007: Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Ministries

People like to use the word “strategic” to describe whatever they’re doing. But what actually makes something strategic? And how does strategy inform marketing?

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Mark Slezinger, marketing director at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, joined the podcast to talk about the critical, high-level questions you need to ask before considering any type of tactical, execution-level questions

What Makes Something Strategic?

Strategy is about making decisions: what to do and what not to do. As it pertains to marketing, there are a set of questions that are critical in the nonprofit sphere.

These questions need to be answered prior to the tactical execution of the marketing initiative campaign: 

  1. Who is our market
  2. Who are the people we serve?
  3. What do they value?
  4. How can we give them what they value as distinct from other options?

“All of that entails what you normally think of when you’re thinking of things like positioning,” Mark said, “or branding or segmentation or value exchange between two entities. And those are rightly called strategic in nature.”

Tactics, on the other hand, have to do with price points, distribution, and techniques for message distribution. Those are all key, but it’s a mistake to start with tactics before you know the answers to the strategic questions.

“If you get in a room with creative, smart people, there’s going to be an almost unlimited number of tactical possibilities in marketing,” Mark said. 

For example, someone could say, “Hey, let’s do testimonials. Let’s release a bunch of testimonials through our main Facebook page and speak directly to somebody considering IHOPU as an option to go to school.” 

That seems reasonable, right? Testimonials are helpful, and they tell the story of somebody who’s actually experienced what you might be looking for. 

“In the past,” Mark admitted, “I would’ve said, ‘That’s a great idea. Let’s get a testimonial. Let’s put it on the Facebook page. Awesome.’ The problem was the results were very, very lackluster.”

The Process to Become a Strategic Marketer

I asked Mark, “What’s the process of becoming strategic in marketing?”

“Robust segmentation and then targeting exercises,” he said. Segment your market. Hone in on the most likely segments to derive value from your campaign. (That’s called targeting.) Craft a message with the next steps and target-specific offers. Then, consider your distribution channels.

“It’s definitely more tricky than just spray and pray,” Mark said, “but it is well, well worth it.”

Often, we want to release a piece of content or just  — do something — because we don’t know what to do. That’s spray and pray, and it doesn’t work

Good marketers instead take a strategic approach that gives them a framework from which to make great decisions. 

“Some of the fruit of that has been the feedback we get from the people we’re engaging with,” Mark said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, you’re speaking right to me. You’re talking about the things that I want to hear about. And what you put in front of me as a next step was super, super helpful for me.” 

That flips on its head most marketer’s chief fear  — that you’ll come across like a huckster or a pushy salesperson. By taking a strategic approach, you’re actually meeting people’s needs, and they’re deriving value from what you give them. 

How a Strategic Process Results in Growth

“The most growth has been in our year-end conference in Kansas City,” Mark said. “We totally switched strategies, and we grew year over year, four years in a row.”

In addition to registration growth, the other primary result for IHOP was the growth in terms of ROI for ad spend on social. The organization regularly sees an ROI of 800% on ad spend. IHOP would shell out $3 or $4 per conversion and sell tickets for between $85 and $215. 

And although IHOP doesn’t exist to make a profit, their conference is very expensive to put on, so to have a return on ad spend like that just meant they were able to pay for things and put on a great event for people and serve them well.

“A lot of people never get to be able to scale because they’re not understanding who they’re talking to,” Mark said. “They’re not putting the right messages in front of those people. They’re not leading them to the next step.”

Therefore, all their budget goes towards convincing people whom they don’t really have a good shot of convincing to do things that those people don’t want to do. That’s not the route to 800% ROI. That’s not strategy.

Mark’s Advice About Strategy for Nonprofit Leaders

Let’s say that you’re a non-profit with a very, very large budget. You could hire a market research firm, and they will charge you a lot. But you’ll get gold if they’re worth their salt as a firm. 

They would mine your data and the market’s data to return excellent information to you about who your customers are, their preferences and profiles. That’s all valuable, but it’s not enough. You also need to know more about what those people internally value, their emotional preferences. A firm can struggle with finding that.

“What we would do is get a bunch of people who knew IHOP really well in a room,” Mark said. “We would literally brainstorm with all possible market segments using a process that I developed.”

Then, Mark and his team would augment their own brain dumps by asking their audience through social media if they were right on track. Then, he would work with a team of writers to develop a charter for a campaign.

It’s amazing what you learn about your audience just by asking them questions.

Dan Sanchez, MBA

Dan Sanchez is a marketing director, co-host of the B2B Growth show, and blogger. He holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and BS in Marketing Management from Western Governors University. Learn more about Dan »

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