What the food bank taught me about marketing

201512-pexels-food-healthy-vegetables-potatoesI wrote on Monday about my recent volunteer work with the Houston Food Bank. I volunteered with my family over the holidays, and the experience taught me a lot.

My previous post was the lesson I learned about theory versus practice. Another important lesson I learned was about marketing.

In the warehouse where we sorted incoming food donations, I saw some of the donation boxes you might find in grocery stores. The copy on the top of the boxes interested me: “Help us fill a pantry.”

I assume the Houston Food Bank has access to some pretty good marketers. Top notch marketers likely volunteer their expertise, much like I was volunteering my time, or other folks donate food or money. We’re all contributing, just in different ways.

The “Help us fill a pantry” line had to be deliberate. The decision-makers had several options to choose from. And “Help us fill a pantry” won.

What else could they have done? I expected a photograph of a hungry family with some call to donate. Or maybe copy like “Help a hungry family” or “Keep a child from going to bed hungry” or some such language.

I have to think it’s deliberate to focus on a pantry instead of people. But why? I have a few guesses:

  • Maybe focusing on hungry people┬ámakes the problem seem too overwhelming, or too systemic, or too scary.
  • Maybe focusing on hungry people makes prospective donors sad, and happy donors actually give more food than sad donors.
  • Maybe focusing on hungry people is too likely to prompt negative stereotypes about the poor in the minds of prospective donors.
  • Maybe focusing on hungry people creates an “us” versus “them” dichotomy for prospective donors, driving a wedge between people with food to give and people with too little food to eat.
  • Maybe focusing on a pantry scales the problem down, giving donors a manageable goal and hope for progress.

I don’t know how the decision-makers decided which copy to use. But again, it had to be deliberate. And I found it interesting that an organization dedicated to fighting hunger wouldn’t feature hungry people in its call to action.

What’s my lesson? That marketing is an art with deep psychological considerations. This conclusion feels obvious when I write it down. The process I went through, from reading the “Help us fill a pantry” line to thinking about why that copy was chosen, was much less obvious.

I’ve written before about the importance of knowing how marketing ties into your technical work. Don’t stop there. Zoom out a bit and consider marketing from the ground-up.

Any text that is written with the intent to call you to action qualifies as marketing. For an organization as large as the Houston Food Bank, that copy isn’t thrown together at the last minute. Careful consideration is involved.

Take a few moments each week to study some piece of marketing that found its way into your life. It’s all around you. Why did the marketer(s) build it that way? Did it work on you? How could it have worked better?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *