Are You Failing in Your Digital Transformation? Find Out Why

Are You Failing in Your Digital Transformation? Find Out Why

We are spoiled.

Perhaps we can blame it on Apple or Amazon. Personally, I know I’m used to placing an order for a product or a movie and within minutes, it’s downloaded to my tablet or two days later, it arrives at my door step.

If Amazon can do it, then why can’t Pepco or for that matter, all of my service providers?  Why can’t they talk to one another, so when I apply for a home equity loan, I don’t have to start uploading pay stubs and W2’s? After all, my data is accessible and in the cloud.

Today’s consumers want a seamless user experience. We want around the clock availability, real time fulfillment, personalized treatment and no mistakes. We deserve it, don’t we? After all, we’re willing to pay top dollar.

These expectations however, require a radical transformation of business processes, from both strategic, as well as operational mindsets. It requires an integrated approach where each customer’s digital journey is both understood and nurtured throughout the entire life cycle, from creating brand awareness through purchase and service and then through renewal and recommendation. Some companies are excelling at this, but as it turns out, many are failing.

Companies know they must digitize their business enterprises, which require simplifying and automating processes, as well as decision making. Customers want quick easy access to information on any platform they desire. When they want an answer to a question, they don’t want to reach an automated recording. When they’ve already purchased from a company, they don’t want to have to put in their credit card information again. Successful businesses recognize this and are building their digital processes accordingly.

Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America, recently sat down with Yahoo Finance to discuss the role digital investments play in corporate America.  “We’re really seeing strong demand in what we call ‘the new’—it’s in digital, in cloud, and security. And it’s very much tied to the opportunity of the digital revolution—the opportunity to grow as well as the risks of disruption to industry.” With about 40% of Accenture’s revenue coming from digital, cloud and security spending, Accenture has a core skill set in this arena. Retail, consumer goods and financial services are all industries focused on top line digital growth and key market sectors for Accenture.

What many are recognizing is that the ability to digitally reimagine the business is determined in large part by a clear digital strategy supported by leaders who foster a culture able to change and invent this new strategy. It requires the evolution of a new business culture and new skill sets for the employee base. Getting a workforce to embrace this new digital business model is no easy task and requires continuous learning and agility.

“Companies need a workforce that’s going to be able to embrace the new business model. That really means transforming a culture.” continued Julie.

But, unfortunately, to date, brands are having a hard time keeping up and customers are suffering the consequences.

Last year, Accenture commissioned a study from Forrester called Digital Transformation in the Age of the Customer to benchmark digital transformation amongst Enterprises. This year, they conducted a follow up study called Expectations vs. Experience: The Good, the Bad, the Opportunity to assess the growth (or lack thereof) amongst Enterprises today. They wanted to test the following hypotheses:

  • Enterprises are talking the talk, but not walking the walk with respect to improving customer experience.
  • Firms claim to be “customer led”, but don’t engage their customers to learn about their customer journey.
  • Companies are more focused on easy to measure, yet low value metrics to evaluate customer experience success.

Forrester conducted 702 online surveys and 11 in-depth interviews with customer experience decision-makers amongst worldwide large Enterprises, and found:

“Only 7% of  brands were exceeding customer expectations. Even worse, 25% didn’t meet customer expectations, but most thought CX was “good enough”.

In addition, they found that brands are feeling pessimistic about their ability to deliver on their customer experience agenda compared to 2015.


Even more interesting are the huge gaps that seem to exist between the activities that brands feel have value vs. what they are actually doing. For example, brands know that improving or developing their digital channels, analytic capabilities or creating valuable content will improve the experience of the customer, but yet the majority aren’t executing on these efforts.



But, here’s the good news.

Almost everyone understands that “digital transformation is the key to driving customer experience, and that customer experience is the key to competing in the age of the customer.”  There are also big payoffs for customer experience investments. A 1% increase in customer experience can translate to $10M to $100M+ annually.

