Tag Archives: NGO

Why Big Data is a Big Deal

Big data might just save the world. Certainly, that is, in the field of healthcare and science.  I really admire the work that the Gates Foundation is doing to eradicate diseases and improve conditions for those living in poverty, but what I love more is how they are using their background in information technology to do this.  All projects they fund must adhere to a policy of open data, in the knowledge that by sharing, we can achieve together what we might not alone.

Now, relating this noble use of big data to marketing programs may seem shallow in comparison.  Depending on what you’re marketing, you might not be saving the world.  But we’re certainly helping to explain it.

Marketing has always been about distilling research into meaningful insights about people.  And numbers have always been needed to justify spending and show ROI.  So, is big data really all that new?  Is it just that there’s now so much more of it?

The stats we hear about the sheer quantity of data being collected can be overwhelming.  Many feel that it should be relegated to the work of computer scientist or statisticians.  But as someone keen to specialize in analytics, I also know how much my experience, cultural insights, and gut instincts will complement the numbers.

As with all market research, the results are only as good as the questions asked in the first place.  Now the situation seems to be reversed.  If in theory we have all the answers within the data in front of us, we just need to know what we’re looking for before getting lost in all the information available.  Simple right?

Well, the tools we use to compress all this data is going to be the key for maketeers to be able to keep on top of the volumes of information being collected in real-time.  Analytics experts will be the link to extracting the right insights, in management-bite-size pieces, to justify business decisions.

Netflix is rightly cited as a champion in how to use big data to grow a successful business, and I can only imagine how the shift from ratings to algorithms is going to affect the future television.  I was also impressed to hear Tommy Page of Pandora talk recently about the insights they have on their listeners, and how they are able to share this extremely valuable information with their advertisers and partners – something that we were never really able to do in traditional print or radio advertising.  This  I believe is the future of media, where advertisers expect more for their CPMs, and media platforms are once again the conduit between brands and buyers.

Big data has helped many companies meet new consumer needs, and therefore have raised customer expectations all around.  As much as we protest about data privacy, which is of course important, we continue to give away our details in exchange for better service and convenience.  And I don’t see that changing anytime soon or for the upcoming generation who were born into a digital world.

Above all, the pace of change in society today makes data itself so quickly outdated, affected by fast-moving trends, industry disruption and technological innovations.  Therefore the need for marketeers who understand where data ends and human insights take over, is as important as ever.


Is Laughter Really The Best Medicine?

This week Al Jazeera America posted a very interesting opinion piece by Sindre Olav Edland-Gryt, defending the use of satire in content marketing for their aid organization, SAIH. It is not surprising that their videos have generated a lot of traffic, and a lot of media coverage.  Nor is it surprising that some have taken offense to the tone of the content.

Take a few minutes to check out their short mockumenary, Let’s Save Africa – Gone Wrong, the Africa for Norway Radiator Appeal and Charity Single.  It’s easy to laugh.  SAIH’s mission is to liberate through education and expand political consciousness, and their ultimate message is clear:

Stereotypes harm dignity

SAIH are adding to a growing amount of satirical content on the topic of aid, particularly Western organizations in Africa. Opinions are divided on the appropriateness of satire in this arena.  It raises the question: are we dumbing down the issues for a fickle online audience, or is this a reaction to the years of cliched campaigns that have come before?

The issue resonated with me, as I faced my own quandary earlier this year when I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program.  The prospect of a 7-day adventure in Guatemala, helping to build houses, was for me the trip of a lifetime.  But I really wanted to downplay any delusions of grandeur. Most of all, I was skeptical of how much help we could really be.

But after a week spent doing some very hard work, alongside the benefiting families, skilled local masons, incredible Habitat for Humanity teams and my fellow volunteers from all walks of life, my perspective changed. I was proud that our work was as much about hauling bricks and shifting sand, as it was in sharing our story within our own communities, thereby doing authentic PR for the charity and hopefully encouraging more to donate and participate on a local and international level.

Habitat volunteers in action

Several weeks later as I was looking through all our photos on Facebook, I cracked up when I saw this Onion article titled 6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture.  It was funny because it was true, and while I had come full circle with my own experience, I was still very aware of how it looked on the surface.

