Episode 116 – Speak to people like they’re real people.

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Episode 116 – Speak to people like they’re real people.


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.

[00:32] My guest on the show today is Clay Dunn. Clay leads brand and media strategy for Share Our Strength, the organization behind the No Kid Hungry campaign, working to end childhood hunger in America. Clay oversees the organization’s public relations, digital platforms, design and storytelling, inspiring others to join the fight to end childhood hunger in America. Clay, welcome to the show.

Clay: [00:55] Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Adam: [00:58] I know a little bit about childhood hunger in America. I wonder if you can just give us the thirty-second sort of overview of what that looks like for any listeners that just may not really be aware that this is a legitimate problem in America at this time?

Clay: [01:14] Yeah, absolutely. So one in six kids in our country live with hunger. That means that they’re in a household that’s struggling to provide enough food for everyone who lives in that household over the course of a year. And that looks like families who three weeks of the month are doing really well, they’re making their dollars last, the fourth week of the month, they’re really struggling to make ends meet. Or it looks like a kid who might have access to lunch at school, but when they go home in the evening, they might be facing empty cabinets.

[01:47] We think about childhood hunger as not only being about hunger itself, but also being an education issue and an economic issue, healthcare issue. We have a kid who doesn’t have the food that they need to grow up and be the best version of themselves. It’s struggling in those areas. We like to think about childhood hunger in our country as a solvable problem. You know and I know that we have plenty of food in this country; we even have the food programs in place. Our campaign is about making those programs meet the needs of the kids they’re designed to serve.

Adam: [02:24] Wow. I mean, just the number that you shared at the beginning— One in six is going to struggle with hunger and maybe not continuous but intermittent even. And I think that’s a number that when we watch our kids get on the bus, I mean, there’s a lot of kids on that bus. One in six of those kids is going to deal with some kind of hunger issue. That is really profound. I love the work that you’re doing to combat that and I appreciate that.

[02:46] So this isn’t a podcast about that per se, but I did want to make sure we laid that groundwork. But it is a podcast about nonprofit digital marketing. So let’s dig into that because I want to hear about how you’re spreading the word about the good work that you’re doing. So question number one: related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has worked well for you?

Clay: [03:07] Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll share a little bit. Before I was here with the No Kid Hungry campaign, my background before this was in entertainment marketing and mostly as a digital marketer. So most recently at National Geographic Channel and then before that, building digital marketing campaigns for Disney and Sony and other movie studios. And there’s a lot of difference when you leave these big entertainment brands that have millions of dollars in marketing budgets and you come to a sort of scrappy startup nonprofit entity who, like this organization was when I joined nine years ago, and they wanted to launch this No Kid Hungry campaign, they were bringing in experts to help them do that and to sort of set this idea of No Kid Hungry in motion. And as I reflect on that question of what’s worked well for us, I think there’s three things that really come to mind for me.

[04:07] The first is that across all of our digital marketing or digital outreach, we’ve really taken a relationship-centric approach. We have tried to speak to people like they’re real people. We try to explain our work and our issue in ways that are very relatable. And we’ve leaned really heavily into community management on our social platforms and really investing a lot of time and resources into that. And that has paid off for us in really big ways over time. Our strong community management is one of the reasons that we’re so successful today on the Facebook fundraising platform because we’re really responsive to people’s questions and their comments and we drive really high engagement with our people. So really thinking about these things not as channels but as relationships. And that goes for whether or not we’re talking about social or email program or even our first-time web visitor.

Adam: [05:12] I love that. I mean, I think you should never speak to people like you’re marketing to them.

Clay: [05:19] Yeah. And working as a nonprofit, it’s really easy to get into the lingo of your sector, right? And it’s easy to fall into Acronym Land and to start using these phrases that don’t mean anything to anyone who isn’t an expert in your issue. And really that’s something we’re really intentionally focused on doing. That kind of goes to my second thing. It was on my mind, which is just about our push for clarity around our message. This is a place that when we first launched our campaign, we really struggled in the how do we describe our work and how do we inspire people?

[06:06] But over time, as we refined that message, we keep it really focused on the kid, really focused on the heroes that are helping us in childhood hunger. And that shows up in ways like how we streamlined our website and taking it from a really complex set of pages with endless content to a much more focused push for someone to get oriented to our work and not giving them all the information up front. So being really clear on that.