“Voice of the customer is extremely important. Listen to what customers have to say, hear what their pain points are, [and] then remove those pain points by leveraging technology and digital, which are key enablers to do so. Key digital solutions are helping us remove issues customers are having.” — Head of digital transformation at a global insurance company

The study also provided significant insight into companies that succeeded in Digital Transformation.

The brands that had success all used digital strategy, customer insights, data and technology to build brand relevance and customer loyalty, which improved their ROI and revenues.

In addition, all those that succeeded, displayed 4 distinct similar behaviors that helped make them successful.

Leading Successful Brands Share in the Following Behavioral Traits 

  1. Leaders Align Senior Sponsorship – Having C-level buy-in is absolutely foundational to driving transformation. 100% of all of the companies achieving success agreed that having senior leaders onboard is critical to success.
  2. Leaders Adopt to a Dynamic Rate of Constant Flux – The company embraces digital at rates double digits higher than their peers. They recognize that constantly evolving customers require constant CX evolution, not a one-off improvement effort.
  3. Leaders are more data-driven around customer experience (+44 percent) and see data and analytics as critical to driving CX improvement (+25 percent).
  4. Leaders Identify and secure trusted partnerships – 81 percent agree all partners identified and secured (+30 percent over peers).



5 Ways Nestle Uses Digital Transformation to Become a Digital Powerhouse

Nestle has become a world leader in digital transformation. Despite having been around for 100 years, it has embraced the digital age and become a trendsetter in digital and social media marketing and it’s developing technologies to grow its digital footprint. Here are 5 strategies Nestle is utilizing to help them succeed:

  1. Uses Social Studio and Service Cloud to foster community and have two way conversations with their customers.
  2. Maps and implements digital journeys based on real time behaviors. They understand who their customers are and act accordingly.
  3. Holistically manages the consumer experience. Using technology allows them to amplify the messaging with a personalized consumer experience.
  4. Harnesses data to allow them to clarify what the objectives are and what success looks like.
  5. Speed and the urgency to move is their new reality

There are plenty of companies excelling in Digital Transformation, but as the Accenture Study indicates, there is much work to be done. As for recommendations, Accenture recommends following the footsteps of the top performers:

  • Rally senior support
  • Build speed and agility into your digital planning
  • Invest in the people, processes, and predictive analytics and data science technology needed to transform data into customer-centric insight
  • Pick a small set of trusted partners (not transactional vendors) to work with
  • Break down silos and work across functional teams – both inside and outside your organization
  • Engage customers to help reinvent their experience
  • Examine and understand metric behaviors to create a true scale that can measure overall CS success

For more detailed information and insight on why brands are failing and how you can succeed in Digital Transformation, download Expectations vs. Experience, The Good, the Bad, the Opportunity Study.

Your How-to-Guide to Video Marketing

Your How-to-Guide to Video Marketing

Cisco has projected that by the year 2019, video will account for 80% of all global Internet traffic.

Today, Facebook sees on average 8 billion daily video views from about 500 million users. We know that online video converts better than any other content, and digital and video marketing clearly play a big role in achieving todays’ business objectives.


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But, here’s the scary news.

Only 9% of marketers believe their digital marketing is working.

Turns out, people are creating a lot of videos, but they don’t understand how to tie their video production to their desired goals, i.e. building social community, brand awareness, generating leads etc.

The good news is that’s exactly what we’re going to cover in today’s blog.

  • We’ll review 9 important tips to remember when producing a video for social media, so that your videos are shareable and successful against your KPI’s (key performance indicators)
  • Find out some of the best tools to use to create your videos and finally…
  • How to repurpose your videos into as many as 12 other formats for distribution

Online video now accounts for more than 50 percent of all mobile traffic and 78 percent of people say they watch videos online each week.

