Donors are no longer interested in hearing corporate-speak: that is, your self-promotional, infomercial-sounding, advertising age slogans and jingles. It’s a sea change going on in the philanthropic marketplace. In fact, it’s already happened.

Rather, donors want to hear authentic truth from you – and then judge for themselves whether that truth is sufficiently relevant and compelling for them to take action.

How did corporate-speak get so prevalent?

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, advertising was pretty much boasting:

“Tide gets your clothes whiter than white.”

“Pepsi. The taste of a new generation.”

“Esso puts a tiger in your tank!”

And, back then, it worked.

It worked because the audience was pretty much the Civic Generation (born before 1946). This generation generally likes things simple, is loyal and trustworthy, and tends to trust people in leadership positions. Civics are likely to believe what they see, hear and read in the broadcast media.

So, we had the ‘Golden Age of Advertising’, which I would say ran from the end of the Second World War to sometime in the 1980s. During this age, advertising, marketing and promotion was a pretty simple proposition:

  • say something easy to remember (like a catchy slogan or a jingle)
  • create a fun and memorable character (check out the Maytag Repairman)
  • boast about yourself (claim to be the best), and
  • say it as though it’s true (whether it is or not doesn’t really matter).

We in the charitable sector often tend to follow the lead of the corporate sector in terms of communications styles and strategies.

So, what changed?

The sea change has been happening for decades now – and it can be easily described: The Civic Generation has been replaced as the prime audience by Baby Boomers – and to a lesser degree the Gen X and Millennial Generations.

Now, I’m a very different (Baby Boomer) consumer, voter and donor than my dad (Civic) was. I’m skeptical. I want to see for myself. I tend to be anti-authoritarian. I want meaningful experiences more than membership in a peer group.

And, I don’t believe the bullshit that advertisers try to peddle to me each and every day. I can spot self-interest from a mile away – and I resent anyone who tries to hijack my valuable time and attention to talk to me about something I’m just not interested in.

5 Tips to Ditch Corporate-Speak and Become More ‘Sticky’

  1. Use first person singular rather than third person impersonal wherever you can. Here’s a radical idea. What if every word on your website was in quotation marks? What if every message on your website was actually from another human being (better year, with a name and a photo attached?) Video is a natural tactic for implementing this idea.
  2. Don’t boast – ever! If you want to say something good about yourself, have someone else say it. That’s right, use (credible!) testimonials. Let experts, volunteers, donors, service users and members of the community say how great you are.
  3. Tell great stories rather than making big claims. When you communicate your cause and mission with a well-told story, you involve your audience in a number of ways, and you ‘stick’ in the audience’s memory.
  4. Speak to the heart more than to the mind. Human beings are emotional animals and our giving impulses come from the heart way more often than from the head. Decide what emotion (for example: happiness, sadness, anger, fear) you want your audience to feel – and then tell the story that triggers that emotion.
  5. Run your own sniff test. Look at your website, your annual report or your last newsletter and ask yourself this simple question: “If I were coming across this organization for the first time, would this website (or newsletter or annual report) actually make me more interested? An even better way to do the sniff test is to ask your spouse or friend or neighbour to do the exercise.

Today you live, work and communicate in The Attention Economy. We had the hunter-gatherer age. Then the agricultural age. Then the industrial age. And then, the information age. This is the attention age. The scarce and precious commodity in today’s economy isn’t gold or oil or water or information. Today’s scarce resource is the attention of the marketplace.

If you want your audience’s attention, you must be relevant. If you want to be relevant, you have to be sincere and authentic. I believe that these five tips will help start you in that direction. Good luck!

All the vintage ads above are licensed under CC BY 2.0:

1969 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Advertisement Playboy December 1968 by SenseiAlan
1967 Coca-Cola ad by Insomina Cured Here
Vintage Ad #514: Pontiac Reigns Supreme by Jamie
Vintage Ad #1,315: Treat your hotdog with respect by Jamie
Vintage Beer Advertising: National Bohemian Beer, The National Brewing Company of Baltimore, “From the land of pleasant living”, 1971 World Series Booklet by Joe Haupt
Lucky Strike Vintage Advertising by Anton Raath