Marketing Advice That Doesn't Stink

ImageTough business.  That's what I thought after I read a Wall Street Journal article on the perfume industry.

How fierce is the competition?  More fragrances were launched in 2005 in the U. S. than throughout the 70's and 80's combined.  You could probably say the same about the number of nonprofits that were launched last year.  In short, both industries have a lot more competition.  Here's how fragrance companies are dealing with theirs and what cause marketers can learn from them.

Get over yourself.  People were once loyal to a scent for years, but not anymore.  My wife has a half a dozen bottles on her dresser.  Coincidentally, that's also the number of charities she gave to last year.  The perfume industry has accepted the fact that consumers are more fickle, have more choice and less time.  The same is true for donors.  Like perfume marketers, cause marketers should focus their efforts and resources on cutting through the clutter in a crowded marketplace.

Spend more on promotion. The perfume industry certainly is.  Elizabeth Arden alone spent $54 million in 2006.  Nonprofits are spending more too.  Tom Watson wrote an excellent article for the Huffington Post last month that looked at how nonprofits, especially large organizations, are spending more money than ever on marketing and public relations.  That's the good news.

The bad news is that Tom's probably not talking about your organization.  If yours is like mine, you're bucking this positive trend and spending very little on marketing and public relations.  And since you don't invest in promoting your brand, you have less awareness and credibility and fewer supporters, which makes it harder to attract partners for cause marketing programs.  Ultimately, you get what you pay for.  You don't need to spend $54 million on promotion, but you do need to spend more than you are now. 

Capitalize on your brand name.  To save money and to capitalize on an existing brand name, perfume companies are spinning off new versions of classic scents. Anais Anais, for instance, now comes in a new, lighter scent.  And Marc Jacobs has launched an autumn version of Splash.

Nonprofits with brand equity could increase their appeal by extending their brands in new directions.  Near where I work is a well known homeless shelter, the Pine Street Inn.  It's best known for helping men, but they really serve everyone, including, sadly, children.  But most people don't know that about them.  To bring a fresh approach to their existing brand they could spin-off Pine Street Inn to Pine Street Kids or Pine Street Campers [If I was a headed to a shelter I'd be telling my kids that it would be just like camping] to better highlight their younger clients. 

Celebrities bring the smell of success.  The scent industry has worked with celebrities for decades, and scents from Diddy and Britney are all the rage.  Here's what perfumers have learned.  1. Celebrity endorsements are great for business.  2. Celebrities are cool, and cool is great for business.  3. Celebrities attract younger customers, which will be great for business for many, many years to come.

Any questions? 

You don't have to dump all your rubber chicken fundraisers and start stalking celebrities, but you should have a plan to cultivate them.  In my office we use a database to track celebs that hale from Boston.  (If you did the same you'd be surprised how many are from your city or county.)  We also ask our donors whom they know or have met.  This really works.  When a director wanted to film on a donor's property last spring, she remembered to ask for a walk-on role to be auctioned off at our annual gala.  Ben Affleck, who was directing his first movie, was happy to comply.

Finally, don't forget to connect with your city and state film offices.  They can tell you what movies are slated to be filmed in your area and may even help you make a celebrity connection.  This happened to us last fall when Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was filming a movie in Boston and took time out--at the City's request--to join us at Halloween Town.

Celebrities are not a cure-all for nonprofits--nor have they been for the fragrance industry.  But they do pass the smell test and should be added to the long list of things nonprofits do to promote themselves.  It's not like you need to use them all the time.  Celebrities are like an expensive perfume.  A little goes a long, long way.