looking at disaggregated data is key here.

In the Cause Canvas, the following guiding questions are suggested:

• What is the local sentiment about the status quo?
• What are the Community Partners’ needs, aspirations and motivations?
• What is the socio-economic, demographic, cultural, political and environmental context?
• What is the local interest in pursuing a new state of affairs?

The insights gained at this stage might also indicate a different direction to pursuing the Higher Goal than you initially had in mind, albeit conducive to the impact that matters most.

Developing a Collective Promise

In the Cause Canvas framework, the following questions are aimed at building a Collective Promise:

• What do you, together with the Community Partners, commit to doing in order to change the current state of affairs and move closer to the Higher Goal?
• What makes your promise different from those of other organisations (eg. novel approach, different angle, a more comprehensive approach, a different way of communicating)?
• How will you measure the fulfillment of the Collective Promise?

This exercise can help clarify the ‘Why’, ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘Who’ of the promise. Articulating how the promise can contribute to the Higher Goal and how you’ll know that it has effectively done so will strengthen your ‘Why’ and ensure clarity and accountability.

Now back to the matter of garnering support to amplify our impact. Using the Collective Promise approach doesn’t mean that we don’t take into account the people and organisations that will support our cause. It merely means that any key message, as tailored as it needs to be, will be anchored in a clear, unwavering Collective Promise. This can be illustrated through the tree visualisation below.

Ethical Marketing - Collective Promise explained

Rooted in a Higher Goal and clear values, we build a Collective Promise with the Community Partners, the people at the core of our cause. From a strong and stable ‘trunk’, all other actions can grow and flourish: key messages for donors/supporters, concrete programmes, services and products development, promotional campaigns etc.

However, that’s not to say that the Collective Promise is a static element. It gets strengthened by a continuous dialogue with the Community Partners and the circular nature of the Cause Canvas, which encourages changemakers to integrate the insights gained at every step back into the model. This means that knowledge generated later in the process (eg. Action, Proof and Supporters) can further strengthen the Collective Promise but its principles will stay the same.

Download your copy of the Cause Canvas and start building your organisation’s Collective Promise today!

Also, stay tuned for my next post in the ethical marketing blog series and leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 25 November 2021 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022.

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Ethical marketing (part I): driven by values, rooted in a higher goal


Ethical marketing - Driven by values, rooted in a higher hoal

Traditionally, the main role of marketing has been to promote and sell products and services with the sole goal of maximising a company’s profit and the wealth of its shareholders. This approach to business has led to widespread disregard for external impacts, playing a key role in stoking social inequalities and being a major contributor to alarming environmental degradation. And while some companies might have overhauled their practices to mitigate negative impacts and contribute to positive change, too many have held firm to the status quo and employed greenwashing or bluewashing strategies instead.

Add to that the misuse of personal data in (microtargeted) advertising and political campaigns, it is no wonder that the word ‘marketing’ often conjures up associations with manipulative practices and plain distrust. Purpose-driven organisations that are genuinely dedicated to making a social or environmental impact often feel they enter tricky territory when developing their marketing strategies. And rightfully so – the skepticism has legitimate foundations.

At the same time, we know that marketing is key in expanding the reach of a cause, bringing people on board and generating crucial action.

So how do we navigate a territory marked by all these issues and do so ethically and responsibly?

Widening the scope of business goals to include people and the planet is, of course, a key step in that direction. Sustainable, purpose-driven and people-planet-profit marketing are all familiar concepts that have gained increasing attention and commitment in the past decade.

But as old practices are being challenged and new models emerge, it is important to also stay critical about the nature of the building blocks used in the mix. Constant reflection, evaluation and openness to change are a must as we turn the tide toward a more ethical discipline that drives sustainable results for all.

Real change lies in the details of daily actions. This is why, in this blog series, I’d like to discuss how we, purpose-driven marketers, and fellow changemakers can keep improving our practices so that the marketing we engage in is invariably anchored in ethical standards and in line with the impact we’re looking to create.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be zooming in on various aspects that I find important when striving to ensure ethical marketing practices in socially-minded organisations. And I’d be happy to hear your views, comments and suggestions.

By no means do I claim to have all the answers surrounding the topic. Nor do I intend to claim the moral high ground. This series is a set of reflections based on my experience in impact-driven organisations as well as an invitation to an ongoing conversation that keeps us open, candid and alert.

Marketing is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for a variety of goals across a large spectrum. It’s up to us to create an environment in which the good side of the spectrum shines bright. And what better place to start than at the core of our organisations?