After Facebook introduced videos that start playing automatically in people’s feeds earlier this year, video viewership increased exponentially. This combined with the explosive growth of mobile phones with powerful video cameras, tons of storage, and faster mobile networks to upload and watch videos, has only  intensified the mobile video phenomenon.

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Social media continues to drive the video phenomenon.

  • In April 2016, Snapchat had 10 billion video views per day
  • YouTube has over a billion users and everyday people watch hundreds of millions of hours and generate billions of views
  • Over 200 million broadcasts were created on the Periscope platform in the past twelve months and 110 years worth of live video are currently watched on the platform every day


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With all of this growth, it’s no surprise that the “2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report” from Social Media Examiner found that 73% of marketers are set to increase their video usage on social media. Video is so “hot” that according to HubSpot, just using the word “video” in an email subject line boosts open rates by 19 percent, increases click-through rates by 65 percent AND reduces unsubscribes by 26 percent. Those are some pretty powerful statistics for just using one word.

How Live Video is Shaking Things Up

Now add into the mix “live video”, which is fast becoming one of the most important forms of content. The video streaming used by Periscope, Facebook Live and Blab, combined with the mobile first approach, is providing yet more access to consumers (and Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 8.14.05 PMbrands) because of the flexibility it provides in capturing and streaming live events as they happen no matter where they are taking place.

This ability to interact with audiences allows potential brands and advertisers to engage with consumers authentically and in real time and just serves to deepen the brand/consumer relationship.

9 Tips to Make Your Marketing Videos More Effective

Social media channels warrant their own style of video content. This is top of the funnel after all, with the goal of generating brand awareness and driving the audience back to your website. But remember, videos aren’t just for top of the funnel. Video webinars help move audiences through the middle of the funnel, while product demos help convert customers at the bottom of the funnel.

Also keep in mind that 85% of all Facebook viewers watch videos without audio. This is important to remember when producing your video. With that said, here are some other tips to keep in mind when you are creating your videos:

1.Keep your videos short (2 minutes or under) Remember, the human attention span has dropped to 8 seconds, which means that you need to make good use of the first 3-7 seconds of your video, because that’s when people will decide whether they will turn on the sound and continue watching or not. Add interesting visuals, and be sure to include closed captioning or graphics for those watching with the sound off.

2.Ensure your video is tied to your content strategy  Understanding your business objectives, your target audience and the goal you are trying to accomplish with your video is critically important to understand prior to writing a script or picking up a camera.

3.Use Transcriptions Transcriptions can significantly help your SEO when utilized properly to improve indexing, usability and content quality. To unlock the content of your video, and make it available to search engines for indexing, include a transcription directly within the HTML of the pages where the videos are hosted.

4.Make them personal Videos provide a great platform for you to humanize your brand and show your personality. Be authentic and true to yourself and let your customers get to know you. Here is an example of a web series called “Snapshots”, where we sat all of the employees down in front of the camera and asked them a series of short, fun, interesting questions, so that customers could get to know the company and the people who worked there.

5.Use strong storytelling Sharing a story encourages people to share your content and give them something to talk about. There are many ways to tell stories in your company.

  • Customer Stories – Feature testimonials and stories of customers sharing their experience about your brand. It builds thought leadership and an emotional connection between your customer and you.
  • Fictional Series – Showcase your CEO or another leader providing guidance on leadership, management, business advice or a personal look at how they manage their business and personal lives.
  • DocumentaJane Goodall Video - Play ry Videos – Create a documentary style video or series to tell true stories about anything related to your business, a project, a client, or a day in the office. These will require some creativity, good writing, graphics and storytelling to bring to life. While consulting for the Jane Goodall Institute, we produced a web series featuring the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park. 
  • Explainer Videos – Show how to use your product or service.  Tasty, which produces “snack-sized videos and recipes you’ll want to try”, is the world’s largest video influencer with more than 2 billion views (across all social networks) in April.

