The State of the Impact Marketing Ecosystem

Shiny object syndrome: a condition that is almost impossible to escape when you are a digital agency looking to provide value for a client or efficiency in a business model. A new product comes out that promises to be the perfect solution (sometimes to a problem you didn’t even know you had), or a new feature has been developed on a tool you are already using that seems to be the shortcut that will save you 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there. To be fair, some products and services live up to the hype or, even better, some you discover without any fanfare.

Throughout the years, Media Cause has used/trialed/tested/optimized and sunset many tools, services, models, and systems. When it comes to innovation, we are always willing to give something a try. We’ve learned an important concept through all of this, that in hindsight, seems very apparent: to thrive in social impact marketing means building an ecosystem and not relying on one tool, service or approach. We like to say we work with a lot of “Frankenstein’s monsters” when it comes to technologies our clients are working with, but I’d extend that analogy beyond just the tech suite and say that we’ve seen a lot of organizational structures, business plans, staffing, priorities, etc., to make me feel 100% confident that there is more than one way to be successful in this space. It is also clear that we are at an inflection point in the digital marketing space. The organizations that start building and integrating their ecosystems are going to make bigger strides in capturing more attention, more donor dollars, and ultimately creating more sustainable impact.

What is the Impact Marketing Ecosystem?

All of the resources that you need to do your job. Have you ever taken the time to think about that? To evaluate it? To think about how these tools work together, make you more effective, and ultimately create more impact for your organization? Below are some helpful categories to get you thinking.

  1. Technology Suite: think CRMs, ESPs, CMSs, and all those other acronyms that probably take up the bulk of your day. I’d also throw in Google Analytics, your social channels, fundraising platforms, and anything else that is in the orbit of digital marketing technology. Side note: once all is said and done with creating your list, ask yourself this question: “Does my technology dictate my strategy?” If yes, then it might be time to introduce some new tech into your ecosystem.
  2. Doers: the folks who are executing on your strategy. These could be internal staff, agencies, consultants, etc. Do you have the right skill sets to execute on the strategy you need to create impact?
  3. Data: Sure this might be coming from the technology suite and doers listed above, but what does it tell you? Is it even the correct data to be looking at to determine if you strategy is correct? Do you enlist outside vendors to help sift through data or provide additional context or modeling?
  4. Stakeholders: Outside of your doers, who else internally has (or should have) a voice? Maybe I’m a bit biased, but communications and marketing should have a large stake for any modern organization. That should also translate into finance, operations, the C-Suite, and board members having a stake on strategy and outcomes.

Who/What else makes up your impact marketing ecosystem?

Once you’ve got your list together, it is time to start asking the big-picture questions. Do these actors work well together? Could they work better? Are there people, platforms, or data missing to make better decisions? And ultimately, do you have the ecosystem you need to be successful in creating more impact – be it more fundraising, more advocacy victories, more efficient programmatic fulfillment, etc.?

At Media Cause, we have our own ecosystem that we rely on to be the best agency we can be. I’m sure that there is overlap with yours. We work with some great technology vendors, some effective advertising platforms, and some gifted thought partners. But this is always evolving and we face the same challenge of making sure all the parts in our ecosystem are working toward the same goal of creating more impact for our clients. We’re able to get out there and test all the shiny objects to see which ones actually work best and pass this knowledge along to our clients. For all of us, this is going to be an ever-changing landscape. It is important for us to recognize that no one piece of the ecosystem can be leaned on for driving impact – it’s all the pieces working together and constantly tweaking that will lead to the most sustainable success.

Unfortunately, this ecosystem approach to social impact marketing is not going to be deployed by everyone. As marketing has shifted to more integrated approaches, driven by digital-centric strategies, some organizations are going to make that transition too late. They will be relying on one vendor, one technology, or one data source to make critical decisions. This will be a new measure of success for organizations in our space – how well did they build and integrate their ecosystem?

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