Creating core marketing messages

Cindy Sink

Here’s the cold, hard truth: Nobody understands your mission statement.

Ok, maybe you and your staff and board understand it, but the rest of us out here don’t get it. The sentences are too long and nobody we know talks like that.

It’s not that mission statements aren’t important – they are. But they are not meant for public consumption.  A mission statement is an internal communication, designed to keep members of the organization aware of the organization’s purpose.  Your mission statement is not your marketing message.

So what is a marketing message? Google found over 14.8 million responses to that question. That’s part of the reason many nonprofits don’t know where to begin in crafting their core marketing messages. But you can make progress today by returning to some tried-and-true principles:

It’s a conversation, not a lecture. Talk to your audience in their language.  Get rid of jargon, alphabet soup and confusing technical language. ALL of it.  Remember what you learned in sophomore English: use active voice.

Know your customers. Identify your key customers. More than basic demographics of age, education and income, identify what is relevant and important to them. Don’t assume you know. Find out. Survey them. Ask them. Take the time to understand their values, their lifestyle habits, their favorite things and pet peeves.

This is often a difficult task for nonprofits that have clients, donors, volunteers, community leaders and board members to attract and persuade. Each audience is very different from the other. Who is the priority? Always make your cause and your clients top priority with your core messages. Then adjust the language and content for donors, volunteers and the community at large.

Understand Positioning. Positioning is about the conversation in the customer’s mind about you or your type of organization in general. Some of the conversations in the customers’ minds are negative. These are the roadblocks and ditches that prevent your clients, donors and volunteers from engaging with you effectively. These are the conversations you want to change. Some of the conversations are positive. These are the Gold Stars you earn and you want to emphasize them…especially if they are unique to you.  (Keep reading.)

What’s the competition doing? What other causes or organizations are competing for your donors?  For your clients? What is their positioning? What is the customer’s conversation about them?

What’s your Unique Selling Proposition? This marketing axiom has been around a long time and it still works, even for nonprofits. What is unique and special about you?  What is your niche? Can your unique selling proposition be boiled down to one word? What single, unique position can you own in your customer’s mind?

Engaging in the process of core messaging is not simple, nor will the process fit into a formula.  But you can improve your messaging when you pay attention to these basics.

Cindy Sink is a consultant based in Cary, N.C., and a Shoestring Creative Group Network Affiliate. Cindy can be reached at or 1-888-835-6236.

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