6.Be Emotive Here iScreen Shot 2016-06-15 at 8.07.29 PMs one of my favorites from Proctor and Gamble. It’s called “Thank you Mama, Best Job”. It has received over 2 million shares to date.

7.Focus on one message Don’t try to accomplish too much in one video. Stay focused.

8.Make sure to include SEO Do the keyword research to find out what people are searching for and include those keywords in your video’s title, description and tags.

9.Include a Call to Action (CTA) What do you want your viewer to do next after they finish watching your video? This should align with your content strategy.

Tools/Software to Use to Create Videos

There are many great tools and pieces of software to use to produce videos. As a former television producer, I use Apple’s Final Cut Pro, but here is a list of the 5 easiest video editing tools (thank you Buffer), if you are looking for simple easy to use platforms:

How to Repurpose Your Videos For Multiple Formats

Repurposing Video ContentLast, but not least, after you finish creating your video, don’t forget to repurpose it into other formats for distribution. One video can be repurposed into the following formats:

  • Podcast on iTunes (stripped audio)
  • Vodcast for iTunes
  • Your blog
  • For Medium
  • On your website
  • Your Facebook page
  • Linked In
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest (grab an image and then link back to site)
  • An animated GIF for social media
  • An Instagram video and
  • a Slideshare video

All of this additional content can be created from just one video. Then, most importantly, all of these social platforms can be “fed” with content and potential customers “touched”. 

When it comes to online marketing, video is increasingly becoming a must have. It’s a tool for capturing the user’s attention and delivering a brand message in a memorable and meaningful way. Conversion rates run as high as 80% by putting a video on your landing page (according to Unbounce). And as video and mobile continue to infiltrate the market, video production is no longer confined to companies with large budgets. Anybody with an iPhone and a computer are “good to go”.

Make 2016 the year you launch your video marketing strategy. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog, please share it so others can enjoy it as well!


How CharityWater Raised $150 Million Dollars

How CharityWater Raised $150 Million Dollars

I have been following CharityWater for years. As a content strategist (and former television producer), I am fascinated by the way in which the organization uses storytelling and specifically high quality videos to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. And raising donations today is no easy task, especially in this day and age. Who hasn’t seen the guilt driven commercials of starving children in Africa or abused dogs and cats in cages, with pleas to help?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to sell a piece of software or raising money for your non-profit; the goal is the same — to create authentic long-lasting relationships with donors, so that they will continue to open your emails, read your blogs, visit your website and donate to your cause.

The question is whether a banner ad, reading a blog or the simple request of asking people to give money is sufficient to build the foundation for that relationship. Is the act of pulling out a credit card sufficient to bring them back again or to share their experience on Facebook or Twitter?

CharityWater doesn’t think so. They have raised over $150 million dollars over the course of the last 5 years by focusing on creating memorable experiences for their fundraisers, which in turn develops long-lasting relationships with its donors. It understands that every time donors have a positive experience creating a fundraiser or competing in a marathon for their charity, they will share this experience (and content) with their friends and family, which in turn reignites the fundraising cycle.

CharityWater doesn’t believe in traditional marketing. In fact, they don’t spend any money on radio, TV, print or direct mail. They believe in the power of content, specifically, that when people are inspired by content (videos), they will share it. They believe shareable content is much more powerful than a piece of direct mail ever will be and has a higher return on investment.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.44.38 AMPaull Young, who ran its content marketing initiatives for years before leaving to manage strategic partnerships for Instagram, deserves the credit for much of the genius behind CharityWater’s fundraising success. He and CharityWater have in essence reinvented the way a non-profit engages the public; first inspiring people to join its cause through narrative videos, and then distributing these shareable videos through social media. Once people see these powerful stories, they embrace them and make them “their stories”, taking them to the world through their own fundraising efforts. Paull describes the strategy as a three-pronged approach: Inspire-Activate-Experience

Step One: Inspire

CharityWater inspires people through content (videos) which it uses to create an emotional connection to its brand. The videos are then promoted via their social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and Twitter which drive people back to CharityWater’s website.

