Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Yesterday's weekly newsletter from Marketing Profs held its usual compendium of insghtful and useful articles.  As a board member and volunteer at a non-profit, I was particularly interested in Laura Ries on Seven Steps to Building a Strong Non-Profit Brand. Her steps were clear and straightforward, and used an interesting example of a friend who, as a child, had lost her mother to cancer. Kate had built a non-profit that helps kids who've lost a parent. The steps were all along the lines of treat-your-non-profit-the -way-you-would-a-business.  Yep, yep, yep. All well and good.

Then I got to Step 4:

4. The enemy

Every strong brand needs an enemy. This is something nonprofits by nature tend to avoid discussing. But strong brands are built by figuring out who the enemy is, and what the enemy stands for, and then building a brand that stands for the opposite.

Mercedes cars are big and comfortable. So BMW positioned itself as the ultimate driving machine with smaller, lighter, more-nimble cars. Listerine is the bad-tasting mouthwash, so Scope positioned itself as the good-tasting mouthwash. Home Depot is messy and male oriented, so Lowe's positioned itself as neat and female oriented.

Who is the "enemy" of Kate's Club? I think it is the American Cancer Society and other groups that focus on cancer patients and cancer survivors. Kate's Club is for the children left behind, the children whose parents were not survivors and who at a critical developmental stage have a hole left in their lives.



Non-profits have to recognize that they have competitors - for funds, for volunteers, for employees, for clients - and that they need to differentiate themselves from their competitors. But "enemy"? "Figuring out what the enemy is, and what the enemy stands for, and then building a brand that stands for the opposite"? Hardly.

In her example, Kate's Club surely competes with the American Cancer Society, as well as with charities that focus on the needs of kids. But how can a non-profit aimed at wiping out the disease that wiped out Kate's mother be characterized as the enemy? How does working with kids who've lost a parent "stand for the opposite" of the American Cancer Society. Highly differentiated, yes. Use the differentiation every way you can. Abosultely. But "stand for the opposite." I don't think so.

We face this all the time at St. Francis House in Boston. As a day shelter, we provide services to poor and homeless adults, and we compete for money and attention with a far larger night shelter, the Pine Street Inn. (I'm competitive enough not to put their link in here.) But at St. Francis House we share an ultimate goal with Pine Street, and that's helping the homeless. Our services are occasionally overlapping, but they're mostly complementary - referring guests back and forth. When people tell me they support Pine Street, I point out where our mission is different. We have a powerful story, and I hope we don't "cannibalize" donations from Pine Street.  But if it happens, well, good for us. I still can't and won't think of Pine Street as the enemy. When they raise money to build a whole slew of single room occupancy housing units for the homeless, that's great. "Our people" will have a place to live, not just a cot to sleep on. We never want to lose sight of that particular goal.

Maybe Laura's using such a strong term to make her point about non-profits having to think of themselves in competitive terms. 

In the business world, competitors don't tend to share an ultimate mission, once you get passed the "what's good for the industry..." bromides. You're competing for customers, revenues, market share...The competitor may well be an enemy, and you may well stand for the opposite. It's a little harder to think that way in the do-gooder world.


John Whiteside said...

I think the "enemies" language is a bit problematic even in the business world. It can contribute to a mindset of where you're so enamored of your competitive advantages - because you're superior to an enemy, not just in competition with a rival - that you forget why customers might decide your rival is a good choice. I've seen plenty of organizations where people tear their hair out wondering, "How could those dumb customers choose that option when our product is so clearly superior!"

Anything that keeps you from understanding what your customer is thinking in dangerous.

Cahill said...

Wow...that's way over the top. I really think you've got to know the competition, to see what drives them, what makes their view of the market and its particular problems/solutions different, rather than simply dismissively identifying them as the enemy.

"In other news, several members of the March of Dimes were gunned down in a driveby outside the Opera House. Police sources suspect rival charity The Red Cross. Inside sources hint that another bloody Charity War may be in the offing."