Marketing driven by values, rooted in a higher goal

The importance of having clear organisational values driven by the impact we want to make in the world cannot be emphasised enough. And although the values exercise is not an easy task in itself, the real challenge lies in integrating those values into the decisions we make down the road – in making sure that they’re not only a statement plastered on a website or a document forgotten in a folder but a set of principles that inform and guide our everyday actions, the difficult decisions we face, the partnerships we forge, the recruitment choices we make and the culture we create. Ultimately, clear values keep us focused when things get hard.

As Acumen’s founder and CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz, writes in her book, ‘Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World’: “Statements of values can guide actions and reinforce bonds of community – if they are lived. […] To unite any group, let alone the world, in common purpose requires role models and business models that demonstrate values made manifest.”

Marketing creates a bridge between the internal world of our organisations and the external world of the people we’re looking to serve. And it is our duty to constantly assess how we’re tuning into these two worlds so that we can ensure moral ways of tackling the tensions and disparities that arise in the process.

In the Cause Canvas – my proposed marketing strategy framework for purpose-driven organisations committed to inclusive growth – the Higher Goal lies at the centre of the framework as a constant reminder that it’s not only the first step in defining a social impact strategy but also a driving force influencing the decisions around it. The Higher Goal refers to your organisation’s dream for a more just and sustainable world and to distil it, you’re encouraged to ask questions like:

• What is the new state of affairs you imagine?
• Why is it important to pursue a new state of affairs?
• What do you think needs to change?
• What are the values that will guide your work?

Cause CanvasAs marketers, we tap into and influence multiple aspects of an organisation, from the resources we use, the stories we tell and the way we show our impact, to the people and organisations we attract as partners, ambassadors, donors, investors, customers or members.

When we commit to aligning these aspects with a set of values rooted in a higher goal, we allow for other equally important objectives to co-exist with the pursuit for funding. For example, a set of values focused on respectful relationships and rooted in a higher goal of human flourishing will help reconcile the financial needs of the organisation with the needs and aspirations of the community partners at the centre of the cause as well as those of the employees. Such an approach leads to:

• Developing products and services that don’t only sell but really fulfill the needs of the audiences they are aimed at. As Acumen’s CMO said in an event, “the product is the marketing”, marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought.
• Attracting partners, donors or investors that truly support the cause and not only the potential gain in profit or reputation.
• Crafting stories and calls to action that attract funding and respect the human dignity of the people involved.
• Pursuing projects not only for the numbers to be shown to donors or investors but also for the good that they put out into the world.
• Hiring marketing teams that are truly dedicated to the cause and have an empathetic ear for all the stakeholders involved: customers, communities, partners, donors, investors etc.
• Employing marketing practices and systems with permission and data privacy at the core.

In a nutshell, when marketing decisions get blurry, the core values and focus on the higher goal will help us lift the fog.

Stay tuned for my next post in the ethical marketing blog series and leave your comments below.

Download the Cause Canvas

Published on 17 September 2021 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022.

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12 cost-effective ways to bring more participants to your events


NGO events marketing

Organising regular events – even if not part of your company’s key services – can provide great opportunities to strengthen your brand, raise awareness about your cause, expand your community and build the personal connection needed to drive meaningful action. But how do you ensure successful participation numbers, especially if you have a limited budget? Check out the 12 tips below.

1. Craft an irresistible value proposition

This will be the backbone of all your event promotions. An inspiring message that resonates with your target audience, shows the uniqueness of your event and triggers action is key in driving registrations. To craft an irresistible message, don’t forget to use Simon Sinek’s golden circle: start with the ‘why’ and then address the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. An effective approach to help you answer the ‘why’ is to keep asking ‘So what?’ to every answer you give until it’s obvious and it feels silly to continue.

Here’s an example:
Learn new breathing techniques (So what?) –> So that you relieve stress and achieve inner calm (So what?) –> So that you feel relaxed, radiant and alive every day.

So the message can become:
Feel relaxed, radiant and alive every day. Discover new breathing techniques that will help you release stress and achieve inner calm.

Once your event information is on the website, don’t forget to optimise the content for search engines. Check out this HubSpot blog post for on-page SEO management tips.

2. Build anticipation

Got a clear theme and a date for your event? Even before you have all the practical details figured out and you open registration, make sure you generate buzz around it:

• Promote it consistently across all your social channels and consider creating a series of fun/inspiring videos to accompany your posts.
• Send an email to all your subscribers, including previous participants, who might be interested in the theme of the event.
• Announce the event at other events.
• Let your partners know about it and ask them to help promote it across their channels.
• Don’t forget to add a sign-up form to your event page for people who want to receive more information about the event. In this way, when registration is open or eg. the speaker line-up is ready, you already have a list of warm leads.

