The Red Cross does incredibly important work. But, they usually do horrible marketing.
Granted, the nature of their business is crisis-mode. They (thankfully) respond to the disasters and the tragedies that occur unexpectedly. They house and clothe people, provide meals and medicine, and of course, collect and distribute the most valuable of all liquids - blood.
And, they're a nonprofit. Like any nonprofit, they need volunteers and donations. And, like any nonprofit, they need to let folks know about these opportunities to give.
Usually, this awareness is limited to an emergency announcement in every local paper and news outlet that the Red Cross is dangerously close to running out of blood. I guess they think that they can get everyone who watches the news and reads a print newspaper to rush out, roll up their sleeve, and wait in line to get stuck by a needle.
The two main problems with this are:
- When you frequently declare that you're in dire need, people will eventually ignore this need. It's like the panhandler who tells you the same story twice. The second time, it doesn't really seem like that big of a need.
- If you frequently are in a state of emergency, you need to rethink what it takes to keep your supply steady.
In Nashville, the Red Cross recently unveiled an idea to recruit 10,000 volunteers from the middle Tennessee area to help out in a variety of ways, from donating blood to disaster relief. There are a few billboards around town talking about this, and how you can be part of the 10,000. I'm not sure how it's going, but the idea is a waste of time and money.
Let's face it, most people want to help out, but no one wants to be part of 10,000. If I did, I'd go to a baseball game or a concert. And most people will always choose a baseball game or a concert over giving blood, no matter the how much altruism is lost in sitting and eating $9 hot dogs.
So, in Nashville, they try to entice donors with being .01% of something, or with a gas card. That's right - on the local red cross outdoor sign, each week or month or something, one lucky donor is entered to win a $250 gas card. Not bad, but if I've never given blood, even though $250 in gas is great, a lot more has to happen to have me walk in the door.
But, in Michigan, the Red Cross seems to get it. I read today about their summer concert series, Club Red. It's a season of concerts aimed to get the young folks out to hear some good music, donate some money, and learn about a great organization.
Here's why I like this marketing idea:
- It's aimed at 20- and 30-somethings. If you get one of these to become a loyal donor (blood or money), you've got them for a long time.
- It features local bands picked by people who know the local scene. You don't always need a has-been or current-chart-topper to have a successful charity event.
- There's no cover. People will pay for something what it's worth. So, the Red Cross still gets some money, and they get their message in front of more people than if there were a required cover charge.
- Concerts have a long tail. If it's a good show, attendees will have pictures on their MySpace and Facebook pages and will be telling their friends about it. And when someone gets it in their mind that they want to volunteer or do something good for the community, the Red Cross will benefit.
A lot of marketing is in telling the right story. And today, the right story isn't about emergencies or a number. It's about thinking about opportunities that allow people to do something they might be doing anyway. It's hard to get people to stick needles in their arms - it's easy to get them to listen to live music.
One step at a time.