Published: 30 November 2012

What charity communicators can learn from Apple

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying the power of their brand. Apple is everywhere.

I was reminded of this when I had a recent meeting with a development charity client. They are in the process of gathering case studies of the people they support around the world – which can be a difficult task. And to encourage on the ground staff to help them do this, my client is offering a prize for the best case study. An iPhone or iPad.

This promise of an Apple prize has prompted lots of interest in the case study gathering exercise.
Of course, globally, Apple has become a hugely desirable brand.

And this conversation got me thinking about what charity communicators can learn from Apple in terms of how they represent themselves and get people to take action, whether that’s to donate, become a partner or volunteer.

Here are my five ideas of what charity communicators can apply from Apple marketing.

1. Work out what your product is – and create a communications strategy that sells it.
Apple is one of the biggest technology companies in the world, while charities run services, offer information or support; when it comes to marketing and communications, thinking of these as “products” can help us sell them better.

Often, we’re working with quite intangible things. For example, if you’re a children’s charity, one of your end products might be improved confidence amongst the children you work with. Knowing this can help your communications work be more focused and make this seemingly intangible benefit tangible.

So, you could create a bank of case studies that show how improved confidence changed someone’s life. Or run a campaign that gets young people to share their tips on how to improve confidence. Or create an online questionnaire to assess the confidence of visitors to your website.

2. Focus on benefits.
Connect to your office from home. Turn the TV off with your phone. Never forget your friends’ and family’s birthdays again. Apple sells its iPhone by concentrating on benefits like these, rather than its features such as how fast it can connect to the internet. Similarly, I think the majority of charity communications concentrate too much on features of services rather than explaining how they change lives.

So, instead of:
We run 25 supported housing projects.

You could have:
Our 25 housing projects give people with physical disabilities choice, control and skills to live independently.

3. Be predictable…
Hugely frustrating for some, a mark of genius for others, Apple brings out new versions of their products at regular intervals. This creates excitement, promotes interest in new products and makes Apple feel reliable. I think we can also be more predictable in our charity communications.

This could be as simple as having a regular flow of Tweets, rather than lots one day and none the next, or sending out your newsletter at the same time each month. That way you maintain people’s interest in your cause, appear more reliable and can take supporters on a journey or create a story.

4. ….but always improve on what came before.
Each new model Apple brings out is different, some in more ways than others. It might be smaller, faster or slimmer. In the same way, charity communications should always build on what has come before.

This might equate to an annual review that’s an improvement on the last one because it contains more of the human stories your supporters told you they enjoyed. Or a factsheet about one aspect of your work that breaks complicated language down even further than a previous one, into five key points perhaps.

Stale communications suggest that a charity is not as dynamic as it could be in responding to the problem it's there to address.

5. Invest in looking good.
Apple products are slick and smart; they look cool. This is a major reason why people see the brand as desirable. I think we can be scared of making our communications look too good. “Supporters will think we have too much money,” is something I often hear from clients.

And while I’d agree with this in many instances – for example, sending out a shiny, glossy direct mail pack with four different inserts for a Christmas appeal about poverty – I would implore it in others.

Good design, concise, plain English copy and powerful photography should be a charity communications staple – they make you look good and don’t have to be expensive. And yet, they’re often overlooked in budgets and planning.
 


Trina Wallace, copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.