Have You Ever Heard Of...

There is a lot of talk about brand these days in the nonprofit world. But, what is your brand? Isn't it a collection of ideas and experiences that your customers and donors carry around in their heads? It seems that no matter whom you talk to—the brand expert d'jour—you often get a very different interpretation of what a brand is and, more importantly, how you can make it more effective.

So . . . since it seems there is no clear science for the right way to approach your brand, I figured I'd get out there with my own branding thoughts.

How many times have you been engaged in conversation with a friend or colleague and they asked you, "Have you ever heard of ______?" If you answer yes, the conversation will shift to a discussion of whatever _____ is. If you answer no, the same will occur. It is in these moments that I believe that your brand is defined. Forget the fancy focus groups, pyramid diagrams, catchy tag lines, or even that killer logo—your brand is what people talk about.

So what makes an organization worth talking about? Well, it's often the things that either receive the least attention or get overlooked completely. Here's my short list:

1. Who picks up the phone when someone calls?

If you are like most companies these days, it's an automated system. Usually the first thing folks hear is, "In order to better assist you, we have created the following options: For sales press 1, For service press 2 . . . Start typing the first 3 letters of the persons last name . . . If you know the extension of the party you wish to reach, you may dial it at any time . . . "

Want to know how that translates to your customers and donors?

"In an effort to better serve our needs and cut our costs, we have implemented an electronic answering service. We don't think you are important enough to hire an actual person to answer your call—but if you want to buy something from us today, press one and you can talk to a real person right away. After all, we've spent a great deal of time writing our upgrade scripts for our telemarketing firm in India—and we always like to increase our average sale value."

And the whole time, your customer is thinking, "Gosh, I just want to speak to a real person . . . I just have a quick question . . . I don't know how to spell his last name . . . if I knew the extension of the person I am trying to reach, then I wouldn't have dialed the main friggin number!"

If you want to have an organization worth talking about, start by hiring the best receptionist that you can find. Give them the title, "Brand Representative" and pay them twice what a typical receptionist makes. Give them goals by which you will measure their success and develop metrics to plot their success. Better yet hire multiple Brand Reps so that no matter when the phone rings, there is always someone there to answer the call. Can you imagine what kind of "brand" impression it would leave if someone called your organization after hours and an actual, live person picked up the phone? Not only that, but the person on the other end of the phone was actually knowledgeable and able to address your donor's question? Even if they didn't have an answer on the spot, what if they recorded the question, routed it to the correct person, and then the very next morning the donor received a call from someone in your organization with an answer? Do you think that might get people talking?

2. What about when things go wrong?

How can we turn a boo-boo into an opportunity for great branding? An order gets messed up. The wrong product ships. A flight is delayed or cancelled.

The last one hits home with me. I travel a lot for work and have amazingly horrendous luck with having my plane leave at the actual, advertised date and time. But because I fly a lot, the airline knows me. They know exactly how many miles I fly, where I fly to, and how many times I've experienced delays—or worse—cancellations. What if once in awhile, when things go wrong and my flight is delayed and I'm sitting on the tarmac in 100 degree Dallas heat with no air conditioning, nowhere to turn, and all I can think of to do is post nasty Facebook updates about the airlines—what if at that moment I received a call from my airline. "Mr. Kachuriak, this is Bill from American. I know you are not thrilled with the delay of your flight, so I just wanted to call to personally apologize. As an Elite Platinum member we very much value your trust and thank you for your patience today. Let me buy you lunch when you get to Reagan. I just emailed you a voucher you can use anywhere in the airport."

Wow! Talk about a lasting branding impression! I would go from feeling like a victim to feeling like someone truly special . . . and I can promise you that I'd be talking about it with everyone when I reached my destination. When it comes to your brand, people believe what other people say, not the clever brand promise that you post on your website.

Another important point to note is that your customers will understand and accept that things can and will go wrong. It's part of life. It's what you do about it and how you respond that will differentiate those trying moments as either positive experiences or negative ones.

3. Do you know how to say thank you?

This is one area that is especially poor for nonprofits. We are great about sending out that appeal letter on time and error-free, but we get a little bit more lax in our fervor to send out a thank-you. One of the greatest experiences I ever had working in ministry was when things were going very bad financially and we had everyone in the organization from the CEO to the janitor spend 4 hours a week in our call center making calls to donors thanking them for their support. Two amazing things happened as a result:

  • The month we did the calling campaign was the only month in the previous 9 months that we were in the black. The amazing thing was that we were not allowed to ask for money on the calls. The call campaign was exclusively to thank donors and ask if there was any way to pray for them. But as we began to talk to folks, they would ask if they could make a donation over the phone.

  • The more amazing thing was that the calling campaign sparked a revival at the ministry. Some of us for the very first time got to talk to the people that we were ministering to and hear them tell us how much our ministry has blessed them over the years. I held the record for the longest call at 124 minutes. I was captivated by an elderly widow that had spent her life working in the Miami public school system. She actually wrote a manuscript about her experiences that no one had read—including her—in over thirty years. She sent me a copy and I'm working on getting it published. The point is that this wasn't just about the donors anymore, it became about the staff. Working in a nonprofit, and especially a nonprofit ministry, can take its toll on staff. Generally, you are under-staffed, under-resourced, over-worked, over-extended, and at times even a bit jaded. That's what makes this such an important principle: take care of your donors, and they will take care of you.

    So, to recap, here are some ways to make your brand talkable (in a good way!):

    1. Get rid of the answering machine. Let your customers and donors know that they are important and that their call is important to you. Answer their calls all hours of the day and night. If you say you will get back to them, do it! These folks are the reason that you have a job.

    2. Look for opportunities to turn a mistake into a positive experience. You can
    differentiate your organization much more in this area than any other magic formula, value proposition, or USP. Start with your largest donors/customers and work your way down. Remember, larger donors often start as smaller donors, and you never know who might have the capacity to give more—but beyond that—if you want to have a strong brand, a brand worth talking about, treat every donor as if they were a large donor.

    3. Learn how to say thank you. Amazing that the manners we learned at the earliest age are forgotten so easily. Go out of your way to let your donors know how much you appreciate them and you will be blessed—financially and personally.


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