Episode 114 – Mirror what consumers are doing and how they like to interact with brands.

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Episode 114 – Mirror what consumers are doing and how they like to interact with brands.


Today on the Good People Good Marketing podcast we are joined by Cathy Davis from Feeding America.

Adam: [00:08] Hi, welcome to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so the good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.

[02:28] My guest on the show today is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Feeding America and her name is Cathy Davis. Cathy works to increase public awareness of hunger in America. She’s responsible for identifying innovative ways to engage the public in Feeding America’s mission as well as enhancing the organization’s reputation as one of the most admired nonprofit brands in the country. Prior to joining Feeding America, Cathy oversaw the US McDonald’s and Esurance businesses at Leo Burnett and also previously held senior-level marketing positions at Diageo, which is the world’s largest liquor company—which I just learned about today during this bio—Morgan Stanley, and Discover Card. Cathy, thanks for joining me on the show.

Cathy: [01:11] You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Adam: [01:13] I love bios where I’m already learning something. Those are kind of my favorite bios. All I’m doing is reading your bio and I’m learning something. This is going to be a great conversation. That’s my benchmark for a great conversation.

Cathy: [01:25] Okay, good. That’s a low benchmark.

Adam: [01:26] Yeah. You’ve already passed. Basically, we can just wrap it up, do the outro, and we’re good to go. But no, let’s not do that. Let’s have a conversation. So, let’s go and dive in if you’re ready. You’re feeling good about it?

Cathy: [01:35] Sure.

Adam: [01:36] All right. Question number one: related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that is working well for you?

Cathy: [01:43] Yes. I think we have a fully-integrated digital ecosystem because you know that it all works together, right? So, a combination of donated and paid media, web, email, social. And then we’re very focused on new platforms. But I think we’ve done a really good job of optimizing what we do, not only driving loyalty on social media programs but also driving consideration through paid media and driving revenue. In fact, a very large percentage of our individual donations come from digital. It’s probably about 20% higher than the category.

Adam: [02:26] Whoa, wait, wait, wait. Let’s back up. Just one second. Repeat that again. 20% of your donations— Say that whole part again. I’d like to hear that again.

Cathy: [02:34] We have a very large percentage, not to be named, of our revenue comes from digital, but it’s about 20% higher than category benchmarks. I think that’s because we had an early recognition that consumer behavior was changing and how people made decisions about brands was changing fairly dramatically and so we made sure that we had a very robust digital infrastructure mobile-optimized so that we could mirror what consumers were doing and how they like to interact with brands.

Adam: [03:07] I love that. I love that. I’m glad that you got ahead of the game and I think there’s a lot of power in sort of getting ahead of some of those trends and some of those curves so that you can then leverage them to the benefit of your organization. Kudos to you for doing that. Maybe as we continue this conversation, you can maybe tell us any other curves that we could try to all get ahead of perhaps.

Cathy: [03:27] I think one of the other things where we’ve been really successful is that we talked like a human. I think a lot of nonprofits tend to talk about populations versus individuals. People don’t necessarily relate to populations. When you start to talk about the fact that there are forty million people in America that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, that seems like this big, amorphous, difficult-to-solve problem versus talking about a person in your neighborhood, your Sunday School teacher, whoever that happens to be, because the perceptions of people who are hungry are very different than the population of people that are hungry.

Adam: [04:09] I love that. So, it sounds to me like it comes back to telling individualized and personalized stories to connect with the human element of the problem that a nonprofit’s trying to solve. Would you agree with that?

Cathy: [04:21] Yes, and I think it’s really important to that you understand your consumer audiences, whether that’s from quantitative information or qualitative information. The one thing that I learned working at Diageo, where the bulk of our target audiences were adults twenty-five to twenty-nine and male, is that I’m not the target. I think it’s critically important that you understand who they are and what motivates them. Unfortunately, probably one of the biggest surprises that I’ve got when I came to Feeding America was that a lot of people have bias about people who are hungry and actually blame the people who are hungry for being hungry, which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. They hold them to this very high standard.

Adam: [05:07] Right, right. Well, I think they likely, at least, have trouble empathizing and have never really set out to begin to understand those individuals, right? I’d imagine a part of your job is it to try to help build some of that empathy? Is that right?

Cathy: [05:23] Yeah. It’s interesting, right? You and I talk about being hungry and that’s because we miss a meal or something. That’s very different than a child who is out of school for the summer so they’re not getting their free lunch program so they don’t necessarily have lunch. They might not be having breakfast; they might be having one meal a day. We see a lot of parents who aren’t eating correctly because they want to make sure that their kids have food. That’s one of probably the most prevalent things that we see and it’s just a very difficult situation. I think most people think that the people who are hungry are homeless. That’s really just a small fraction of the population. In fact, 54% of the people that we serve have a job—at least one job, sometimes two jobs. The perception is very, very different than the reality and I think it’s important that people understand that and figure out small ways that they can help.

