Non profits have to protect their brand from politics:Susan G. Komen

Mixing politics and health can be a losing proposition. For example take the recent spat with the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The pink ribbon carries a lot of associations—women’s health, breast cancer, all types of runs, pink clothing on football payers etc.  But in a prominent fight this week between breast cancer charity the Susan G. Komen Foundation and women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, the ribbon is suddenly associated with controversy in an area which makes no sense except in the fanatical right-to-life world in the USA where the anti-abortion movement is very strong especially in the GOP.

What happened was the breast cancer charity decided to pull hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Planned Parenthood, citing a congressional investigation over whether Planned Parenthood uses federal funds for abortions. Planned Parenthood in turn accused the Komen Foundation of having “succumbed to political pressure.”

The move immediately incited backlash in the media and online, but the charity’s communications strategy and response have also been roundly criticized. Komen was slow to respond online — and when it did, it changed its message numerous times. First, it cited a policy stating that it doesn’t provide funding to organizations under investigation. After critics were quick to equate that to a political move aimed at appeasing right-wing donors, Komen changed tacks and said the real reason was actually related to the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t actually administer screenings but hands out referrals for mammograms. Source

Then today, in a surprising about-face, Komen decided to “continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood.”

From a branding and positioning perspective, this may cause serious damage to the Komen brand, especially their fund raising efforts.

The Komen Foundation does not deal in politics or even controversy that is until they hired a prominent right to lifer in their organization. Source  .Many detractors had criticized the organization’s methods, such as what some call “pinkwashing” campaigns: emblazoning pink ribbons on yogurt, kitchen mixers, fried chicken, baseball bats, football sneakers  in an effort to generate funds but also helping some companies to better move their products. But those arguments seemed to be mainly about Komen’s fundraising process, not its ideology—”cancer is bad” being a generally inarguable concept.

“They’re kind of the market leader in breast cancer charities,” says Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, but the recent controversy will cut into its market share, so to speak. “In marketing, we use the word ‘segmenting.'” In the Planned Parenthood debacle, says Kahn, Komen is “dividing the market into people with political affiliation—right-to-lifers versus Planned Parenthood supporters.” Source

This is a very sad day for women’s health and for the breast cancer movement.

For further information See How Susan G. #Komen For The Cure Torpedoed Its Brand

and Can Komen Recover From PR Crisis? Controversial Move, Confused Communication Damaged Reputation; Now Stability of Ties with Corporate Sponsors Hangs in the Balance

Postscript: September 21 2012

Six months after igniting severe backlash for pulling Planned Parenthood funding, nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure is betting on a national ad campaign that features survivor stories to rally supporters. But as the organization preps for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, it’s still fighting an uphill battle to restore its tarnished brand. In fact, industry insiders are wary about whether the nonprofit can restore its image, drum up donations and retain corporations’ support when their contracts run out.

Donations are down about 30% compared to a year ago, according to multiple executives familiar with the matter. When asked about that figure, Ms. Rader said it’s difficult to determine how much donations have declined. Participation at some races, which serve as Komen’s prime source of funding for community programs and research, has fallen from 1% to 35% in certain regions, she said. source

And although Komen hasn’t lost any corporate partners since the February uproar, there’s talk of defection among PR players.

Komen did power the breast cancer movement, but this [misstep] was so visceral for people on the left and right. And while Komen used to be the big cause-marketing opportunity in town, (pink was a dominant colour in October) they are clearly in serious trouble.

There’s still hope for Komen, even if it’s “much diminished. The lesson here is once you seriously hurt your brand by mixing politics into your organization you pay a big price . I hope those who work in the non profit field will learn from the the folks who created the `pink movement`and breast cancer



“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

Marketing is divided into two parts: (1) marketing strategy and (2) marketing tactics. But most people think it is about tactics.

In my experience when I hear someone tell me that they don’t have enough funds to do a great marketing job , I tell them it is not more money that you need but more strategy. But strategy takes time and skill and marketers are looking for quick fixes. That’s why social media has become the new God the new messiah.

Marketers and Communicators are out there thinking if only they can sharpen their skills in social media they will have the tools to be successful in marketing and communications but they are dead wrong. Marketing is not about tactics and social media as important as it has become is not the messiah.  Marketing is about strategy. Go to any conference and see what people want to learn about. Not strategy… I actually attended a conference in the USA  a few years ago to give a workshop on marketing strategy and some people were a bit disappointed that I did not spend much more time on tactics. Well the truth is you can have all the tactics in the world, but if you don’t spend the time to build a strong marketing strategy all the great tactics in the world are worthless. How many times have we seen at our Centre clients who have hired ad agencies to produce award winning ads which fall flat on their face because there is no strategy?

