As more and more businesses develop philanthropic foundations, and younger audiences demand more of brands than ever before, many charities are struggling to be seen and heard. But there is a way through.
Here’s how you can harness the power of your charity brand to connect with Gen Z in a highly competitive marketplace…
Change your mindset
Sounds simple, but many charities need a cultural shift in their approach to brand. How many times have you heard the phrase, “Can someone check it’s on brand?” For too many of us, brand is something quite abstract. It’s a dark art understood by few and viewed with suspicion by many. Its guidelines sit neglected within a 100-page PDF in a marketing folder. But ignore the importance of brand at your peril.
Brand is how you look, how you sound and what you believe. It’s your ambition, your principles, and your culture. In a nutshell, it’s who you are. And every campaign, every strategy, and every message will be undermined if you have defective brand circuitry.
Younger audiences are driven by values. They want to support organisations that are inclusive and authentic. So, it’s not enough to mechanically talk about campaigns and impact. You need to reveal your personality, and they need to feel a sincere connection to who you are and your ideology. You’re not just a brand – you are a belief system. Gen Z will boycott a business or organisation if they don’t agree with its morals and may encourage their large networks to do so, too. But, this generation are socially and environmentally responsible, they value equality and are keen activists. And if you can demonstrate that you stand for the same things that they do, and you do it truthfully, they are powerful supporters.
Take Extinction Rebellion as an example. It has attracted huge numbers of young people to its cause. Unlike other environmental charities, XR feels urban and accessible. It has built trust with its supporters and shuns stuffy, traditional, hierarchical ways of working. It empowers members of its movement, enabling them to self-organise. It doesn’t gatekeep content creation. Its protest graphics are freely available on its website for people to download and make their own materials. Between the logo, font and colour palette – the brand is watertight. XR is so secure in its own identity that it’s been able to decentralise power and brand guardianship with confidence.
Find your heart
So – how do you uncover who you really are and reveal your unique identity? Well, it’s useful to think of it as mining for your essence and a good place to start is the origins of your charity. This often gives an indication of your true character. Once you have that, you can blend it with whatever your direction of travel might be and tailor it to whatever audience you’re targeting at the time.
I took this approach a few years ago on a creative campaign for Amnesty International called Not Powerless, at a time when the organisation was desperately seeking to target a younger audience. A big part of the project was the mischievous ‘Hey Snowflake’
This was an early attempt to engage and mobilise young people with a vehicle that showed exactly who Amnesty is and what it stands for.
During the ideation stage, I knew I wanted to excavate and revive Amnesty’s origins, go back to its roots and find its heart. To do that, I examined the early days of The Secret Policeman’s Ball – an anarchic, bold and defiant comedy event that set a tone for the organisation and created a legacy that endured for decades. I also considered how Amnesty owed its very existence to a newspaper story about two Portuguese students who’d been arrested and imprisoned for seven years just for drinking a toast to freedom. Founder Peter Benenson was so incensed when he read about it, he knew there and then that he had to take action. And so, Amnesty International was born.
Fusing the anarchic creativity of The Secret Policeman’s Ball with Benenson’s single-minded determination was the first step. Then, once I’d cracked open Amnesty’s core character, I began to integrate into my thinking the charity’s direction of travel and the audiences it was hoping to capture. I combined that with an analysis of digital trends, online discourse and youth culture to ensure we were understanding this younger target audience. And it was this subtle alchemy that delivered ‘Hey Snowflake’ and helped Amnesty to find its voice and forge robust connections with Gen Z and younger millennials.
And be social ….
It’s important to remember it’s not enough to reach Gen Z once and then think you’ve earnt their ongoing loyalty. If you want to maintain these connections always keep in mind you’re dealing with the first digitally native generation. They’re tech savvy and ruthless with their online attention.
Gen Z have high expectations and they’re not faithful to any one channel. When thinking about your brand, you must consider the entire experience. Every single touch point. Are you delivering consistent and rich brand interactions across all of your platforms? Are your materials tailored to each individual channel? What messages are you sending out? Is your personality present?
It’s important to resist the temptation to be permanently switched to ‘transmit’. Don’t saturate social media with endless policy and campaign statements. Your interactions should be meaningful. It’s also worth examining where your qualitative bar sits. Gen Z are experts at quickly filtering irrelevant and bland content. Your brand expression must be purposeful, but also well produced, platform specific and abreast of current trends.
Think, too, about what your brand can offer to supporters and not just what you want from them. Young audiences enjoy content that has practical value or ‘news you can use’. They like to share assets that inform or help their networks. What is your brand giving back? Do you have two-way communication with your supporters and do they benefit from your relationship with them? Greenpeace is exceptional at continually nourishing its followers, whether it’s gifting them with knowledge nuggets:
Inviting them to discover their penguin personality:
Or educating them on pertinent topics:
Ultimately you want your audience to become part of your brand, to buy into your belief system, to evangelise your purpose and to attract others in their networks to your cause. One way is to incorporate user-generated content into your output. If TikTok taught us anything, it’s that young people are highly innovative content creators. Your ultimate aim is to transform your audience into brand ambassadors. This will help you leverage the most powerful marketing technique of all – word of mouth.
- Top tips for engaging Gen Z in your cause via social media
- Brand 360 guide
- Finding your voice on TikTok
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