Adam: [06:27] Right, right. I know this podcast is about digital marketing, but I would like to add I’m aware that there are a lot of kids whose only meal comes from school and they load up there because they don’t get breakfast and they’re likely not going to get dinner. Unfortunately for a lot of people, they’re just very unaware of that reality that a lot of our children live through. I love what you’re doing, that you’re trying to help solve this problem and trying to help educate the public. I think it’s really, really critical and really important. So, that’s a little off the marketing topic, but nonetheless. I mean, I’ve got five kids, right? I can’t stand the idea of a child only eating at school and yet I think that’s a reality for a whole lot more than we ever realized.

Cathy: [07:14] Yeah, unfortunately it is. It could be so easily solvable. I mean, if you look at food waste in America, there’s seventy-two billion pounds of food that’s wasted every (inaudible 07:27). That food that’s lying in a field or that didn’t get purchased at a supermarket but it’s still really good to eat. We actually work with everybody all the way along the infrastructure to make sure that we get those foods to people. It’s totally fixable. We just have to focus on it.

Adam: [07:47] Well, I’ll tell you, continuing off topic, there’s actually a study that’s going on in the county that I’m in about food waste in schools and how to help curb that because there is an astronomical amount of food waste happening in schools. I was just talking to somebody that works for the government that’s a friend of mine just last weekend about it and he’s like, “Yeah, we’re starting a new study. We’re doing it this way. We’re trying to figure out if they’re not going to eat the food, they can select less food because we don’t want it just sitting on the tray and going in the trashcan.” It’s this weird balancing act in our schools where we’re trying to put food in front of these kids that really need it and yet a lot of the kids will take a whole tray of food and throw away more than half of it. That’s tragic. At least we’re making progress, right?

Cathy: [08:30] Definitely making progress.

Adam: [08:32] Well, anyway, back to marketing. That was a good dialogue there. Question number two: related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from?

Cathy: [08:44] Yes. They’re kind of two basic things. One is really simple and tactical. Coming from a for-profit background and working on a lot of different businesses and doing a lot of testing, we always found that shorter formats worked better, particularly when you’re talking about digital, because people’s attention span tends to be relatively low. And so, that was our belief and in fact what we found for Feeding America, and it was reaffirmed by the Ad Council for some of their other clients as well, is that longer formats worked better for us because if you’re interested in the story, then you stay with the story. So we’ve actually found that sixty-second spots, digital videos are much better at driving engagement and conversion than thirty-second videos and that was a big surprise.

Adam: [09:35] Wow. You’re the first person to ever mentioned that to me and that’s kind of fantastic. That’s why I do this. I love that. Oh man, okay. That’s really fascinating. Now, I’m just curious, do you have any more numbers around that? I mean, you said they work better, I’m just curious if there’s any percentages. Or that’s something you just don’t have in front of you right now?

Cathy: [09:56] Well, we’ve tested a lot of different things, right? But significantly enough better that—

Adam: [10:02] That you don’t do any more thirty-second spots, right?

Cathy: [10:04] We far prefer to focus on sixties and that’s very counter to what happens from a for-profit standpoint. But I do think that if you’re telling a story and you’re connecting with somebody emotionally, then you’re willing to sit through it.

Adam: [10:20] Well, you almost want to, right?

Cathy: [10:21] I’ve watched (inaudible 10:22) preview at least six times. And that’s (inaudible 10:27) forty-one seconds.

Adam: [10:28] That’s right. And that’s the thing—if it hooks you and you want to know the ending then you’re willing to stay with it longer and your engagement’s going to be better. For-profit companies sort of take it or leave it most of the time, but most of the ads just are not compelling enough for us to stay with them longer than thirty seconds.

Cathy: [10:46] Sometimes people tend to try to do too much and people get excited by the fact that it’s a sixty-second commercial and so you think you can do more. But at the end of the day, you’re still talking about a single, focused message. That’s what people are interested in and that’s what they’re looking at. The other thing that we found is that we do better when we don’t follow category conventions. Every category has conventions that work for them and nonprofit is no different. There are certain ways that things are done. Everybody focuses on holiday and Giving Tuesday, which is great, before a lot of other times during the year that provide opportunities to provide some sense of urgency. For example, summer hunger. Kids are going to be out of school all summer and not have enough to eat. That’s a big area of focus for us. But I think while there’s a certain amount that you do need to do that everybody else does and the wisdom is based on facts, there’s quite bit that you need to think about differently.

