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How to ‘Ship’ Your Cause Marketing More Effectively is, in large measure, an idea blog. It’s meant to help you, my faithful readers, come up with ideas for better cause marketing. But ideas are easy. You gotta ‘ship’ ‘em as Seth Godin says, quoting Steve Jobs.

Godin talks about ‘shipping’ in his recent book Linchpin. It means that you must finish what you start. Get it out the door. Deliver your product or service. In Godin’s and Jobs’ formulation, to ship means to implement.

In Godin’s case, he ships when his books hit the stores. I ship every weekday when a new post goes up on Failure to ship is the usual reason why Donald Trump fires someone on The Celebrity Apprentice.

How can you ‘ship’ your cause marketing more effectively?

There’s a lot of models out there, Godin’s included. The book Making Ideas Happen, from Scott Belsky, which I can recommend, has some fine ideas and tools on shipping.

For my part, I’m partial to the model from IDEO, the hotshot Palo Alto, California design firm. Belsky quotes Sam Truslow, a senior member at IDEO, as saying; “What makes us tick is not just having good ideas, despite what clients think.” Instead, says Truslow, “when people want new ideas what they are really saying is that they can’t execute.”


IDEO recently announced that it’s increasing its offerings and outreach to causes and charities.

Here’s the five-step IDEO Way, as summarized in BusinessWeek:
  1. Observation
  2. Brainstorming
  3. Rapid Prototyping
  4. Refining
  5. Implementation

IDEO’s take on Observation is notably rigorous, but you can probably figure it out based on the examples from the BusinessWeek article. You already know the basics of brainstorming, although the book Disciplined Dreaming by Josh Linder, has some versions of brainstorming you probably haven’t tried yet. So let’s pick up the IDEO Way starting with Rapid Prototyping.

Rapid Prototyping means you start making mockups of whatever survives the brainstorming sessions. IDEO has a fancy shop that can work up darn near anything from the physical world. But IDEO teams might prototype with a video, or something cut from cardboard or foam and marked up with a Sharpie.

What’s the point of a prototype so elementary?

If you’re like me you’ve probably tried to explain an idea to someone who just can’t seem to grasp it. Sometimes it’s because my explanation is inadequate. But oftentimes it seems to be because the person I’m explaining it to just can’t wrap his or her mind around it. That is, they can’t translate the abstraction of words... no matter how skillfully they are presented... into the abstraction of an idea.

But the fact is, even imaginative people can’t always understand ideas until they can see and touch them. For a new cause marketing campaign, even a quickie paper prototype is better than a bulleted list in Powerpoint. Once an idea is rendered in three dimensions or on video, it helps everyone understand what the cause marketing campaign can really do and be.

In Making Ideas Happen, Belsky tells the wonderful story of movie development at the old Disney Studios, which involved three different rooms. In the first, everything was possible and no idea was a bad one. In room two the ideas from room one aggregated and organized, then storyboarded. In room three, aka ‘The Sweat Box’ the creative team would review the storyboards and ideas without critical restraint. This is the essence of IDEO’s refining process.

You could employ a similar approach in developing new cause marketing. It might even make sense to physical move the team from one room to another and then to a third. Or, if using the same room, change its complexion in some way, perhaps changing the orientation of the furniture. Do it all at the same time and place and you risk inhibiting ideas. Or worse, killing off promising, if nascent ideas, too soon.

The BusinessWeek piece makes the implementation phase seem like it’s just a matter of hiring smart people with a broad range of backgrounds. That’s a little facile. Instead, says Belsky quoting Diego Rodriguez, a senior partner at IDEO, the company looks for and hires ‘T’ people, who have both a breadth of experience, along with deep expertise in one area.

Causes commonly hire young people who might have deep expertise, but are lacking in broad experience. Or vice versa. Consider the ‘T’ when staffing your cause marketing team.

How do you make sure your cause marketing ‘ships?’ What tips do you have for properly executing your cause marketing efforts? Please comment below.


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