“Nobody’s heard of us”

We must hear this phrase at least once a week – and if we took a cue from the briefs and tender documents that hit our inboxes, we could only conclude that low brand awareness in the general public is the biggest problem faced by charity communication directors in the UK today.

Our impression right now is that this is a growing trend – as so many charities, and so many of our clients, are looking to grow mass market fundraising to insulate themselves against austerity, and want to build brand profile to help them achieve that.

But… hang on, nobody’s heard of you? Nonsense, we say… we’ve heard of you! So too have all of the supporters and partners that fund your projects, sign your petitions, listen to your policy arguments, and enable you to do great work. Add to that list all of the people you are helping today through your services, then add their families and friends, and… well, you get the picture.

Nobody's heard of us

The truth is, if nobody had heard of your organisation, then you wouldn’t exist – because you wouldn’t be raising any money or delivering any services. And while this may sound like hair-splitting (obviously you don’t actually mean nobody) this is more than just semantics. It is a plea to value and respect the constituency you already have, and build from there. There is a serious point here too about how brands really work.

‘Brand awareness’ on its own is a clumsy term (not to mention a clumsy measure) that tries to quantify your potential to create new relationships with the outside world. The problem starts when you try to measure brand awareness in the general public alone, because it is so easy to forget that awareness in some people has more value than in others – while some has no value to you at all. And when you survey your brand awareness in the general public, the fact is that most of the responses you get back just don’t matter, and the trouble is you don’t know which.

So, which responses don’t matter? I hate to sound harsh but it’s the majority of the general public. The truth is, most people in the UK will never donate to you, support your campaigns, or access your services. For some causes, that is the overwhelming majority. Here’s some data…

Eden Stanley’s market benchmarks

From time to time we run a survey of 2,000 people to check the relative market sizes of the different causes in the UK charity sector, and the shifting demographics within each group. This helps us ensure robustness in our audience segmentation programmes, benchmark our brand trackers, and understand the market ‘churn’ (supporters  entering and leaving) in any given cause. Headline results from July 2015 are shown in this graph.

ESG market sizing chart July 2015

Now, experience tells us that most people overstate their ‘consideration to support’ (trust me – few of the respondents that say they may support a cause in the next 12 months actually will), and when you take into account factors like income, and reachability, in practice the ‘addressable market’ for most of these causes is unlikely to be much more than 30% to 40% of the UK adult population. For some sectors (for example environment, human rights, or overseas development) it is much lower than that.

So think about the ‘rejectors’– the people represented by the red bars, that have not supported your cause, and have no intention to. Does it matter if they have heard of you? Do you care one jot? Or to come at it from another angle, if you allow your communications strategy to be shaped by brand awareness or attitudes of people that will never engage with you, do you risk wasting effort and resource? In most cases, we think probably yes. We call this “whispering into the void….”

Knowing your niche

Understanding the size and demographics of your ‘market’ is really just the start of it. With a little digging, and a little curiosity, you will find within any of these target groups a huge diversity of points of view, social and political attitudes, media consumption patterns, giving preferences and so on. With good audience segmentation and insight, and a smart, targeted marketing and communications strategy, you should be able to find those most sympathetic to your cause and closely aligned with your values.

OK, so perhaps not many people have heard of you – we’ll give you that. And yes, it is true that if you look across your sector you will find a general, loose correlation between brand awareness in the general public and income. But let’s bring some focus to this. Confusing your supporters and prospects with your rejectors will distort your strategy and prove a huge distraction, drawing your attention away from what really matters – that is working hard to look after the relationships you already have, and taking the time to get to know – and grow – your own niche in a market that is warm to your cause. That’s where the value is, and that’s when it all starts to work.