Edland-Gryt says in his article that ‘laughter has the power to punctuate the savior mentality and crate new approaches to conversation about development”.  Certainly, if similar content is being put out there, perhaps it is opportune that charities fit themselves into this conversation.  And if humor is cutting through our growing apathy, can capture readers attention and encourage sharing by connecting to our emotions, it must be a good thing right?

However, I do feel that organizations in the know have an obligation to set the record straight. To do this they need to make sure that their message and call to action is one that benefits the causes, rather than shooting themselves in the foot.

Within the comments to the opinion piece, Chris Dunford, former president of Freedom from Hunger, warns that the proliferation of this content risks both the good and the not-so-good aid organizations being tarnished with the same brush.  The greatest risk for charities is that ridicule will cause donors to reconsider their vital funding.

What is clear, is that satire is very tricky to get right, and opens itself up to misinterpretation.  As a marketeer, I am more concerned that the content is reaching the right audience and justifying ROI with results.  If budgets are being put to creating content marketing, is this at the expense of other fundraising programs?  NGO’s have very limited resources, and face higher scrutiny on spending than most corporations.  They therefore have to be extremely clever in how they best use the power of the internet for the good of their causes.

Going That Extra Mile for Charity

Charity Miles

Who could have predicted that cellular phones would one day be more powerful than personal computers, and that we’d be living our entire lives through these pocket-sized devices?  And that making calls would only be a secondary function?

Huge advances in personal technology, affordable data and speedy wifi, have all aided our growing obsession with the quantified self.  We now have the ability to track and record all our activities and movements, mining our own big data for insights.  On any given day, I might be using a number of mobile apps to track my sleep cycles, expenses, diet and mobile data.

When I took up running 2 years ago, I relied entirely on the wonderful Couch to 5K podcast to motivate me, and I made sure that every step of the journey was recorded on my Nike+ app.  I’ve got to the stage now where if I can’t track a run, it may as well not have happened (and somehow I convince myself that my iPhone battery life might be the only thing standing in my way of completing a marathon).

So I was really excited to discover an award-winning app that could track my miles, and raise money for charity at the same time.  Talk about doubling the feel-good factor!  Charity Miles is a free app that records how far you walk, run or cycle, and credits each mile with a donation through corporate donations (10 cents per mile for bikers, 25 cents per mile for runners and walkers).

Charity Miles

The app allows users to choose from 26 different charities each time they start a new session, so it really resonates with causes close to everyone’s heart.  Their blog, #EveryMileMatters, is brimming with such inspiring and touching stories.

The app is very easy to navigate and users can start clocking miles within moments of downloading it.  I was impressed that the interface is controlled through swipes once the run has started, as finding small buttons on a flat screen can be difficult once in motion.

The Team Leaderboard lets anyone who uses a group hashtag to view their collective fundraising efforts, which is a useful and fun tool for anyone taking part in an organized run.  Sharing is an essential part of fundraising and has been proven to increase donations.  So I appreciated the pre-populated tweet that the app crafted for me to send upon completion of my run, and through the campaign hashtag #SXSGood I could see just how many other people were also getting involved.

Functionally, the app does have limitations and the aesthetics are fairly basic too.  For example, I would have liked to see an ongoing total of the amount I have raised over multiple runs, as well as my total miles run.  I raised just under a dollar for my run, so showing the incremental impact of each session would have really cemented the feel-good factor and emphasized the purpose of the app.

Also, since the app measures distance through GPS, a map to show the route taken would be a nice feature to include, as Nike+ does below. That said, there is no reason you cannot use it in tandem (pardon the cycling pun!) with this or any of your other favorite apps.

Nike+ Interface

One of the most compelling aspects of the app is the opportunity for brands to connect with users in an un-intrusive and meaningful way.  Throughout my run, the screen showed an ad for the Timex Ironman sports watch.  Upon completion I was asked ‘did you appreciate the Timex’s support?’, and was prompted to click through to their website for a 25% discount.

Timex Ironman Ad

This is such a great way to engage with a dedicated audience who are aligned in their values, so I’m surprised that more brands are not all over this.  There are so many ways that advertisers could enhance the experience even further, such as offering messages of inspiration along the way, giving bonus donations for reaching set goals, and further targeting based on location and demographic profiling.  At a 90 cent donation for my 35-minute run, this must be an extremely cost-effective placement.


