Published: 15 April 2015

Five content marketing lessons for charities

Many charities have been happy to stick to the simple paradigm of “please give us x, so we can do y”. As a call to action it doesn’t really cut it in today’s digital environment.

Those charities might want to take a closer look at what the more successful brands are doing.

Speak with a unified voice

The most successful brands on social now speak with one voice. Tesco, for example (whose head of content and social, Joanna Rose, is speaking at CharityComms on 16 April), used to deal with customer service matters through one Twitter feed, and promotions through another.  These were consolidated into one channel – @Tesco – which became the home for both brand and customer service messaging.

For charities, this could mean ensuring that a potential donor is courted with the same voice, and in the same place, as someone looking for help.

Find your social utility

Brands now ask, “What’s my proposition? How do I build engagement, and thus loyalty?” To answer this, they consider the utility they can offer the customer beyond the simple product. Take Nike, it’s not about footwear; it’s about becoming a better person through fitness. In doing this, Nike transcends the simple “sales/customer” model to build an ongoing, positive relationship.

By considering their offering – their social utility – charities can do this too. It’s thinking about what you already do that offers value beyond your obvious cause. Relate, for example, knows everything there is to know about how to have a difficult conversation within a relationship – why can’t that expertise help with difficult conversations in general?

Get personal

While it may require a greater level of effort, there’s a reason why hyper-personalisation is such an attractive proposition. Being able to tailor your content offering – whether replacing your logo with people’s names like Coke or using data to offer a bespoke experience to users like Netflix – you create a far more intimate relationship with your audience.

While it’s not without its dangers, this Facebook fail springs to mind,  it’s an approach that charities could learn from. How about the front page of the RNIB website knowing the level of visual impairment of the user, and readjusting itself accordingly?

Experience (not content) is king

In terms of delivery, it’s about more than just words and pictures, it’s not just what a user sees – it’s about their whole experience of interacting with the brand. Perfecting the user experience is fundamental. UX experts should be part of every creative team. Even the most carefully crafted call to action is going to end up unheeded if the user journey takes too many steps, while the most exquisitely designed front page can be a portal to nowhere on mobile unless thoroughly checked.

Collaborate to innovate

It’s practically illegal to write an opinion piece in this industry without using the phrase: “In this multi-channel world…” so consider it written and we’ll move on. The thing is, that phrase was traditionally bandied about as a threat – shout loud or you won’t get heard. Not so much now. Brands are instead looking at how to collaborate to get their message across. You’re Twentieth Century Fox and you want to promote your flick Taken 3 – think outside the box and create an innovative campaign on LinkedIn, subtly tweaking the platform’s core utility. You get to talk to a new audience on the platform, it gets to attract new users. Win-win.


Gina Roughan, editorial director, Zone

Gina Roughan manages a 30-strong editorial team across Zone’s key client groups and accounts, including Coca-Cola, Tesco and Bupa Global, Nike Foundation, RPSB and Cancer Research. With a background in journalism and copywriting, Gina specialises in content marketing, social media, integrated digital campaigns and distribution/influencer strategies. Having kicked off her career in magazines, she now has 13 years’ experience in the creation of digital content for leading brands.