Adam: [11:57] Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. I love that. Last question here related to digital marketing, can you tell us something you are excited about?

Cathy: [12:07] Yes. I don’t know if it was before we got on the call or after we started recording, but you talked earlier about new platforms and I think that I’m really excited about new platforms, new technologies, and anything that really reduces friction for people. We talked about the fact that consumer behavior is changing pretty dramatically and if you look at voice activation, it’s becoming more and more prevalent. While Alexa has probably not reached the adoption that people would like it to, I think it’s probably only a question of time. My team is probably really tired of hearing me say, “I can’t think of any better way to donate money than by saying, ‘Alexa, I’d like to donate money to Feeding America.’” (inaudible 12:55) so much, right? You give her an amount and then she says, “Would you like to use your discover card?” because I am loyal and I used to work there. You say yes and then a minute later you have an email on your box. I can do that while I’m washing dishes. That is a no-friction donation process, and that’s just one of many. If you look at micropayments and gains, there’s so many different aspects of how people are doing things now and I’m a huge believer that if you get into this base first, you get more than your fair share.

Adam: [13:31] That would explain part of why you’re ahead of the curve with the whole online donations and why you’re 20% higher than the category benchmark for that because you’re ahead of that curve.

Cathy: [13:41] And I have a great team.

Adam: [13:42] And you have a great team, of course. Yeah. Based on the work that I’m seeing you’re doing, that does not surprise me at all. I love that and I love the fact that you’re already thinking in terms of voice and how that’s going to play into Feeding America. I think that’s really, really fantastic. So, let me see if I can just recap a bit of our conversation thus far. Related to digital marketing, what has worked well for you, you started off saying that you use an integrated digital marketing ecosystem. You’re working through the typical paid media, web, social. You’re optimizing that current work. Obviously it’s working and you’re continually working to optimize it. You got early into the donations through digital game and therefore you’re about 20% higher than the category benchmarks there. And then my favorite thing that you said and then I wrote in quotes is: “We talk like a human”. You talk about individuals of overpopulations because big numbers seem amorphous and are difficult to solve and it’s important to understand your consumer audience because a lot of times, you just aren’t the target. So a lot of times, we’re creating these marketing campaigns but we’re not the target of the campaign and so it’s not about us liking the campaign, it’s about the people that we are serving, that we are marketing to, that we’re connecting with liking the campaign. That’s a bit of my adlib there on top of what you’re saying.

[15:03] For question number two, what has not worked well that we can learn from, you said that traditionally, shorter format is better for for-profit marketing but you’ve found that longer format is better for Feeding America. So instead of thirty-second spots, you do fifty-second spots and you see increased engagement. You also mentioned that not necessarily following category conventions and doing what every other nonprofit’s doing has shown a lot of success. So while giving Tuesday is great for rallying the troops, there are other times to rally the troops that may be a better use of your time and energy and at a time when people aren’t getting inundated by a million nonprofits all at the same time. Imagine that. I kind of love that idea because the whole giving Tuesday thing, it always seemed to me like, “Man, we’re putting all this effort in here and it’s just going to get watered down in the amazing amount of social media noise that’s out there.” I don’t know, I never have seen a lot of benefit from it.

[15:54] And then number three, what are you excited about, you’re excited about new platforms, new technologies, reducing friction for people and in particular, how voice-activated donations through Alexa and Google Home and all those different places can come into fruition for actual donations to nonprofits. I think that sounds good.

Cathy: [16:13] That’s a great summary.

Adam: [16:14] You’re the first person that’s ever said that, by the way, about voice activated, so congrats. You’re a first in several levels here and I greatly appreciate it. I love this conversation. This was really helpful to me. Is there anything that you want to add, any final thoughts you have for our audience?

Cathy: [16:32] No. I appreciate getting to talk with you and also talking a little bit about Feeding America. There are a thousand ways to help and if people go to our websites, they can find those very, very easily. It’s an issue that we need to solve and it really is going to take people from all walks of life and all disciplines. But marketers in particular who are so good at amplifying messages and developing new messages are an audience that are near and dear to my heart.

Adam: [17:06] I would encourage everybody to check out the website and see how you can get involved and be helpful in that. Wow, this is great. Cathy, thank you so much for joining me on the show.

Cathy: [17:16] You bet.

Adam: [17:18] Thanks for listening to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker, and on my blog at adamjwalker.com where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks, and tune in next time.

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