3. Slice and dice your email lists

Email marketing is one of the most effective tools in event promotions. But it’s really important to stay away from email blasts and respect data privacy regulations (eg. GDPR). Understand your subscribers’ preferences and only target the people to whom the theme of your event is relevant. An effective approach is to identify the key segments in your database and map all the event topics against these segments. In this way you will have a clear content overview to help you in your promotions as well as an easy way to tailor your messages.

An important group is that of previous participants (as long as the theme is relevant to them). These people were previously engaged with your organisation so they are likely to want to participate again. In addition to obvious segmentation by job title, organisation type and size, career level, topics of interest, country of residence etc, this list can further be split based on level of satisfaction with previous events, number of events attended before, sessions they attended etc. And if you don’t have all this information available now, make sure you start collecting it.

4. Launch a new product or publication

If you’re planning to launch a report, a book or a new product, why not use your event as a platform? In this way, your launch can receive extra attention and your event can gather more people interested in hearing about the launch. Double win!

5. Develop a content strategy around your event’s theme

Having a content strategy around your theme can help your event get found by the right people and trigger action among a relevant audience without having to fight for their attention. By picking a set of key topics from your event and writing related content that addresses the needs and goals of your ideal participants, you will attract qualified prospects that you can then nurture into registrants. Make sure that each piece of content you produce is optimised for search engines and ends with a call to action and a sign-up form.

6. Promote the location of your event

While the theme, speakers and set-up of your event will define the unique selling points, the location and venue of the event can also make a difference in your promotions. After a full day of discussions and learning, people love unwinding and discovering new places. You can talk about what the city has to offer and describe the atmosphere of your venue to give your potential participants a taste of the event’s ambiance and thus, an extra reason to join.

7. Unlock the power of your network

The social impact space is highly collaborative – organisations and individuals support each other’s causes and work together towards shared goals. Help your partners promote their work and they will surely return the favour.

In addition, give your speakers ready-made messages to announce their speaking engagements among their networks and also encourage your employees to spread the word. Last but not least, identify influencers and ask for a shout-out. Most of the time, people will step in for a good cause.

8. Prepare a (social) media kit

You want people to help spread the word? You gotta make it easy for them. Don’t expect them to go to your website, figure what to say about your event, craft a message and tailor it to different channels. Maybe you’ve got a few evangelists out there but most of the time people are too busy to put all that effort.

But if you give them the right tools, they’ll help. So take your event’s value proposition and adapt it to all the different channels where you’d like to get some visibility (eg. social media, email). And then make some variations so people have some choice and your message gets out there in different forms. Plus, always attach some channel-specific photos and videos for extra visibility. When your kit is ready, send it to all your employees, speakers, participants and partners. In this way, everyone can just copy, paste and publish your messages, and you can generate a lot of buzz.

9. Raise awareness at other events

Whenever you or any of your organisation’s employees attend other events, make sure to bring marketing collateral to promote your event. And if you have a booth, use pull-up banners, flyers and screens to feature your event’s unique selling points and promo videos. Make sure you allow for people to sign up to be notified about the event and also consider organising a raffle as an incentive.

10. Turn your registrants into event ambassadors

Very often, registration confirmations are the last touch points before the event takes place. So many lost opportunities! What if you could turn your registrants into ambassadors for your event? Here are some ideas:

• Add share buttons and ready-made social media posts to the confirmation page and emails. Make it easy for people to instantly share their excitement with their networks.
• Invite them to the Facebook/LinkedIn event and thus raise awareness among their friends as well.
• Send a monthly newsletter to registrants as you book new speakers, add some exciting sessions to the programme or develop interesting content related to some of the topics. This is also where you can mention practical details and boost enthusiasm about the city and the venue. This will keep your registrants engaged and give them content to share with their networks.

11. Always think hybrid

Hybrid events are becoming the norm. But even if the event is supposed to be in-person only, make sure you give the world at least a glimpse into the content and buzz of your event through eg. live video from key sessions. In doing so, you will boost the visibility and engagement of your brand and raise interest in future events. And of course, make sure you have a sign-up form available for people who could not make it to stay informed about your future events.

12. Follow up

The end of your event should not be the end of your relationship with your participants. Follow up with a survey; ask them what they liked and what they would improve; send a link to photos, recordings and presentations; get in touch with each and every person who you promised to contact after the event; send them relevant content (ebooks, webinars) based on their session participation. Establish a connection that goes beyond the event participation and who knows, maybe some of them will even become ambassadors of your brand.

What other tactics do you use to boost participation at your events? Share in the comments below.

Are you looking for ways to attract more participants to your events? Let’s work together on a marketing strategy that will ensure the success of your events. No time for implementation? No worries, we’re here to help. Get in touch for a consultation. 

Photo credit: @kanereinholdtsen, Unsplash

Published on 6 May 2018 and updated on 28 Jan 2022 by Laura Tufis. 

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