A little like the original 4Ps (now 9?) of marketing, people will just never stop tinkering with them.
But that’s kind of the point! You simply cannot stop people just grabbing hold of ideas and making them their own. That’s precisely how people work. More importantly, it’s how the social web allows them to work. Complementing the distribution efficiencies of the web with the production efficiencies of agile development is what has given us “The Rise of Lean”. I think this trend has real relevance to the world of charities and associations.
Last week, 150 campaigners from a community of more than 2,500 met to exchange experiences and share their expertise on making change at 2015’s e-Campaigning Forum. Attendees included organisations as famous as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, who are trying to influence the way that we all recycle ideas in modern society. More prosaically, they try to move ‘content’, efficiently and effectively, from place to place, to influence social behaviour.
Our future society will be shaped in large part by the skills and limitations of these Lean Campaigners. The same Rs that avoid waste and improve productivity in physical resources will equally apply to their world of Content Recycling.
This “Rough Guide to Content Recycling” is my own review of that ECF conference. It takes the form of 7 lessons.
Lesson 1. RESPECT – your audience
For 2015, ECF was kicked off by Helen Walker, the CEO of Timebank, who talked about the challenges of motivating volunteers and the changing social contract of charity volunteering. Her first message was not to take volunteers’ commitment for granted. Volunteering is first and foremost a transaction, based on an offer that benefits the volunteer. When charities approach volunteers, the key is to consider ‘what’s in it for them?’, rather than focusing on trying to explain and inspire them with what YOU are trying to do. Frankly, ‘they’ just don’t care. In Helen’s words:
Helen’s key message would come back again and again over the conference – that trying to messianically convert audiences to your values or your way of thinking about the world is both bad marketing and bad campaigning. What matters, and what’s achievable is that they change their behaviour, on their own terms. Hence the best campaigning is always framed respectfully through the eyes of the supporter.
Lesson 2. REFUSE – to preach abstract or irrelevant messages
The highlight of the whole ECF event for me was Jess Day talking about #Lettoysbetoys – a superficially worthy, uber-liberal and middle class campaign for gender neutral retailing.
Big Yawn you might think? Quite the reverse.
Firstly, this was a campaign that started with a genuine spark of individual outrage among a group of Mumsnetters. But most crucially, this small group of volunteer campaigners managed, right from the outset, to resist the temptation to hector on ‘the issues’ at stake, or even worse to start blaming parents. Instead they focused on a very practical and positive message about the discriminatory labelling of toys in stores – while incidentally effectively tapping into retailers’ desire to sell more toys.
The campaign avoided any semblance of self-righteousness or judgmentalism. Instead the messaging successfully harnessed the universal maternal desire to ‘make sure my kid isn’t missing out’. The team stood the whole campaign ‘in the shoes of a child’ who just wants to play, as epitomised in this parental shot of the adorable (proto-feminist) 7-year old, Maggie Cole.
This shot is just one example of the viral spread of the campaign. When Maggie’s Mum Karen spontaneously included the twitter handle of the lettoysbetoys campaign in her own twitter feed, alongside this image, the story gained amplification by Metro newspaper among many others, producing more than ten thousand positive retweets, and crucially, no backlash from parents feeling that their own parenting decisions were being criticised.
In talking about the campaign, Jess perfectly encapsulated, and indeed embodied, that alchemic mix of manufactured authenticity that underlies all great campaigning. The campaign succeeded through a mix of intelligence and intuition – by brilliantly planning how to be unplanned.
Lesson 3. REUSE – your own and others’ content
A lot of high quality ECF discussion was devoted to segmentation, including a great teach-in from the campaigning team at Which? magazine. However, the wider lesson of the conference was probably a general insight into the effective use of Big Data and Open Data. Sometime travel journalist, photographer and Italophile Julius Honnor took just three minutes, in the dying moments of the conference, to showcase a brilliant tool for identifying which parliamentary candidates might be susceptible to supporting international development.
On a similar point of making efficient use of resources, just because something is free, doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Certainly not when it comes to campaigning. Jean O’Brien from both Barnardos and Irish Charity Lab was keen to extol the virtues of Adobe Voice. The lesson of both Jean and Julius is the same – simply to ‘use what you have to hand’.
Lesson 4. REPAIR – what already exists
Everybody loves to make stuff, of course. And this is just as true in software and content. It was great fun to catch up on attendees’ own innovations, including the likes of Troublemaker and also to hear how campaigners were finding innovative uses of temporary or anonymous social media. However, the challenge is not in using whizzy tools, but in bolting these new tools onto their creaking CRM systems or their marketing automation processes.
It may not be as sexy as being an inventor, but delivering integration and improvement are often much more valuable that the original invention. On this note, it was great to spend some time talking to open source experts like long-term event sponsors More Onion who devote themselves relentlessly to the hard grind of social systems integration.
Lesson 5. REDUCE – your explanation
I guess we just have to accept, through the daily deluge of LinkedIn, tumblr, Quibb, Buzzfeed and other niche channels, that we live in an age of click-bait content. Shareable tips, distillable insights; how-to guides and simple lessons are now the basic building blocks of content marketing. It is easy to be cynical about this, but the truth is that it does work. So the ECF e-Campaigning lesson is reduce your content by any means possible. In the best case, down to a single evocative image or infographic. But for more complicated instructions, down to simple diagrams or lists. The trend was perfectly illustrated by the lessons passed on from world-renowned campaigner Chris Rose. Here, by the amazing power of the digital you can still track down his best bits online.
Lesson 6. RETHINK – your prejudices
Chris is best known as the author of “What makes people tick?” – an easily digested model of ‘cultural dynamics’ that diagnoses the way peoples values help them achieve fulfilment. In it he advocates the need to plan your entire campaign through the values-set of your intended audience. The fact is most people do not want to become environmental campaigners, but there is no reason you can’t persuade them to enjoy an environmental experience, and hence set them on a path to environmental education, by positioning that experience as a great family day out; as a chance to use their creative imagination; or as an opportunity to acquire cool, fun stuff.
Chris brought these lessons to life telling the story of designing the FairyLand Trust – a sort of prototype Bewilderwood – as a rigorous exercise in campaign planning. All campaigners need to take on board this lesson, to be aware of, and able to step away from, their own values-set and recognise that others’ belief systems, just ‘are’. As an e-Campaigner you don’t have to convert the world’s citizens to your cause; just work out how to serve them – as customers for your content.
Lesson 7. RECYCLE – proven techniques
There is, so they say, nothing new under the sun, and certainly, the old can be made to feel new. The campaigning solution that caught most attention from those assembled at ECF was undoubtedly the Craftivist Collective. Craftivist offers toolkits and inspirational materials that encourage people to use embroidery – even simple cross-stitch – as a way of communicating messages.
Words just fail to do it justice. It’s a lovely idea that immediately engages people’s attention. The fact that each piece of needlework takes time to produce means that supporters are really engaged in the message they produce. Their evangelism for the cause their work embodies is immediately apparent. Lucy Gower captures this reality perfectly in this follow-up post.
Thanks again to Duane Raymond for accepting my application to join this unique conference community. On behalf of Copper, it was a privilege and a pleasure to take part.
I am now looking forward to #ECF2016 or #ECF16, whichever it turns out to be called…
Tim Kitchin is client service director and director of consulting at Copper, the digital marketing agency.