We in the nonprofit sector tend to have a conflicted relationship with the word ‘marketing’. We tend to see it as evil, as over-the-top, as the art of selling stuff to people they don’t need.

Having gone through a year of studying these dark arts, I’m no longer sure. My textbook defines marketing as “a process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others“. It’s all about establishing a relationship with your network that helps you achieve your goals. The best nonprofits are using marketing techniques across their operations – though they hardly ever call it that. They might talk about fundraising, about communications, about policy or membership development instead. The tools, however, are often the same.

I’ve been thinking about the connections in my life journey recently, moving from campaigning and organizing to communications and marketing. It slowly dawned on me: All of this is about the art and science of behaviour change.

A good campaign aims for a specific decision to be taken, ideally by a known decision-maker. It’ll find out what would need to change to make the decision a no-brainer: Maybe there’s a way to frame the decision in a way that meets the individual’s self-interest? Sometimes this calls for a shift in the external environment or for the help of numerous influencers. In short: Campaigning is the art of changing the behaviour of the few with the help of the many.

Marketing often tries to influence purchasing decisions on a grand scale. It’ll identify a group of people to target and try to understand what would make the decision a no-brainer for them: It might be all about price, about quality, about image. Sometimes this calls for the same message to be broadcast a million times or for the help of a celebrity endorsement. In short: Marketing is the art of changing the behaviour of the many with the help of the few.

With approaches so similar, it is surprising how different perceptions of both terms are. While the nonprofit sector remains skeptical about marketing, campaigning is a dirty word in most of the business world. Will we need a new term?

This article was originally posted in September 2010 on wiebkeherding.de

Marketing vs. Campaigning: In Need of a new Term
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