Step Two: Activate

Once a prospective participant arrives at, an online platform embraces the user, which gives them the tools and resources to get involved in multiple ways.

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For example, Jaimee just ran in the Boston marathon and donated the money from her run to CharityWater, using the tools on their website. She has already raised over $3,000 dollars for the organization. She has a page on the website where you can see everyone who has donated, and has also posted her fundraising campaign on her own Facebook page. Jaimee is emotionally connected to raising money for the water crisis, and has become a brand ambassador for CharityWater. As each fundraiser shares their campaign with their respective personal networks, via word of mouth and online, the branding multiplies.

Step Three: Experience

Next CharityWater documents each fundraiser’s experience so that they can see exactly where their money was spent. They call it “social proof”. This ensures that each donor feels aligned with those they are helping. Every person who donates gets a report (with exact GPS coordinates) on the water wells they funded. They see pictures of the wells and of the people they helped.

“People are good, but people are busy. You’ve got to cut through. Inspired people when they’re given a platform will do amazing things”. — Paull Young, then CharityWater Director of Digital Strategy

Based on my evaluation of CharityWater’s fundraising strategy, here are the 8 key components that are critical to its success:

1. Create Compelling Story Driven Content

Use video, images and text to tell inspirational stories to bring your cause to life. CharityWater does a stellar job of producing beautiful films, weaving together gorgeous imagery and detail, and drawing the viewer in. It then combines this powerful story-telling with data to drive its point home. Avoid tearjerker videos designed to manipulate the watcher to simply open a wallet. Remember, the goal is to build relationships with your donors, not to get one-time donations. If you need help producing high quality videos, there are many companies who can help. Vizolution is a firm that can not only produce your content, but can assist outlining a digital strategy to ensure it’s success.

                                                                         CharityWater 2010 Campaign: Clean Water for the Bayaka

2. Acquire Fundraisers Not Donations

Focus on collecting fundraisers, not donations, which means your calls-to-action (CTAs) should be “Create a Fundraiser” or “Get Involved” vs. “Donate”. Aspire to create donors who are advocates and so connected to the impact of their fundraising campaigns, that they want to share them with their friends and family. They want to videotape their fundraisers and take pictures and share them on their social media platforms.

Every person is in essence running his or her own content marketing campaign. As an example, on average, every fundraising campaign that CharityWater brings in, nets 13 new donors.

3. Create an Experience for Your Donors

Focus on creating experiences for your donors throughout the course of your relationship so that they feel a personal connection to your brand. In addition to fundraising, they can send an eCard, donate their voice (where your cause sends out tweets in their feeds), create a Team that represents your non-profit and competes in running, biking or other competitions to raise money. Ideally, they can create web pages on your site so that others can see how much money they have raised, how many lives they have touched, how they’ve competed etc.

Make them a hero (see below). This gives people an intimate connection to their efforts. “Social proof” is particularly powerful when celebrities are setting the example. Create a birthday section of your website so that people can donate their birthdays (asking for donations instead of presents) and see who else has a birthday on the same day as you (especially celebrities). Inspire them and create a journey for your donors. The more positive the experience, the more involved they will be and emotionally connected they will feel to your brand and the cause.

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4. Close the Loop

Employ numbers throughout your website so that people feel like they are aligned with thousands of others in helping your cause.

“We’re solving the water crisis together with 59,643 fundraisers just like you. Join us and fundraise for clean water”

Show your donors where every dollar goes — close the loop and show your donor how their fundraising money was used. Send them a report, a video, or a slideshare — whatever is needed, so that they feel a part of the process and appreciated.

5. Make the Fundraiser the Hero

Make your fundraisers look great. Give them an amazing experience that they can brag about to their friends and family, who may soon become new fundraisers as well. The same principle applies to competition pages. If someone has created “Team Cindy” and is running in a marathon and raising money for your cause, we want the donors to see the pictures and donations as they come in.

