A CMO’s View: Stop Hunger Now CMO says social media levels the playing field for nonprofits
Tom Barbitta shares what he hopes to bring from his 10+ years leading marketing at a for-profit brand, and what he knows will be different.
After serving as Carolina Beverage Company’s senior vice president of marketing for more than a decade, Tom Barbitta was named CMO for Stop Hunger Now in May of this year.
Barbitta says the nonprofit, which is aimed at ending world hunger by 2030, is using its digital and social channels to build brand awareness for the passion-based, purposeful organization. Stop Hunger Now has 20 teams located across the US, along with six international locations, all tasked with packing and distributing meals to developing countries.
“We have boots, hands and arms on the ground, so to speak, that are packing these meals that then go to these countries,” says Barbitta, “It’s a very tangible, and therefore, a very emotional connection that people have to our brand.”
Barbitta says digital and social media are the great balancer for small organizations like his to compete against much larger organizations.
“We could never in our wildest dreams, nor necessarily would we want to, run an ad on the Super Bowl,” says Barbitta, “We just can’t afford it. Digital and social media balance the playing field. They’re efficient. They’re effective.”
Today, Barbitta shares the differences between leading digital marketing efforts for a nonprofit versus a for-profit brand, and how he hopes to grow greater awareness for Stop Hunger Now’s goal of ending world hunger.
1. Try not to do too much. Nonprofits do not have a lot of resources, rule number one is to focus on the platforms that have the most engaged audiences, and be as effective as you can be on them.
2. Work hard to keep it authentic, to keep it honest, and to work toward rich dialogue.
3. Work internally with your organization to demonstrate the value of digital and social media.
Amy Gesenhues: Tell me more about your team. How is it structured, and who is focused on your digital marketing efforts?
Tom Barbitta: We have seven people on the marketing team. Then we have an agency team, which is roughly six to eight people, that we also work with. Then, as needed, we may tap into various consultants and external folks to help us.
With respect to digital, we have someone who is totally focused on digital and social media, and website management. We have Karen Cook, who is the Director of Communications, and then Maggie, who recently joined us from a great organization in New York, the ASPCA. Maggie is here as a copywriter.
AG: Which social channels was your organization already leveraging before you came on board, and what are your goals on social going forward?
TB: I think the work that had been done previous to me arriving was quite good in the space of social, digital media outreach, and PR.
In terms of the platforms that we use today, we’re on all of the traditional ones that you would expect — Twitter and Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, as well as our own website. We do not have an app yet, but that’s something that we’re starting to think about.
In terms of what else we should be on, that’s a bit of a to-be-determined right now because we’re still taking inventory and trying to understand the metrics through engagement, readership, shares, retweets — understanding how effective what we’re currently doing is, and what kind of editorial is really moving the needle.
I, personally, am still very much in a taking an inventory mode.
AG: What have you identified as the major differences between leading social efforts for a nonprofit versus a for-profit brand?
TB: I think strategically, the principles, the strategies, are essentially the same. It’s about awareness, it’s about engagement, it’s about emotional equity that we can build through the content that we create.
I think what’s slightly different is that, in the case of the for-profit brands that I’ve managed, the relationship tends to be more transactional, maybe more rational. By talking about the features or the benefits of a product, you try to gain awareness and engagement and get people to buy more stuff.
In this case, our motive being to end hunger and to get people to become aware of it, there is a transactional component of “we love donations” — right? We live for donations, but it’s not the same type of communication. It’s not the same type of relationship.
I think the tactical aspects of how we go about this going forward will be different than what they would be at a for-profit.
AG: Can you give me an example?
TB: I managed a soft drink brand here in the southern United States, just a truly iconic brand, a passion-brand called Cheerwine. They’ve been around for 99 years, fantastic brand, just a fantastic brand.
It would be the David versus Goliath in the category of soft drinks up against players like Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. That being a passion brand, there are some transferable aspects of that passion brand to this passion brand.
For us at Cheerwine, it was all about emotional relevance and authenticity. When you think about it, in the soft drink world, there’s a lot of good marketing going on with the brands that we competed against.
What did that leave Cheerwine? It left the intrinsics. It left the fact that it’s authentic, that it’s still family-owned, that it’s an independent company, that it doesn’t answer earnings per share. It’s not about Wall Street. It’s not even about making a lot of money. It’s all about getting people to fall in love with the idea that is embodied by the soft drink.
I think that’s the same here. I think our mission is through digital social media is to allow people to fall in love with our passion brand because of what it stands for — its mission, its humility, its authenticity, its relevance.
I think those will be some of the key pillars for how we want to communicate our brand going forward.
AG: Earlier, you mentioned building “emotional equity” through content. Can you tell me how you plan to use social to build emotional equity with your audience?
TB: I think in the social media realm, I’ve heard this expression a few years ago, that content is queen and what is king is creating the dialogue, responding to people, putting a voice and a face on the brand where we can actually have those conversations that create loyalty beyond reason, right? We use loyalty beyond reason here. That’s the definition of a love mark, right?
