Thursday, December 29, 2011

Four essential marketing goals for 2012 – inspired by Cirque du Soleil

I saw Quidam, my first-ever Cirque du Soleil production last night (I don’t get out much) and I was mesmerized, thoroughly entertained and very much inspired. It was clearly one of the most creative spectacles I’ve witnessed. Even though being there had nothing to do with business (it was my wife’s birthday present), my mind was flooded with the ways in which Quidam offers advice to all of us involved in marketing. So here’s my Cirque du Soleil prescription for 2012.

Be totally, completely, unquestionably unique
Cirque du Soleil is not only different than any other circus. Its different than any other live entertainment – with its own  character and ambience. And it was memorable. If I heard a snippet of the music or saw the flash of an image from the show, I’d recognize it in a heartbeat.

To survive and thrive, the brands we market, create or develop are going to have to be unique. OK, so you’ve heard that so many times that you’re about to close this tab, but think about it – and be honest. Odds are we’re not really distinguishing ourselves from the competition. We’re just part of the pack taking our fair share. To truly stand out, you’re going to have to dig deep – do some research (customers, supporters, employees, the public), soul searching, innovating and come up with a premise and a persona for your brand that is like no other.

Take chances but be prepared for uncertainty
The clowns in Cirque use people from the audience as an integral part of their performance. It’s an incredible risk. What if the chosen people do something totally unpredictable? It’s clear that the clowns are prepared for just about anything and are skilled at manipulating the “performers” while playing the audience.

In the coming year, charge into uncharted territory. Do something you’ve never done before or better yet, something your competitors have never done before. Create that campaign that will have people saying, “I can’t believe they did that – and I love it.” But, be sure you know the risks involved and have a plan (communications, crisis management, back-up campaign) in place in case it doesn’t work.

Sweat the small stuff – it makes a huge difference
While the acrobats and jugglers in Quidam deliver their performance there are all kinds of other things going on - dancers twirling, men in white spinning. people on stage having conversations. You might think these things would be distracting but they’re not. The balancing acts would be no less breathtaking without them but they are little flourishes that just add to the overall ambience – and make it unique.

It’s the small stuff – the attention to design detail, the unexpected thank you, the token of appreciation, the personalized letter – all the things you didn’t have to do but chose to do  - that will get and keep the attention of your customers and supporters.

Create ooohs and aaahs - don’t settle for second best
The unbelievable skill of Cirque’s performers and the perfection in all aspects of the production were key to the quality of the presentation. And yes, there were lost of oohs, aaahs and wows.

There is no substitute for excellence. We have to set our standards high – higher than they ever have been. The people we are marketing to are increasingly sophisticated and discerning. Whether on a conscious or innate level, audiences know the difference between good enough and outstanding. More importantly, they will demonstrate that knowledge in their purchasing or giving decisions. To achieve results  - which is the goal of all marketing - it’s going to take copy, campaigns, initiatives and tactics that create oohs and aaahs.

That’s my take on Cirque du Soleil and marketing in 2012. What’s yours?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quality v. Quantity in Philanthropy

Does the size of a philanthropic gift determine its meaningfulness to the donor?

As part of our book project The Philanthropic Mind my writing partner and I recently conducted one of our interviews with Canada’s top philanthropists. In it a donor told us that his first meaningful gift and the one that may have given him the most pleasure was $200 to the university of which he was an alumnus. Not surprising. But what he told us about the rest of his giving history to the institution deserves attention. His most recent gift is quite significant – in the mid seven figures. However, he can recall little detail and nothing notable about all the gifts between the $200 gift thirty years ago and the multi-million dollar gift most recently.

Listen to his words in describing that first gift. “A couple of hundred bucks felt significant at the time. I was only making about $30,000 a year. It was my alma matter and I had a good time there and obviously universities need money. It wasn’t necessarily meaningful financially but it was meaningful spiritually.”

This is what he had to say about the intervening gifts. “Had I committed to other [gifts] before that of lesser amounts? Probably, but I don’t even remember any more. I might have agreed to a gift of $50,000, which at the time seemed significant but today I don’t even remember making the gift. I guess there had to be other gifts that preceded it [the multi-million dollar gift] because you just don’t one day donate that much money.”

What’s going on here? This is an intelligent and very successful businessman. Is it possible that he has forgotten the many intervening gifts? I don’t believe so but it appears he has forgotten their significance.

The reality is that he has been very generous to his alma mater. So what was lost by the forgotten significance? Who knows for sure. Perhaps he would have given more. Perhaps he would have been a stronger advocate for the institution, helping to solicit other gifts. Perhaps if he had spoken as “spiritually” about all his gifts, more people would have been motivated to give.

The message to today’s fundraisers and marketers is to try and make every gift as meaningful as that first $200. This donor had a strong sense of affinity, felt deep responsibility, perceived the need and was sure his gift was going to accomplish something. And he felt great – spiritual – for making it. What if every prospective donor felt that his gift could make that kind of difference – individually and organizationally? What if every supporter could feel that way every time she made a gift?

The lessons learned from listening to the top tier of philanthropists are profound. The number of zeroes in a gift amount won’t always make it more memorable to the donor. There are other, more significant considerations. It seems clear that when it comes to meaningful philanthropy – size doesn’t always matter.