Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

Touch Me

Underwater scene, showing different tropical fish swimmingWhen you live in Minnesota, where we endured a record-breaking mid-April blizzard, social media feeds are regularly filled with friends’ vacation photos from exotic getaways. It’s not so much the severity of our winters, but the length, that inspire dreams of beaches and drinks with little umbrellas. But it’s not as good as actually being there. Not even close.

I recently returned from a spring break trip on the Mexican Riviera. We stayed in Puerto Morelos, a sleepy fishing village 25 minutes south of Cancun. While there, we spent one afternoon snorkeling along the reef about 400 meters from shore. The variety of fish and coral was spectacular – every shape, every size, every color – an extraordinary day.

You had to be there
If I owned an underwater camera, I could show you photos of our family swimming in what looked like a saltwater aquarium. But the images wouldn’t capture the sound of the waves lapping against our ears, the feel of the water being displaced by our fins, the dappled sunlight illuminating the crevices where tropical fish were hiding, or the taste of the saltwater on our lips.

Back on shore, the soft ocean breezes, the sound of Bob Marley singing, the sweet smell of sunscreen, and the taste of fish tacos washed down with ice cold cervezas only added to the multi-sensory experience.

In a world made faster, smaller, and more connected through technology, researchers assert that millennials value experiences over stuff. Traveling, attending a concert, or eating at a new restaurant with friends brings greater satisfaction than owning a fancier car or working long hours to earn a promotion.

No matter the generation, I would argue that the same holds true for a great majority of people.

The digital divide
Technology opens new avenues for communicating and doing business, enabling a previously unimaginable level of direct and personal marketing. But even when artificial intelligence and super-smart algorithms make technology more human, it is still one step away from the real thing.

Facebook is more like a pen pal than a true friendship. Playing video games across a network brings people together, but the effects of that interaction are not as deep or profound as when friends gather to play in the same room. The distance is digital.

Technology can simulate or facilitate many things, but it cannot adequately replicate real human connections.

If we accept that experiences are more memorable, and certainly more valuable, than things, how does that alter our approach to designing for mission-driven organizations? We can’t fly all of our customers to Mexico!

Here are three ways to create better experiences and connections with your audience.

Human-centered design
It’s tempting to tell potential customers all about our wonderful products and services. Enough about you, let’s talk about me! But the best way to make meaningful connections is to truly understand the behavior, motivations, and desires of the people we are trying to serve – and then communicate accordingly.

Last fall, we worked with Prepare + Prosper to understand why more people who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) don’t file for this effective anti-poverty program. The average refund is more than $2,000, yet as few as one in five eligible taxpayers claim it.

What we found through personal interviews and surveys was that leading with even basic information about the EITC left people feeling confused and skeptical. Getting one’s taxes done for free was less important than having confidence in the tax preparer’s skill and training. And a large tax refund has an emotional resonance that is every bit as important as the practical benefits.

All of this research led to defining the importance of that “money moment” for qualified taxpayers – the feeling of accomplishment upon getting your finances in order – and influenced everything from the design of the website and printed materials to how clients were greeted when they arrived at a neighborhood tax prep center.

Lights, camera, action
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a video worth? Thanks to video, in the past couple weeks I have learned how to play a new song on guitar, replaced a part on our dishwasher, and binge-watched a TV show while waiting for our airplane.

Whether we’re entertaining or informing ourselves, video stimulates more senses than written communications. That’s why four times as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it. Because video more closely simulates real-life experiences, it is more likely to both capture attention and be memorable.

Short, compelling videos are a good way to bridge the time and space between your organization and the people you are trying to reach.

Just my type
People are making buying decisions based on what a company stands for, now more than ever. Mission-driven organizations have always tried to connect on a values level. But now, major corporations and hybrids, such as public benefit corporations, encourage people to purchase with a purpose.

Cause marketing attaches a better story to any purchase or investment. If you can’t be there to personally clean up the river or feed the hungry, you can belong to the tribe that supports it and, by proxy, experience the feel-good benefits.

When both the organization and the consumer show that they’re here for the greater good, they form a stronger connection.

The need for touch
We are the sum total of our experiences. What we touch shapes what we feel. If money is made for memories, and not just acquiring more stuff, then we need to consider how our work on behalf of mission-driven organizations can fulfill that need.

As technology is incorporated into every facet of our lives, and all human interactions are converted into numbers, we would do well to remember that what we feel almost always outweighs what we think.

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