[06:32] And then the third area that I think has been really successful for us is in leveraging our influencer relationships to really supercharge all of our digital campaigns. So a great example of that is our Summer Meals work. We run this national texting service where a family can text in and find the Summer Meal sites that are closest to them so that they can get food for their kids when they need it. And we really relied heavily on our influencer relationships. And that’s everyone from our big national spokespeople like Jeff Bridges or the singer P!nk to individuals who are part of our Digital Advocates program who want to use their platforms, whether they have five followers or five million followers, to help spread the word about ending childhood hunger. And really working with those people as partners and cultivating them as relationships has been a real value add for us.

Adam: [07:30] I love that. And I love how you’re thinking about influencers and digital advocates because I think a lot of times we get into this conversation about influencers and we think, “Oh, we’ve got to go after people with fifty thousand followers.” But in reality, I mean, just your average person with your average set of connections probably has five hundred connections across various social media channels. They can really be a huge advocate for what we’re trying to do, and when we begin to stack those up, they can really have a lot of power, a lot of sway, a lot of sort of influence, right?

Clay: [07:59] Yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, they can introduce us to audiences that we otherwise wouldn’t be in front of, and they can show up. There’s just really authentic advocates for our cause and we love building those relationships with people.

Adam: [08:16] That’s great. That’s great. So question number two: related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from?

Clay: [08:25] Yeah. You know, this is a hard question for me because I think that the things that have not worked well for us, or the things where we find challenges, are probably very common with other organizations that… One that immediately comes to mind is our collaboration around digital with balancing our fundraising needs versus our other organizational needs. And as our organization… I mean, when I got here, we had something like three thousand email addresses on file despite the fact that our organization had been around for decades. And today we have millions of consumers who are supporting us, right? And through different ways. And as we’ve experienced this huge growth over these nine years, our businesses have grown more complex and something that used to be very simple like the cadence of fundraising communications versus advocacy communications versus other things we want to engage people in, went from being very simple to very complex.

[09:29] And we’ve really, over the last few years, really invested a lot of time in deep alignment between our internal teams and really clear business lines to help us make decisions about when we’re going after audiences and the timing and the frequency and the balancing of these different things so that we’re not showing up with a clown car of messages. I get all kinds because we recognize as much as no matter how much someone loves our issue, they don’t want to be hearing from us every single day.

Adam: [10:08] That may be one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard. So we’re not showing up with a clown car of me… It’s just this idea like, “Here’s this tiny package and we’re going to pack it full of everything we’re doing.”

Clay: [10:20] Yeah. And that’s it. “And how about this? And how about this?”

Adam: [10:23] I find that’s every newsletter I get from a lot of nonprofits right there. That’s what I feel. It’s like, “Here are the fifty things you need to know.” I’m like, “But I don’t need to know fifty things. I don’t even want to know fifty things.”

Clay: [10:34] Yeah. No, definitely. Then I think the related journey that we’ve been on and the place where we’re even today trying to continuously improve is in making our message continually accessible to people. Really bringing them along in the journey and not getting too complex in how we explain our work and even the places where we really want to engage them, making it relevant to them as people who don’t work within these walls. And I think that has been a place where we’ve made a huge amount of improvement over the years. But there’s always still work to do.

Adam: [11:15] Yeah. Yeah I mean, I think that’s great. I mean, I’ve told this story many times and I’ll tell it again. So I sat down not too long ago, a couple of years ago, with a nonprofit that I’d actually volunteered with for about a year and a half. And I finally looked at their head of marketing and said, “Okay, look. I’ve been here for a year and a half. I’ve been trying to help you out. What do you do?” Because I’d been there for a year and a half and still didn’t really fully understand what they do. And then, after fifteen minutes and a whole whiteboard session drawing things, I kind of left the office like, “Why am I even here?” I still didn’t know what they did.

[11:49] And now, fortunately, there’s somebody different in that role and things are much, much clearer now. And I’m still involved in the organization and they’re doing great work. But my point is that if a nonprofit can’t very succinctly say what you do and what value you offer, that’s a really, really big problem. And I think you hit the nail on the head. You’ve got to have that really simple, clear communication focused from the beginning.

[12:11] So question number three— I love this one. Kind of I’m interested to hear what are going to say here. So related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that you are excited about?