The Bigger Picture behind User Experience

User experience goes hand in hand with good customer service and effective marketing.  A company’s homepage is the new storefront.  And today’s online customers are more discerning and fleeting than ever before.

This semester we are analyzing organizations to see how they use digital tools to enhance their storytelling, and how user experience is at the center of this. I chose to look at the website of Oxfam International, arguably one of the largest and most respected charities in the world.

At the outset, I presumed the key purpose of their website would be to raise awareness, enlist volunteers, and perhaps most importantly, to fundraise.  However, the user experience did not meet my expectations for an organization of this stature and through somewhat of a wild goose chase, I unraveled what I believe may be a larger strategy problem for the organization.

My journey went a little something like this:

•A Google search for ‘Oxfam’ led me to www.oxfam.org.  At that crucial first impression, there is a LOT going on in homepage.  The box layout works well to group various pieces of information, but there are still a lot of messages along with their own banner ads competing for my attention.  In fact, the layout looks really dated now that I am used to very minimalist websites with graphics telling the story as I scroll through.

Oxfam International

•The site is very text heavy, which does make Oxfam seem authoritative, but unfortunately it is not presented in an accessible way. It would be more efficient to group information by the key objectives of the user, and then gradually providing more information within each section.

•Lime green must be a challenging logo color to work with! The big green buttons certainly stand out but clash with other colors.  It’s hard to know if there is a system, but it’s not clear to the user.

• I really didn’t know where to start reading the content.  “Emergencies” seemed like it would be the most pressing, and this lead me to more sub-menus by crisis. The “Development” page had a good interactive map to navigate by region.    The ‘“Campaigns” page was then grouped by issue type.  It did leave me wondering though if these sections are internal divisions at Oxfam, rather than the best categories to educate their audience.

Sadly, this site left me a little frustrated.  I didn’t really know where the experience should start or end.   I am interested to know what the bounce rate is from their landing page, as I suspect many users are likely to return to Google to refine their search.  Or worse for Oxfam, find the information elsewhere.

Looking for signs of mobile optimization on my iPad, the homepage looked more or less the same.  But when it came to my iPhone, I was so disappointed. It’s not responsive at all!

Oxfam International Mobile


I end up expanding and panning across each inch of the massive homepage, not really knowing what I was looking for. It felt much like trawling a beach with a metal detector in hope of finding hidden treasure.

I was  surprised that Oxfam didn’t have a mobile site.  I had come through Safari browser on my phone so it should have detected my device.  I decided to try again through Google.   This time however, I tried searching for the phrase ‘oxfam usa donate’.  The top result took me to a very different looking page.  On closer inspection, I saw that this was a page for Oxfam America, which is an entirely different website!

I was happy to find that this site was mobile optimized and offered a much more pleasurable experience, through the layout, the colors and icons used.  Back on my laptop I found a complete user-centered experience at Oxfam America: large, scrolling images; a good content strategy; easy navigation by a few section links.

Oxfam America

But this brought up a huge question for me as to why the two websites are so different.   And how I missed this in the first place.  I went back to the Oxfam International page.  What I had scanned over previously was a box on the top right corner labeled ‘Oxfam Near Me’, which uses geo-location to suggest Oxfam America.

Oxfam International is actually made up of 17 member organizations across 94 countries, and I now realize that each of the members have their own websites.  Member sites are also listed in small print at the bottom of the International homepage and there is far more consistency among the country website, than any has with Oxfam International.  It also allows for each member to highlight locally relevant materials and customize the layout for their local audience preferences.

This ultimately makes me question the purpose of the International site.  Does it contain information that is not duplicated elsewhere?  This could send users away disappointed, and translates as a real lost opportunity for the charity.  Since fundraising is all channeled to local member sites, this is of huge importance for their key objective.

Unfortunately, it makes Oxfam look very fractured and shows a huge disconnect in the personality of the brand.    Is Oxfam International out of touch?  Are their objectives aligned?  Or are they simply last in line for the makeover?  I’ll be checking back for sure.