“People buy your product because it helps fill in the narrative gaps in their lives."
And then she offers stories from her own experience to explain what she means:
September 2009 Uh-oh. The convertible I had owned for ten years, 200,000 miles, drops dead in the middle of the highway. With the immediate prospect of two children in college looming; two tuition payments and a down economy, I swallow my pride and buy a used Honda Civic on CraigsList. My kids taunt me because it doesn’t even have power windows. I retort back that I am doing my “Civic duty”, saving on gas, saving money so they can go to the college of their choice. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. My kids stop laughing. I grow to love my new old car.
Of course, it's about the story.The narrative connects person to product to experience to emotion. And it doesn't have to be something as big as a car.
It could be something small -- a t-shirt, a map, an ornament.My family collects Christmas ornaments whenever we travel and then each year when we decorate the tree, the ornaments trigger stories: about the time we accidentally took the kids (aged 4 and 9) to the nudist section at Canaveral National Seashore, or the hissy fit our youngest son threw during the princess parade at Disney World (he only likes princesses with guns), or the year of the bat freak out.
The product (in this case the ornament) is a touch point. It anchors the story and fills our narrative gaps.
So what does a post about products have to do with writing for non-profits?
Quite a bit, actually. But you may have to broaden your definition of "product."
Obviously, we're not selling watches or cars or Christmas ornaments. Like a services organization, we are selling outcomes, results, and trust. In many ways, marketing for non-profits is about selling emotion and experience. We are "selling" the way people feel when they support our cause -- and the way people feel depends on the story they tell themselves about our cause. It depends on how we fill the narrative gaps in their lives.
Try this at home: 6 (& a half) questions to help you think about your stories in new ways
- What "product" are you selling? [What outcome are you after? What is your mission?]
- How does your "product" [conservation, cancer research, poverty alleviation] fill the narrative gaps in the lives of your members, donors or prospects?
- What themes connect people to your organization? [A concern for the environment? For future generations? Saving specific places? World peace? Making the world a better place? Ending breast cancer? Helping children?]
- What story do you tell yourself about why you work for a non-profit? [Does your job fill a narrative gap in your life? How? Could your story have resonance with your donors? Sometimes the only way to make people understand why they should care about something is to tell them why you care.]
- What products or experiences fill the narrative gaps in your own life? [What do you tell stories about? Cruise vacation to Cancun? Fishing trip with your grandfather? What's symbolic? Fountain pen? Christmas ornament? 60-inch flat screen plasma tv?]
- What stories do you find yourself telling over and over again? Why? [The time Mom found a bat in the mailbox and flipped out? The time Dad left us with a flat tire in the parking lot because he had to catch a plane? The time you were re-routed through Gander, New Newfoundland? Why you bought a boat? Or a house with a swimming pool?]