There’s trademarks, brand marks, and, if you read the book [“Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands” by Kevin Roberts], there are very few brands that become “lovemarks” with loyalty beyond reason.
Why do we drive out of our way and pay $5.00 for a cup of coffee in Starbucks? We can’t help ourselves. We do it every day. That’s a lovemark. That’s a brand that has been able to transcend itself beyond just the functional product in the cup.
I think for us, it’s all about the dialogue. I know that sounds cliché because every marketer in the world is talking about that, but I think in our case — because of what we stand for, because of the mission — I think we have a great opportunity to be that nonprofit that does apply the classic principles of brand management and marketing.
I think we have the ability to apply them here, and by doing so, become that great nonprofit brand that millennials claim as their nonprofit.
They commit to us, and they commit to us for their lifetime, as a nonprofit that stands for the right things, communicates them to them in a relevant way and an evocative way — a brand that gets it. We’re in a very, very crowded category. There’s a lot of charities out there looking for everyone’s dollar. It’s all good — it’s all for the right reasons.
AG: How do you differentiate your nonprofit from others?
TB: We have to differentiate ourselves just like any other brand on a supermarket shelf. This is about positioning, it’s about differentiation and it’s about claiming a space that hasn’t yet been claimed. That’s our goal here from a marketing standpoint.
I think the marketing that had been done here before, on the social and digital side, is very, very good, but, I think the marketing function was more of a tactical service-oriented type of function.
What I’m hoping it will become is much more of a thought leadership, strategic, truly a hub-and-spoke model for the rest of the organization.
AG: What anayltics or metrics will you focus on to measure the success of your social and digital efforts?
TB: Some of the metrics, the obvious ones, engagement levels and readership and shares, things that I mentioned earlier would be important to us.
I think the other measures may also be — I’ll put these in more of the softer category — I suspect there are food companies here in America, some very, very big, some not so big at all, that by us partnering with them, it actually helps their for-profit brand be more accepted, more demanded, more coveted.
I do think partnerships will be a soft measure, because if the phone starts to ring and companies start asking us to become part of their branding, that would be a big moment for us.
We will more than likely field omnibus research at least twice a year to gauge consumer reactions to what we’re doing. We probably will create a diary panel of loyal consumers, and use this diary panel to understand and gauge their reactions to what we’re doing.
I think all of those things are in front of us.
AG: Can you talk more about diary panels. Are you thinking focus groups?
TB: I’m thinking a little more loosely defined than that. Probably an online group of consumers who give us permission to engage them. We’ll call them super fans.
I could easily see this brand developing a strong affinity program around super fans. They’ll learn about things we’re doing before the public hears about them. We’ll ask their opinion about marketing activities before we act on those marketing activities. In return, we will ask them, on occasion, questions: What do you think of this? How are we doing? What could we be doing better?
I think when I say diary panel, I think we’re going to probably cloak that in more of a loyalty program or affinity program with some of these folks that are very committed to the brand.
AG: Do you have plans to start any influencer marketing initiatives?
TB: I think there will be affinity partners as defined along corporate lines. I think there will be affinity groups that will be pure consumers, people who just are engaged and emotionally invested.
I think there may also be influencers on the part of, say, bloggers. I don’t want to use the word celebrity because that takes it to a transactional place, but if there are authentic people who have wide, wide sets of followers, we would love for them to be part of our matrix.
The example at Cheerwine was a band who you may or may not be familiar with called the Avett Brothers. They’re a fantastic band — they’ve been produced by Rick Ruben, and they’ve played at all the big venues. They’re the real deal. They’re from Charlotte, North Carolina, actually they’re from Cabarrus County. They’re country boys that got together. They’re a metaphor for Cheerwine. They don’t sound like any other band. We don’t taste like any other soft drink. They don’t play on commercial radio. We didn’t, when I was there, advertise on commercial radio.
I think if we were to identify groups like that — that are authentic and committed to our mission, that had great awareness — we would love to tap into those people.
AG: I’d like to step back from brand strategies and ask, for you, are there any differences between being a CMO for a non-profit versus managing marketing efforts at a for-profit brand?
TB: Only, I’d say, on the good side of the equation, meaning this: I cannot look you in the eye and tell you that every person that I ever worked with in my for-profit world was there to grow share, grow profit, grow volume of that particular brand. I cannot say that everyone was there and locked arms on the mission, right?
I could tell you here, on the nonprofit side — and it’s obvious almost from the first hour of the first day — people who are here want to be here, and they believe in what we’re doing.
It’s at such a deep level than what you might otherwise run into at a for-profit in terms of inertia or getting people to buy in. It’s a different calculus. It’s a different dynamic. It’s, quite honestly, pretty damn refreshing, the fact that people are here because they want to be here, and they want to make a difference in the world.
I’ve told people this and I’ll tell you, Amy, in my entire career, my entire career has been defined by trying to sell something to somebody, whether it was at Unilever or Miller Brewing or Nabisco or Cheerwine. It was all about if I do this job well, someone’s going to buy this brand.
Well here, if we do the job well, someone gets to live. It’s a profoundly different set of dynamics than anything.