Romeo and Juliet.
Two teenagers fall in love, think they can’t be together, and kill themselves. Most of us have read it (or were supposed) in school. Many of us have seen a stage or movie version of the story.
But here’s the funny thing. Even though we’ve all been exposed to the same play, we might not agree on what it’s about.
What’s the take away of Romeo and Juliet?
Here’s the two I hear most often:
Love conquers all
Teenagers are stupid
There are others, of course. For example, blind feuding only hurts the ones we love. Or, always make sure you get a read receipt on the letters to your lover about your plan to stage your death. But, love and stupidity are ones that are supported well by the text. And the two you most commonly see in stage productions.
But what does this have to do with marketing a nonprofit or small business? Plenty.
When working on a theatrical production, everyone involved must be telling the same story, from actors to designers to directors. If Romeo thinks the play is about love and Juliet thinks it’s about teenage stupidity, things aren’t going to work out well--in ways different than those in the script. If the costume designer thinks the play is about stupidity, and costumes are fluffy and mismatched, while the set designer thinks it's about the power of love, and the sets are velvet and jewel-toned, nothing is going to work as a whole. Your audience will be confused and neither moral will come across clearly.
And so many small businesses and nonprofits make similar mistakes.
An executive director might be talking about senior food insecurity, while a development director talks about the impact of nutrition on school performance, and the board president focuses on how pretty food looks on a plate.
None of these approaches are wrong, much like our Romeo and Juliet themes (though I admit, I find one of those themes much more compelling than the other, just like I find the development director’s approach most compelling in the above example). But it is confusing. Imagine a supporter attending an event where the executive director speaks about seniors, getting an appeal from the development director about school performance, and then running into the board president at a community function and hearing about plating. This supporter is going to be very confused about what this organization actually does.
Or, this organization contracts a graphic designer to put together some pieces to take to networking events. She speaks primarily with the board president, and then both the executive director and the development director are stuck with printed pieces that feature pictures of food on plates, totally missing pictures of people served by the organization.
In order for everyone to communicate clearly, teams need to be telling the same story in similar ways.
Not exactly the same way, of course--a development director is going to have a slightly different focus than a program manager--but everyone should be working toward the same end. Communities need to understand what it is you do and why, and if some of your team is telling people that love conquers all, while others are talking about how stupid teenagers are, well, your supporters won’t understand.
So how do you get on the same page?
A Mission and Vision Statement are a great place to start--active and accurate ones. Too many organizations have such statements that they write and put on their website or in grants and then don’t think about them again. So, dust yours off if you haven’t in the past six months. Is there anything that needs changing?
Once these are solidified, make sure all your team players have their elevator speeches down. They should all be slightly different--you don’t want team members to sound like automatons! But spend some time having people share to make sure word choice, tone, style, and focus are all working on telling the same story.
Likewise, Storybook Foundry’s Words to Avoid and Words to Use Instead is a succinct document that is fairly easy to create and even easier to use. Should you avoid the phrase “Love Conquers All” and instead use “Love Is Dangerous?”
If your marketing and fundraising efforts haven’t been as successful as you had hoped, look at your language, tone, and style. Are you telling too many versions of the same story and muddying the waters? A little bit of clarifying your language can go a long way! So invest some time to make sure that the story you are telling is either about stupidity or love, but not both.