Clay: [12:21] Yeah. I mean, we’re really putting plans in place right now to do a lot more experimentation with video over the next year and embracing video in a bigger way. And especially in short-form video for social content. And really making the resources within our team available in order to do that and to experiment more. And I think, as we’re increasingly going to a video-centric consumption across digital platforms, that’s an area where we want to really be pushing ourselves and constantly questioning how and where we’re using video and how we might start to do it differently. And that’s something that really excites me.

[13:04] The other thing that really excites me just is we’ve had nine years of tremendous growth and that’s been really exciting to be a part of. I still believe, though, that huge opportunities are ahead for our work and that we’re truly building a movement that wants to end childhood hunger in this country and that we can see that in our lifetimes. And so that’s the thing that keeps me excited every day and I think digital will be at the real center of that future.

Adam: [13:33] I love that. I should share this related to video content: I was just interviewing somebody else and she was mentioning that they have found that longer video content actually works better for nonprofits. So they found that fifty-second spots actually were more effective in driving engagement over thirty-second spots. So as you’re wrapping that up, just for whatever that’s worth, I thought that could be helpful information.

Clay: [13:55] Yeah, for sure. And I’m looking forward to us experimenting with links and the kinds of the content that we’re putting out there to see what our audience really gravitate toward.

Adam: [14:05] That’s right. That’s right. And you can do that with really solid link-tracking and link codes and things like that. You can really see… You put out a piece of long form; what kind of conversions does that get? Put out a short form piece, what kind of conversions does that get? So on and so forth. So I think that’s really fantastic that you’re willing to experiment in those areas.

[14:21] So Clay, let me see if I can recap what we’ve talked about so far and then I’ll see if you have any final thoughts you’d like to contribute. Related to digital marketing, what has worked well so far, you mentioned that first, you’ve got a background in entertainment. Sounds like a pretty amazing background in entertainment, to be honest with you. But you said most recently National Geographic and other large organizations. And that you came in and it’s a very different experience in the nonprofit sector, which I think most of us that are marketers have definitely experienced as well.

[14:49] And you said that relationship-centric approach really across all marketing is really what makes sense. And speak to people like they’re real people, invest in community management on social platforms, and avoid industry lingo that we tend to fall back into. You also mentioned—and I love the way you phrase this—push for clarity around the message, not just find clarity, not just be clear about the— Push, push, push, push for clarity around the message because I think that there’s a hint there that we can always get more clear in what the message is. And so you’re focused on the kid and also focused on the hero that’s helping to fight childhood hunger.

[15:25] You also mentioned leveraging influencer relationships to super-charge digital campaigns. And you’re doing that with larger influencers as well as digital advocates that maybe have smaller audiences. But when a large number of people with small audiences come together to be a digital advocate, clearly it makes a huge difference and a huge impact.

[14:43] For question number two, what has not worked well that we can learn from, you mentioned that collaborating around digital and trying to balance fundraising and organizational needs is difficult. You are not the first nonprofit to voice that on this show. It is a really difficult dance to do among marketing departments and in teams in most nonprofits.

[16:03] You also mentioned, I love this, don’t show up with a clown car full of messages. I think that’s got to be the title of this episode by the way. That’s unbelievably amazing quote. That may be my favorite quote for the whole day, maybe the whole week, we’ll see. And you mentioned that you’ve got to bring people along for the journey, making it relevant and accessible to them so that they can really get involved in what you’re trying to do.

[16:24] And then for question number three, what are you excited about, you said experimentation with video, embracing that in a bigger way, working through short-form social content, specifically video-related to see what kind of engagement you can get there and other testing that you’re going to do around that. Did I miss anything from our wrap up here?

Clay: [16:41] No, that’s a great summary.

Adam: [16:43] Fantastic. Well Clay, do you have any final thoughts you want to share with the audience before we wrap up?

Clay: [16:49] No, I just want to thank you for letting us talk a bit about our work and I really appreciate you making the time.

Adam: [16:55] Well, this was really, really great. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing. Do you want to share where listeners can sort of find you and learn more about what you’re doing?

Clay: [17:04] Yeah, for sure. So you can find us online at nokidhungry and on social at @nokidhungry. And you can find me, Clay Dunn on LinkedIn or on Twitter @theclaydunn.

Adam: [17:17] Fantastic. And Clay, this has been great. Love to have you back on the show again sometime and chat a bit more. Thanks so much for joining me.

Clay: [17:24] Thanks so much. Have a great day.

Adam: [17:28] 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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