Living in a digital world

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Why your fundraisers are your biggest competition

People are changing their giving habits, fast. So what’s happening? Time to wise up to the new world, says Rik Haslam

(Note: this is an article I recently wrote for the International Fundraising Conference’s magazine – here’s the original article).

Here’s the thing.

I am a charity. I’m not registered. I have thousands of fundraisers, but I don’t pay any salaries. I have advanced technology and communication systems, yet zero overheads. Nor do I pay business rent. I have my own in-house media production studio: it’s my camera phone, bargain basement netbook and some free, open-source software. I create dozens of ads but wouldn’t dream of shelling out on media placements. Instead I put my messages on email, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, my blog and fundraising platforms like YOCO and JustGiving.

There are millions like me. And we are your real competition. If it feels like we have an unfair advantage, we do. If it feels like we’re a threat to your business model, we are. If it feels like we think you’re irrelevant, maybe we do. Don’t panic though, there is some good news later. Kind of.

And here’s another thing. I’m a regular giver. Each month a sizeable amount automatically transfers from my current account. But, that money doesn’t go to any particular charity. It goes into a dedicated charity account I’ve set up. Then, whenever a friend emails me announcing they’re running a marathon, climbing Mount Fuji, cycling across the Sahara, or doing a fun run, I dip into my account and happily support their fundraising efforts.

I now have no direct relationships with any charity. I can’t be acquired, up-sold, cross-sold, retained. I’m not a customer, supporter or prospect, as far as I’m concerned you don’t exist. All that exists is the causes my friends and I want to support. I don’t support Macmillan, Save the Children or Amnesty. I support friends, colleagues and family. I support beating cancer, protecting children and an end to political torture.

To be clear, my relationships are with people and causes, and no longer directly with brands. However, even though I don’t want a relationship with you, I do want you to continue your good work, and I do know you need funds – I just prefer to siphon the money via my friends. It’s a bit of a terrifying paradox, isn’t it? Or is it an opportunity?

For a little while longer (maybe two years max) your business model isn’t completely broken. There are still many people, perhaps even the majority who still behave in traditional ways. Still like direct mail. Still prefer to speak to a person on the telephone. Still think the Internet is a bit pointless.

That’s all about to change in a very dramatic way. Here’s why…

Until the beginning of April this year, the Internet wasn’t really a mass market proposition. You had to buy a complicated machine with GHz and NVIDIA and Bluetooth, and other weird techno-babble nonsense. I love it, but I’m a geek. My mother, on the other hand, hates technology (more on this later). For people like her the internet was (at best) in a cold, spare bedroom, plugged into the wall and never moving. Setting up wi-fi was an intimidating business, so the Internet never really came into the centre of most homes. Mobile Internet was even worse. Expensive data-charges, even more complicated set-up processes, and, on the majority of devices, an awful experience. And the screen’s too small for my mum’s eyesight anyway.

At the beginning of April all that changed. The iPad arrived. It’s not a computer or a mobile. It’s a TV, a book, a photo-album, a chess board, a record-player. It’s the internet in your handbag. You don’t need an instruction manual. There’s no keyboard, mouse or complicated cables. It’s just a screen. You touch it and stuff happens. The iPad and dozens of other devices like it (they’re coming later this year) change everything.

Suddenly the internet is a mass market consumer phenomenon. Suddenly the internet is everywhere. Suddenly everyone can do all the things I talked about at the start of this article. Suddenly my mum likes the internet. I actually had to pull my iPad from her hands. She loved it. And so will millions of other ordinary, everyday people – i.e. your best customers.

And that spells big trouble for your business, because now (well, since April 3rd when the iPad launched actually) there’s a people-friendly version of the internet. And that means it’s not just the minority who will do the scary things mentioned earlier, but everyone.

Suddenly nobody needs you as the fundraising intermediary between their money and the cause. They can cut you out. So…how the heck do you stay relevant in this consumer-empowered environment? It’s simple, but not easy.

You need to join in. You need to give people the tools that help them connect with one another and achieve their own objectives. You need to deliver experiences that involve them and their friends directly with the causes they’re concerned about. You need to encourage the formation of like-minded networks, to stop thinking about customers and start focusing on influencers, to stop pushing messages and start building engagement. Tools and experiences are your new best friends. The age of marketing communications is over. Your job as a marketer now is to deliver value, not to sell, incentivise or persuade.

It is a fundamental shift, but without it your business model will come under increasing pressure, and your brand will become an increasing irrelevance. Already a number of charities are having significant success by embracing the new landscape.

A good example is how some fundraising brands reacted to the Haiti earthquake. Christian Aid generated 25% of its web traffic by harnessing the power of Twitter (whose top demographic is 45-54 year olds by the way).

A single embedded link in a YouTube video generated £35,000 for Oxfam. YouTube incidentally has over 300 million users and 46% of them are over 35.

Médecins Sans Frontìeres recruited 24,000 prospects through its Facebook fan page. And if you think social media isn’t a mass market channel yet, ponder this – during the first week of April, 14% of all US based web traffic went to only two sites – Google (of course) and Facebook. Most of it went to Facebook.

