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Consumer marketing vs charity marketing: the challenges for the modern marketer


Dominic Brand cut his teeth in the FMCG sector in the UK and internationally, marketing everything from whisky to diamonds. He knows the premium consumer market like the back of his hand. He is now Marketing & Communications Director for The Stroke Association, a UK charity working to prevent stroke and support everyone touched by stroke, fund research and campaign for the rights of stroke survivors of all ages. So what made him move into the charity sector? Emily Matthews from EMR sat down with him to find out.

There are three specific areas that highlight the contrast between working in the retail and FMCG sectors when compared to the charity space thinks Dominic: audience, data and the emotional reward.

Audience: donation dilemma and consumer behaviour

What are the key differences between consumer marketing and charity marketing?

“In marketing, you start with asking yourself ‘who’s the audience’; ‘what is it that will motivate them to engage’ and then you marry that up with what you want them to do. So, for me the biggest task at hand is to really understand those different audiences”, says Dominic.  “One of the big differences between charities and the commercial sector is that consumers tend to use, drink or eat the product that commercial brands advertise i.e. those who spend the money reap the benefit. In most charities, there are two very different audiences, those supporters who ‘provide’ the money and then beneficiaries who ‘reap the reward’; we need both to understand the brand”. 

For example, Dominic explains his role at the Stroke Association: “I’m responsible for marketing and external affairs and there’s a huge range of audiences, from all types of organisations and people who we might wish to build a relationship with. There’s the beneficiaries (stroke survivors), their carers and their families, or the professionals – whether it’s clinicians or whether it’s potential researchers. Then, ultimately we have to influence government and senior health and social care personnel; we have to persuade them to ensure the best treatments and support services are available in and after hospital for stroke survivors. So, the breadth of audience is just phenomenal here, and to me, that was actually the biggest challenge”. 

How does targeting these audiences differ from consumer marketing, especially in regard to budget size?

“It’s not different in terms of what you need to do, but you do need to be aware and take time to explain that a good use of people’s donation is to spend it on a brand campaign. You have to explain that that campaign spend is worth it, because the outcome is that more stroke survivors will become aware that we are a charity here to help them and more potential supporters also become aware of the work you do to benefit those who have had a stroke, so if you spend wisely a pound on marketing reaps quadruple in income.”

Data: What impact has GDPR had on charity marketing jobs?

The charity sector relies heavily on direct mail and fundraising initiatives so it’s vital that everyone in marketing understands GDPR and its implications. Dominic Brand adds that “funnily enough, we’re seeing GDPR as an opportunity because it has forced us to look at the data we have and discover that we do actually have permission to use that information, but perhaps in the past we haven’t been effectively utilising it. So this legal enforcement to look into our data in the end benefits us”.

Data permits a better understanding of consumers and in this case, donor behaviour, and allows not-for-profit organisations like the Stroke Association to develop more targeted marketing activities that result in more positive responses that in turn mean  the resources allocated to fundraising can be more effective.

“Again, you have less money for marketing as well as less money for research and insight, so you’re trying to use the data that you have in-house to  give you the information you need, rather than going out there and spending donors’ funds on, for example, market segmentation, which you might have done in the commercial world”.

The Emotional Reward: millennials and technology 

In order to build long-term relationships with supporters and gain trust, charities need to develop an integrated approach to communication that encourages a more personal connection.

“My biggest learning in marketing throughout is that it’s emotion that drives the connection”. When discussing volunteers, Dominic explains, “we have over 3,000, all of whom could be an ambassador for us. 60% of them are stroke survivors, so they’re the closest to us, they’re the most interested in the cause and there is a massive emotional connection to the Stroke Association – that is a leverage you just don’t have in the commercial sector”.

When asked his thoughts on the misconception about marketers in charity versus commercial and how technology and millennial behaviour is changing marketing integration, Dominic explains: “For us, on the marketing side, it’s more around how we can use technology to help beneficiaries. Our focus has really been on using digital to help inform and improve the rehabilitation of stroke survivors. For example, My Stroke Guide is a free digital website that provides great peer–to-peer support and information to help the most vulnerable people post stroke. Whilst 25% of stroke survivors are of working age, they are predominately older. So obviously millennials aren’t front and centre of our market, but we do reach out to them to participate in more active sports to raise funds for us”.

Having experienced marketing in the consumer and charity sectors, what advice would you give to young marketers starting out in their first marketing jobs?

“If I had to give advice to young marketers coming into marketing, I would say that although marketing is becoming more and more data-driven, which is obviously good because it helps you to be more efficient and effective, just never lose sight of the fact that in the end, what you’ve actually got to create is an emotional attachment. What worries me in the way that marketing is going is there’s a danger of losing judgment, and as a marketer as you progress that is really key. You don’t want to lose that, as that in the end, to me, is what makes the difference”.

Wrapping up with Dominic, it is very clear that marketing to consumers in the charity sector vs FMCG is all about understanding the audience and realising that your brand is not  a product, it’s about forming an emotional connection to your audience because of the very nature of the brand. You can do this by using data and insight as the basis of decision making, but leaving some flex for a little creativity and personal judgement.


Emily Matthews specialises in interim and contract marketing jobs in the charity and not-for-profit sector, as well as marketing jobs in retail, leisure and travel.


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