Yes I understand that creating a marketing  strategy  takes time and hard work but today marketers and communicators are looking for quick fixes  but there are no quick fixes and don’t let web 2.0 folks or ad agencies sell you a bill of goods. Strategies before tactics is the only solution to being successful in marketing

In his article

Al Ries demonstrates that Strategy is the key to success in marketing but most people think it is about tactics which is usually a fatal error. With the new ways of doing things through social media or as Ries calls it TGIF (That’s Twitter, Google, the Internet and Facebook.) marketers have lost sight on the importance of strategy. There is no question that these four revolutionary developments have forever changed the marketing function. But will the skilful use of social media i.e.  TGIF make you a great marketer?

Well obviously not. As Reis points out

Linens ‘N Things didn’t go bankrupt because they didn’t make effective use of Twitter. They went bankrupt because they were a knockoff of Bed Bath & Beyond without a unique identity.

DHL didn’t pull out of the U.S. market because they didn’t buy enough AdWords from Google. They pulled out of the U.S. market because they violated a basic law of marketing, the law of duality. DHL was the No.3 brand in a category dominated by UPS and FedEx.

Kmart didn’t go bankrupt because they couldn’t figure out how to use the Internet to promote the brand. They went bankrupt because they were squeezed between Walmart at the low end of the mass merchandiser category and Target at the high end.

Coca-Cola didn’t fail to build a leading energy-drink brand in three tries (KMX, Full Throttle and TAB) because they forgot to use Facebook to ignite the brands. They failed to build a leading energy-drink brand because they waited too long after the launch of Red Bull.

According to Ries Marketing can be divided into two parts: (1) marketing strategy and (2) marketing tactics. And to him there is no question that strategy is by far the most important half of a marketing program.

It’s like warfare, also a mixture of strategy and tactics. The weapons of war are equivalent to the media used in a marketing campaign. How often has an army won a war with better soldiers, better guns, better tanks, and better aircraft?


What wins wars are better strategies? In World War II, the Germans had the advantage of the better weapons, the better discipline, and the most experience. Yet their leader, Adolph Hitler, was a rank amateur when it came to military strategy.

I finally got a chance to read Al and Laura Ries book WAR IN THE BOARDROOM… why left –brain management and right-brain marketing don’t see eye –to eye-and what to do about it

According to the Rieses the problem with management is that managers don’t have the brains for marketing.

This reflects a difference in brain dominance. Managers tend to be left-brain dominant, focusing on logical and analytical ways of dealing with the world. Marketers tend to be right-brain dominant, getting their ideas more intuitively and holistically.

While the marketing department may have a better grasp of how marketing works, say the Rieses, management always makes the final decisions. And that can lead to companies basing marketing strategies on management thinking.

Where the two differ:

•Management deals in reality; marketing, in perception. Most managers believe that producing a better product is the key to success. Yet, time and again, new products with perfect benchmarks fail, such as Volkswagen’s Phaeton (a luxury car with top ratings) and beverage Miller Clear. Miller Clear tasted like regular beer, if you closed your eyes. “(But) when you drank Miller Clear with your eyes wide open,” the Rieses write, “it tasted like watery beer. Perception always trumps reality.”

•Management focuses on the product; marketing, on the brand.

•Management wants a diversified market strategy; marketers prefer to focus in one area.

•Management targets the center of the market, while marketing targets the ends•

Management wants better products, while marketing wants different products.

Management’s response to a rival is often to try to do the same thing better. The marketing response is to do something different and create a new mental category.

•Management wants a single brand; marketing wants many brands. Management wants the big brand name on everything to justify the money spent on brand recognition. Marketing wants to launch new brands, because often the new product isn’t a good match for the old brand name.

In short, the Rieses believe that management wants good products that appeal to everyone, while marketing wants a powerful brand that dominates a mental category.

Because management makes the decisions, marketing folks should learn to speak in left-brain terminology. The book is a good place to start lessons. Examples are well-explained and down-to-earth. As for managers, even the most logical and analytical types should be able to see the reasoning behind “marketing sense.”

Don’t for get to register for MARCOM

The premiere educational forum for public and not-for-profit marketers and communicators. This year’s line-up is the best ever.

Also join me for Branding for Associations –

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to learn about the importance of taking a strategic marketing approach within your association. You will learn how adopting a marketing mindset ensures that you are driven by what your members, clients and stakeholders need and want versus what you think they need and want. This series is designed to coach you all year long.  The first in the series “Branding for Associations – why it has become invaluable” is happening February 8 with Jim Mintz.