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6. Let Your Creative Talent Utilize Their Expertise

The Internet is exploding with content. If you want to produce high quality videos, hire a creative team and give them the space and the time needed to do their jobs. You don’t need a large team — just a couple of people, with some decent equipment and you’ll be good to go. Your content should be your highest priority and your energy and passion should drive this goal.

7. Focus on Great (but simple) Design — Create an “epic brand”

People don’t often appreciate the value of beautiful simple design. If you are going to pursue a content strategy or unique brand, design is of the utmost importance. Establish clear brand guidelines for your company, a tone of voice and personality, so that you maintain consistency for all content produced. One of the best early hires you can make is a seasoned skilled graphic designer or design firm. Scott Harrison, founder of CharityWater, quotes Nick Christoph, “toothpaste is peddled with more sophistication than all of the world’s life saving causes”. Scott thought CharityWater could change that and focused much of his efforts on creating an “epic brand” with outstanding design elements.

8. Identify an Evangelist for Your Brand

People relate to people. Choose one person to become the “face of your brand”. Ideally, if you can find a celebrity willing to not only lend his or her name, but get involved, all the better. Matt Damon was one of the co-founders of CharityWater in 2009. Once you have identified your brand evangelist, you can then create content using this name and the brand, sharing it on social networks, via the press etc. No celebrity? No problem. Just choose someone who has a good personal story to share and can be intimately involved in the cause and the work. Now, produce videos, blogs and images with this person, to tell the story and share, book speaking events and promote.

How can you apply this to your organization?

As always, the first step is deciding you want to pursue a new fundraising strategy, or at least agree that you want to build upon your existing donor relationships using storytelling and experiential strategies. From there, working with a digital content firm like Vizolution can help outline a strategy to get you started. Begin with a couple of inspirational videos to nurture your existing donor relationships and interest a new audience in your cause. Many think resources are an issue, but more often than not, the resources exist, but just need re-allocation. Begin with one campaign and work from there.

The world is in desperate need of more organizations with the strategic vision of CharityWater and people like Paull Young and Scott Harrison. Let’s learn from them. They have paved the way.  If you have enjoyed this article, please share it with others, so that they can learn from it as well. Thanks!

A Content Marketing Scenario in 9 Slides

A Content Marketing Scenario in 9 Slides

Almost a year ago, I took a job in the non profit sector after more than 15 years creating content strategies for clients in the business, television and marketing industries. As the field of content marketing has matured, more and more people have begun to understand the value that content holds in building trust and loyalty within their customer base. Unfortunately, there are still those who struggle to understand this new arena.

As a content marketer, I seem to spend much of my time educating others on content marketing, what it is, and how it works to generate brand awareness, drive website traffic and  increase leads. A colleague of mine recently suggested I create a scenario visualizing exactly what a content marketing strategy looks like. Sometimes explaining it just doesn’t cut it. You know what they say, “a picture paints a thousand words”. I took her advise and created a couple of slides visualizing a very simple content marketing example. It’s a story of a woman named Sally who serves as SVP, Marketing at a large clothing brand who wants to redesign her companies website. Watch the slideshare to see what happens next.


Understanding content marketing and its intricacies is a beast! I don’t mean to undermine its challenges. It’s a bit like a giant puzzle and trying to wrap your arms around it can be daunting at times. It doesn’t help when technology changes on a daily basis. Whether you’re a for-profit or a non-profit, there’s a lot to learn and a lot to keep up with.

The Content Marketing Institute and Blackbaud collaborated this year to study the content marketing practices of non-profits. They released their second report entitled Nonprofit Content Marketing 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America. In it, they defined content marketing as:

“a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive action.”  