The message to charity brands is clear. Discover a role in the new landscape, and invent new tools to help facilitate the connections and interactions individuals want to have with one another and the causes that are close to their hearts.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Why the iPad is a hands-down winner

Perceiving myself as a non Apple fanboy, and a tech-loving neutral, I’ve tried to hold off entering into the iPad debate, but much of the venom directed at Apple and its latest incredible device is so ill-conceived that I can’t help weighing in with my point of view. So here are a few thoughts:

1. iPad versus other tablets/slates (or Apple win)

It would be idiotic to suggest that the iPad is the be all and end all of tablet devices. Technology moves on and at some point somebody will develop a better device than the iPad (it may even be Apple themselves). But for now the iPad is hands-down the best tablet device and will stay so for a long time (minimum 18-24 months). Why? Partly the OS, partly Apple’s superb application of multi-touch, and partly Apple’s unerring commitment to user experience over technology for technology’s sake. HP’s slates will be ponderous, heavier, less pleasant to use. Windows 7 is not a multi-touch, tablet OS. The JooJoo is doo-doo. Android/Google Chrome tablets will not come close (in the short term, and possibly ever) to creating a user-experience that will match the iPad, which leads me on to point 2.

2. The point of the iPad is the user experience

Forget technology, forget flash, forget multi-tasking (though with OS 4 that’s now a non-issue pretty much), forget any debates in developer circles. The iPad is a consumer electronic product. It is revolutionary, because it takes the most common use-cases (video, web browsing, creating simple documents, email, gaming, etc) and hides the technology – it just works, and it works beautifully. That’s all the vast majority of consumers are interested in. And so far there’s hasn’t been a device that delivers such experiences in so compelling a manner as the iPad… and thus onto point 3.

3. Screen size and the everything, anywhere revolution

Here’s the biggie. Increasingly we all want to be connected, all the time, wherever we are. We want our media, our files, our social lives delivered to us regardless of our location. The iPad is the perfect device for those who want constant connectivity. The form factor is the reason why. True the Iphone offered a pleasant web browsing experience, but it wasn’t perfect. The screen size is the core reason. And don’t get me started on watching a movie on an Iphone. I’ve done it (many times), but it’s a far from perfect solution. Laptops are too heavy. Netbooks are OK, but see points 1 & 2 for why the iPad wins here. The iPad’s screen size defines its utility. It’s a size we’re comfortable and familiar with – it feels novel like, it gives a close to full field of vision viewing experience. There’s very little I can’t comfortably do within the limitations of it’s screen size. For some reason that hasn’t been the case with netbooks – probably lack of multi-touch and pinch to zoom, etc.

4. The best mobile OS and purpose built tech

This is also vitally important. No other device has had so much love poured into its operating system. Apple has understood that mobile devices create new behaviours and demand new operating systems and new user interfaces. If you’ve ever played with a google phone, watch how that processor drains the battery, see what a leach Flash is, see how multi-tasking is a power vampire, see what a crappy, confusing and inconsistent menu system apps employ. The iPhone and iPad OS on the other hand aim to resolve such problems. Does that come with some compromises, sure (eg can’t import fonts into Keynote application), but once again the over-arching experience is very compelling.

5. The ‘it’s not a real computer’ argument.

Let’s just get over this. A tiny proportion of the population needs all the computing power of a real computer. But if you do want to use the iPad as a real computer, you can. Simply install a VNC app and the Ipad becomes a window onto your home PC or Mac, letting you run applications, open documents, and heaven forbid open a browser and browse flash sites. For more details on how to access your entire computer from an iPad see here.

6. Is it too expensive?

No, but it is expensive. In the same way a BMW is expensive, or a good coffee machine costs that little bit more. But is it value for money? I’d say yes. For now, it’s almost the perfect marriage of form and function. As I said above, at some point it will be superseded, but for a while nothing gets close to the iPad experience – and that’s what commands a price premium.

7. Phone, netbook, laptop, desktop… why do I need a tablet?

This is a tough argument. The only answer is to hold the iPad in your hands, perhaps borrow one from a friend for a weekend (if you can prise it from their fingertips), and see how quickly it becomes your default device. My iPhone now seems puny, my netbook is in the cupboard, my laptop is now just my desktop, and my three year old girl refuses to play with her mother’s iTouch anymore – she simply says, “I want Daddy’s big phone.” Relegating other excellent devices to the sidelines is surely a triumph in this respect.

OK, that’s me almost done. In my view anybody who has a childlike fascination with the way technology is changing our lives, can’t possibly fail to appreciate how amazing the iPad is. It is like a vision of the future, here today. It is a triumph of invention. And most importantly it is a challenge to competitors. If the iPad forces others to make more compelling devices then excellent (I’d love to see Microsoft’s Courier become a reality), we’ll all be the better for it.

