Brand awareness is King! Or is it?

Sean Triner discusses why the traditional commercial approach to branding is fundamentally flawed when it comes to fundraising.

I think any money spent on brand awareness by a charity with a view to increasing fundraising income is absolutely and completely wasted.

I emphasise with a view to increasing fundraising income because I can imagine a scenario where a charity wants awareness for its mission, not for fundraising.

Examples include Amnesty International ‘Shedding light on human rights abuses’ and a suicide prevention charity getting the phone number in front of people.

Also, I am not arguing that better brand awareness is a bad thing for charity. It is just that when it comes to fundraising, spending money to raise brand awareness is a waste.

For many commercial brands investing money on pure brand awareness exercises seems to be good value. So why not charities?

For three reasons, the first two of which are superfluous if the third holds true.

1. We don’t spend enough

In Australia, a brand like Ford would likely spend in the region of $60m per annum on awareness. And this helps them maintain their ‘top of mind’ position. A new car manufacturer would have to spend probably twice that per annum for five years to begin to claw a way up to being comparable.

A charity spending $18,000 or even $500,000 on advertising would see its unprompted awareness score hardly move.

2. Good public fundraising raises awareness – amongst the right target audience

A successful cycle ride, street and door canvassers (face to face) asking for automatic donations, direct mail all raise money and awareness. Advertising online, on TV or ads asking prospective donors to ‘SMS for your free climate change action pack’, and then following them up with phone calls also raise money and awareness.

3. The difference between consumers donating and purchasing commercial products is fundamentally different.

So lets explore number three.

Lots of aspects of fundraising are similar to commercial organisations – i.e. the need for staying on top of cash flow, costs, results, testing etc. But where it is different is in the ‘Push – Pull’ relationship.

The consumer approaches impulse items, like Coca Cola, as a PUSH .i.e., they go and buy a soft drink, and Coke is (or is not) their choice of beverage. They get a new car and choose between a Ford and a Toyota.

These brands spend millions on ‘Top of Mind’ marketing, which makes sense.

However, charity fundraising is different. Statistically speaking, people don’t give without being asked. The only exception is a media disaster story such as an earthquake, or, bizarrely, Princess Diana dying.

Outside of emergencies, fundraising is a pure PUSH exercise. Being top of mind definitely makes asking easier, but a charity that asks effectively and is not top of mind, beats the charity that is top of mind, but doesn’t ask effectively.

Even if being top of mind is worthwhile the problem then becomes in budget. A typical charity awareness budget is far too low than the millions required to move it up from, say 2.5% unprompted awareness (the accepted top of mind measure) to 5%. And that shift would make a negligible difference in ask success.

The final nail in the coffin for much awareness advertising is a point I made earlier. Effective fundraising (eg face to face, direct mail, phone) actually raises awareness anyway. Because of the income associated with it, this usually makes it more effective than any non-fundraising awareness activity.

Put simply, spending $300,000 on acquisition plus $100,000 on awareness is probably marginally more successful than spending only $300,000 on acquisition.

But spending $400,000 on acquisition would be even more successful, at least 20% more so, and possibly 33% better.

You could argue that ‘free’ awareness raising activity is good, and I would agree. Great PR, celebrity involvement, a football club event could be examples. But I would say just be really sure they were really free – what about the staff time, chasing, rearranging, agreeing contracts and volunteer management?

So please, if you want to fundraise, spend your hard earned budget on fundraising, not awareness.

What do you think?

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