In the survey, when non-profit marketers were asked if they used content marketing, 61% responded yes and 39% said no. But when they asked these same respondents how effective their organization was at content marketing, only 35% said they were effective. They defined effectiveness as “accomplishing their overall objectives.”

This means that 65% of the rest of the marketers believed they were ineffective in their content marketing efforts. So, the question we need to ask ourselves is why? There are probably multiple reasons and they don’t relate just to non-profit marketers, but to any content marketer not finding success. They have to do with a lack of a strategy, no clear understanding of their target audience, no buy in from the C-suite…the list goes on.

One of the problems that marketers were having became apparent when respondents were asked whether they had a documented content marketing strategy.  In last years survey, 54%  answered no, but this year, they asked the question a bit differently, wondering if maybe they had a strategy, but hadn’t written it down. Turns out that 43% said they had a strategy but it was onlyverbal. Only 23% had a fully documented strategy. Not surprisingly, those who had written down their strategy were more successful marketers.

So, it seems that having a strategy and actually writing it down is an important part of the equation. And conversely, not writing it down can help lead to your demise.

Not surprisingly many non-profit marketers have a hard time tracking the ROI of their content marketing efforts. This seems to be the case across the board for all marketers. After all, it’s difficult to decide which metrics to prioritize and then how to actually measure the metrics you do care about it. According to the Nonprofit Content Marketing 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, only 15% of non-profit marketers say they are successful in measuring their content marketing ROI, but again having a documented content marketing strategy boosted this number to 34%.

What are Non-Profit Marketers Working On?

For the first time, marketers in the survey were presented with a lit of 28 initiatives and were asked to select whether they were “working on the initiative”, “plan to begin working on it in 12 months” or it “wasn’t a priority”. The highest percentage of non-profits are working on:

  • Becoming better storytellers (66%)
  • Creating Visual Content (63%)
  • Creating More Engaging/Higher Quality Content (62%)
  • Better Understanding Their Audience (59%)
  • Organizing Content on Their Websites (59%)

As bandwidth increases,  and the growth of mobile and video continue to explode, these trends of focusing on storytelling and creating high quality visual content follow market industry.

Content Marketing is not new and is not going away. In fact, it’s growing in leaps and bounds. Consumers demand the best content and 76% of marketers increased their content marketing budgets in 2015. As for the non-profit sector, they are getting savvier, continue to embrace content marketing, but still have a ways to go.



What I Learned from 40 Saudi Arabian Students Visiting America

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Lama Almadhyani is 23 years old and entering her fourth and final year in medical school in Saudi Arabia. As a medical student, she knows first hand the problems many cancer patients face who don’t have transportation and can’t reach their doctor’s appointments. She is young, smart, ambitious and is a rising leader in her country.

She, along with 39 other students from Saudi Arabia have come to the United States for three weeks as part of a leadership training program called the Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program (SYLEP). Initiated and supported by the Embassy of the United States in Saudi Arabia, this program is just one of many organized and run by Legacy International, an extraordinary initiative, which works to promote peace by training and mentoring community leaders to help them develop the skills to participate in local community based problem solving.

I met Lama and the other students last week when I was asked to come and speak to the group about social media, specifically addressing, “How to Use Social Media to Effect Social Change”. I have to say, I’ve never met such a warm, smart, curious group of young adults.

As a part of the program, each student must choose one  project idea in an area of personal importance and concern that inspires them (either in public health, education, the environment or literacy), and then plan a course of action to fulfill and develop this project once they return to Saudi Arabia. For Lama, she wants to develop an organization to help provide transportation for cancer patients. She is calling it “Vehicle for Cure”.

During their time in the United States, Lama and her fellow students will learn leadership skills, as well as practical tools needed to flesh out and develop the concepts for their projects. Once they finish their time in the United States, the goal is to take the projects back home to Saudi Arabia to “bring them to life”.

When I met the students last week, they had just returned from 9 days in three different cities. Some of the group went to Pittsburgh, PA, others to Richmond, VA and the final group to Blacksburg, VA. There, they lived on or near college campuses visiting various organizations like homeless shelters,  centers serving people with disabilities, poverty reduction programs, soup kitchens and other charities. They also had panel discussions with young professionals, innovators in government, education, NGOs, and religious sectors to help them begin to think about their own goals, about what inspires them and how they view leadership.

They also saw first hand the challenges many of our non-profits and NGO’s face and how these challenges are addressed through public, private and joint initiatives. The Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program (SYLEP) focuses on showing the students initiatives run and organized by young people, that serve youth, and with young people as volunteers. The students meet with American volunteers, leaders, organizers and through this experience, not only learn critical thinking, but what it takes to be a strong leader and manager.

Before I went to speak at this conference, I have to admit, I really knew very little about Saudi Arabia and its culture and people. I still can’t claim to know much, but I’m learning. As an example, I didn’t realize that there was such a high unemployment rate among Saudi citizens. Foreigners, it seems, claim many Saudi jobs and this hits many of the young Saudis coming out of University particularly hard.

The Gulf region is trying to help and will create about 600,000 jobs for nationals by 2019, but those jobs will provide work for only about a third of the youthful population due to enter the labor force, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Not surprisingly, today Saudi youths are more connected to each other and global issues than ever before. The number of Saudi University students who volunteer is growing, as is their interest in civic engagement. I’m sure you can guess why. Not only are young people increasingly motivated to help their communities, whether it be poverty or conflict or inequity, but since the majority of the private sector jobs in Saudi Arabia go to foreigners, many students see volunteerism as an opportunity to develop leadership skills and gain good work experience.

As a result, the emphasis on the work that the SYLEP is doing is even greater. As for my involvement, in today’s world, whether you are launching a for-profit or non-profit, it’s difficult to be successful without a strong social media strategy. This is where two other marketing professionals and I came into the picture. We had the opportunity to speak with the students about social media and its ability to effect social change. Ons Alkhadra, Senior Offier of MENA and GCC Affairs at the International Medical Corps, Samita Thapa, Global Communications and Engagement Officer at TechChange, and I each addressed the group on different topics as they relate to social media.

I gave a presentation which showed the students how to create a social media strategy, step-by-step, starting with “Defining Your Social Media Objectives and Goals” and moving from there. I used the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as an example to showcase the power that social media can have to not only raise brand awareness, but to increase donations (The ice bucket challenge helped raise over$220 million dollars globally for ALS). I discussed my work as Director of Communications at ecoAmerica where we use marketing research to build public support for climate solutions among mainstream Americans and spoke about the social media platforms we use to drive website traffic, thought leadership and leads.

The students were fully engaged and asked a multitude of questions after the presentation. I spoke individually with many students who wanted to delve further into the specifics of the social media strategy I had outlined. We spoke about their project ideas, how to develop influencer strategies; identify keywords; I showed them Buffer on my computer…it was extraordinary!

Last year in June, 34 Saudi students came to the United States as a part of the SYLEP program. Once they returned home, the students began to implement their “follow on projects” which they had developed here in the United States. Legacy International’s trainers and staff provided coaching and support along the way, as well as a small mini-grant to cover program expenses.

As examples, two of these students, Esraa and Mashail, worked together to help elderly community members travel to Mecca on a pilgrimage which would otherwise not have been possible. Another student, Mohammad, an accomplished filmmaker, developed a project to combat corruption by creating a video and posting it on social media. Mohammad shared the video with Saudi Arabia’s National Anti-Corruption Commission, which published it on their YouTube channel. The list of the work that the students from 2014, accomplished goes on.

Lama and her fellow students have already left the United States. Their time here is over and now they must return to Saudi Arabia and see if they can fulfill their goals and make their projects a reality.

One of the students in the program couldn’t have said it better “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. Another lesson learned from my new friends in Saudi Arabia.