Comments as always appreciated, but please let’s try to avoid a flame war.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 11 Comments

When social media goes bad

I spoke recently at a NMA Live event on Online PR and reputation management. Here’s the video of me talking. The case study I shared was around how not to do social media and how easily brand reputation’s can be destroyed by ill-thought out social activity.

Warning: You’ll need some stamina to watch the video. It’s over 20 minutes long.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Blue Peter ‘Send a Smile’ Appeal

Picture 4Some projects are an absolute delight to work on. Our send a smile campaign for the Operation Smile charity is one such wonderfully inspiring project.

Operation Smile funds medical treatment for children in developing countries who suffer from cleft lips and cleft palates.This is a condition that really blights young children’s lives, destroying their confidence and often meaning they can’t speak properly, don’t attend school, and often can’t even smile.

Earlier this year Operation Smile approached Rapp and asked us to help them develop a campaign that would persuade the BBC to base their famous annual Blue Peter Appeal around Operation Smile’s work.

We developed the ‘Send a Smile’ idea and proposed that Blue Peter encourage the UK’s schoolchildren to make surgical gowns out of their own clothes. Each gown would save Operation Smile £3 which would go towards funding more operations.

Blue Peter loved our idea and this week (Wednesday 21st November) they dedicated an entire programme to the launch of the appeal (you can watch it here in iPlayer – warning: this link will expire in a couple of weeks). That’s 25 minutes of prime time exposure for the charity brand. It’s almost impossible to put a value on that kind of media exposure.

As part of the campaign we’ve also mailed schools across the UK and developed an education pack which thousands of teachers are now using in classrooms, while also encouraging their pupils to support the charity by making gowns.

Hopefully all this great work will lead to many children undergoing the medical procedure which will transform their lives.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Singing Pets

Picture 1Like singing dogs and cats? This new campaign we’ve just launched for the Blue Cross animal charity features a bunch of pets doing a cover version of Staying Alive. Production courtesy of the inimitable Joel Veitch – whose new singing kittens video is also tremendous.

The singing pets campaign, follows last year’s hugely succesful talking pets campaign – see the running theme? Any suggestions for the third execution in this campaign gladly received😉

October 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

E-commerce comes to Facebook

I wrote a little while back about the Facebook beta test in the US, allowing a small group of retailers to sell real goods through Facebook’s gift application. Well very soon, Facebook is going to become an e-commerce platform in a major way. See this techcrunch post here.

That’s because of a number of developments, the most interesting of which are Paypal’s opening up of their Adaptive Payments API. This allows developers to build applications that can accept and distribute payments. The first interesting application is Payvment which enables anyone to set up a retail storefront on Facebook. For small retailers this is huge news, as there is pretty much zero infrastructure cost now to opening an online store. But even for bigger retailers a facebook storefront will be interesting. More and more brands have a presence on Facebook – now they can monetise that presence by allowing facebook users to make purchases for themselves or their friends.

Payvment features a regular shopping cart and has the huge advantage over previous Facebook e-commerce applications of keeping the transaction within the Facebook environment. In the past users had to jump out of Facebook to complete a transaction, which is why so few retailers have built e-commerce Facebook applications.

That is set to change very quickly. Payvment is opened up to the public from November 1st. It wouldn’t surprise me if we very quickly saw quite large shopping portals opening within Facebook.

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Volkswagen Fun Theory – excellent viral campaign

DDB Stockholm’s Fun Theory campaign for Volkswagen is excellent. The piano stairs viral shows how you can change human behaviour just by making something fun. Simple insight, really on brand, over 1 million views on YouTube already. Excellent work.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Google sidewiki – the web gets even more social

Awesome. Now the entire web can be co-created. A few weeks back Google introduced Google Sidewiki – a browser extension for Firefox and Internet Explorer (coming soon to Chrome).

What Google Sidewiki allows you to do is comment on any webpage or content on any webpage. That means any user can correct information, add more useful information or links, make a comment, etc, etc.

Google Sidewiki appears as a sidebar so you can see the content alongside the page you’re browsing. There’s also some very cool additional functionality and of course it’s all on an open API so other developers can play at will.

I’d be very happy if somebody installed the Sidewiki extension and used it to leave comments on this site.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sketch to photo technology

Art directors dream comes true. Scamp an image, then watch at it trasnforms into a photograph.

PhotoSketch is an “Internet  Image Montage” technology created by Chinese five students at Tsinghua University and the National University of Singapore.

The technology is created quite a stir on the net, with stories appearing on Mashable, ZDNET and Gizmodo. A surge in traffic has taken the student’s site down, but you can see the technology in action above.

October 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Facebook makes e-commerce play


Facebook have just started running a trial to allow users to purchase real gifts from four partners at the moment, but I’m sure they’ll soon be expanding this globally.

Virtual gifts have been around for a long while now, but the ability to send friends real gifts marks a whole new game-changing step. Added to that last years change from buying gifts with dollars to buying gifts with Facebook credits, and the Facebook Connect functionality, and suddenly Facebook looks like it’s setting it’s sights on becoming a socially enabled  e-commerce powerhouse.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments


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