In this guest post, Max du Bois of brand consultancy Spencer du Bois, discusses co-creation and how it can be effectively used by charities to multiply their relevance, engage fans and create positive end-results.
Co-creation has become a buzz word that even the third sector has started tapping into. Yet many charities are still at the infancy stages of using its transformational power to reach their audiences. In fact few talk about the potential benefits beyond, say, collecting ‘likes’ on Facebook.
Macmillan, however, is one of the few who decided to flip this on its head to multiply its limited budget with its highly engaged and motivated ‘fan base’. When the charity built a digital platform from which everyone could participate and then stepped back to allow them to do so, it redefined what it was in the world to do.
The impact was such that it triggered a shift away from being an organisation that cares for people affected by cancer to a powerful movement that released control of its brand and allowed everyone involved to become, not only as a brand ambassador, but as a co-producer.
At the time this strategy was deemed dangerous yet it resulted in Macmillan becoming one of the UK’s most recognised, trusted and respected brands, trumping many bigger spenders in the process.
While co-consumption is a powerful amplifier for reaching out to people, co creation multiplies a charity’s relevance and power to engage. Working with mental health charities over ten years, we have seen first-hand how they use co-creation to transform individuals’ lives, and have translated this to a philosophy and process that builds brands by aligning with a transformative idea.
To make this happen requires sourcing and then magnifying the very essence of what the brand is about. The key is identifying this brand message which is achieved by understanding and accessing what the target audience truly believes.
The focus here is on building together and sharing rather than selling, opening the conversation and letting go of control rather than taking over the microphone. It is no longer about the individual organisation as an isolated entity, it is about the group as a whole and it is as far away from good old fashioned persuasion as a brand manager can get. Which is why marketers need to distance themselves from the end result, in effect becoming the enabling tool to help people express and achieve their goals.
Tapping into emotions
Co-creating is about tapping into people’s core drivers and emotions and getting to the heart of what the brand means to them, this ensures emotional engagement.
Those brands that seize the opportunity to re-define their roles and re-shape their visions using their audiences as their co-creators are certainly reaping the rewards.
Take the NUS who asked its target audience, in this case students, what they wanted and centered its entire marketing proposition around the responses. In so doing it got to the hearts of the seven million students it represents and showcased the realities of students’ lives and belief in the power of students to drive change. The resulting re-brand took the students’ voices and crafted a brand that aims to shape the future of education. Like Macmillan, NUS handed over its digital platforms for people to set up their own sub groups, further strengthening the bond with the brand.
The charity sector, more than any other sector, has genuine emotional stories to tell. Whether they are supporting those affected by cancer, working with homeless people or saving endangered species, theirs are true life stories that shape people’s lives, dreams and hopes. The very fact that they champion a cause could result in human co-creation turning into a powerful revolution, however it does require a shift in mindset if charities are to make the most of it.
By shifting the mindset away from ‘target’ audience, which implies a more predatory attitude, to ‘participants’, we break down the walls between the organisation and the people, turning the focus towards ‘us’ rather than ‘them’. The result will be transformational as those charities who base their marketing on the aggregation of all the conversations between themselves and their audiences, will in effect be creating a bottom-up community which will gain in momentum as it develops.
Many charities fear the current climate and fear losing support as well as vital donor engagement. The more they try to shore up and resist the negative messaging, the worse it becomes. The more they try to put a veneer over their brand, the wider the cracks become. As it turns out, the reason for this could become the solution to their woes.
Throwing open the gates and intelligently using their digital platforms, encouraging people to become active participants, giving them a voice and ‘handing over the microphone’, will lay the foundations towards a fresh new perception of what charities are about.
It’s back to the most powerful model of charities and our history, creating a movement.
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