Refining Your Brand Voice with Carli Feinstein of Craft & Commerce

As a complement to the patient-provider relationship, health nonprofits have the opportunity to adopt a unique tone of voice. Carli Feinstein of Craft & Commerce comes on the show to talk about her experience refining brand voice at Bright Pink and how she uses it in her work at Craft & Commerce.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing, a podcast for nonprofit marketing and communications leaders who are using the Internet to reach and engage people with health issues. I’m your host, Spencer Brooks of Brooks Digital, and today I’m joined by Carli Feinstein. Carli is the vice president of partnerships and strategy at Craft and Commerce, which is an agency specializing in paid media strategies for nonprofits. Prior to joining craft and commerce, Carli was also the VP of brand and experience at Bright Pink, a women’s health organization. So, Carli, first of all, thanks so much for being on the show. I’ve been really excited to have you on. Could you just start by telling listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Of course. And thanks so much for having me. Spencer, I’m glad to be here. So yeah, as today as vice president of partnerships and strategy, I’m focused on helping a variety of organizations unlock the power of paid media to enhance their mission and achieve their marketing objectives. But my journey really did start more traditionally an experiential marketing. I spent the first few years of my career working in the for profit sector on personal care brands, running experiential sampling and sponsorship campaigns and after a couple of years doing that, and I found myself craving a little bit more purpose, and I was very honored to take on a gig with an emerging non profit in the national sphere.

But based here in Chicago, which is where I live, um called bright pink and bright pink at the time was very, very young. I had interned with the organization when it was first conceived and had a wonderful experience. And as the organization grew and developed initial staff, I stayed on as a volunteer, and in 2012, I was able to join the team as the first marketing and communications higher. And I started there developing the marketing communications department, um, forging relationships with corporate partners. So corporate partnership was part of my scope.

I was there for about eight years, held a variety of roles while I was there, but mainly focused in developing and enhancing the bright pink brand and ensuring that as many women as possible across the United States could access our resources to be better informed about how they can manage their breast and ovarian health.

Yeah, and it’s funny because I was checking out all the variety of different roles that you’ve held at Bright Pink. And it’s quite a journey, right? I’m seeing, like, you know, you started with marketing and communications manager, and I’m seeing chief of staff and, you know, some development in there and brand and experience. So I’m just really curious. Could you walk me through what that journey looked like for you as you’re maybe going between these different roles and what you learned along the way, both as the organization grew as well as, um, as you took on different responsibilities in different areas of the organization.

Yeah, of course. My trajectory and and my experience there was, would be considered, I think, nontraditional. The path that I followed. And I think that’s the result of a few things. One, when I joined, I think I was the fourth staff member.

When I left, there was a team of 16 so still very small but quadrupled in size. So that’s significant growth. But to what remained? There were two constants while I was there, one being changed. As the adage goes like I hate to be cheesy, but one being changed, and we can talk a little bit about that and what it means to be adaptable and flexible. The other thing that was constant was just my connection and passion for the mission, and that kind of I let that guide my journey there.

So, yes, I I jumped around a bit. As the organization grew and new needs emerged, we retooled and we reorganized and we re staffed. And I found myself temporarily sitting in to oversee the development department at some point, serving as chief of staff as we started to straddle this strange element of growth, where for the first time, the founder couldn’t be in everything. So how do we start to represent that strategic point of view and carry forth her vision? And so I was charged with that.

And then, you know, most recently, my my final role there, and brand and experience was really the culmination of all those things where I was overseeing a team of members that were managing everything from peer to peer fundraising to corporate partnerships to our daily social media. So that really became the all encompassing perspective of view of how the bright pink brand was both disseminated and consumed. Wow, so there’s a couple of things that I’d love to follow up on. There may be the first. What kind of struck me is that inflection point you mentioned where the founder now can no longer be involved in everything, right?

So what was that transition point like? What? What did you learn along the way? As you sort of had to take over that, maybe representing that strategic perspective for the first time? That’s a great question. And there are a few things that we did to kind of try to manage through that transition. The first was, restructure and and develop this kind of interim chief of staff sort of role, which for us was last administrative last. HR wasn’t management related, but was really trying to extend those tentacles.

Are those touch points on behalf of of the founder in her vision. But to was actually like putting pen to paper and writing down things that we might not have crystallized and formalized, developing a strategic scorecard for the organization aligning around kpi s developing our brand house and writing out our vision, our mission, our inspiration, and ensuring that that was something that had some longevity to it, right, that could withstand future adaptation. And so for us, it meant a little bit of getting our house in order and getting some things down on paper and formalizing some of the ways of working that had been very much off the cuff and kind of informal to that point prior.

So it did alongside that transition, maybe not exactly the same point, but around then we also went through a little bit of a brand refresh. So I think there’s there’s a natural evolution that happens as you grow. And one of those things is figuring out How are you going to represent this unique and focused and differentiated point of view as an organization as you grow from a team of two or three to one of 10 to 15, and as you go from working with, you know, hundreds of constituents to millions of constituents.

So, yeah, there was a lot of things that needed to change and evolve, and I do think it started at defining the brand in a way, that was a little bit more in eight at the beginning. Did you find that that that sharpened over time? Right? So, like maybe the founder had and I I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it seems to me like from my experience, like working with organizations that grow and start with, like it’s a founder led organization that over time, like the brand and what it’s doing and how it’s like uniquely positioned, starts to sharpen and crystallize over time.

Did you find that that was the case? Yes, I think that that was very much the case. And I think it’s actually even more so. The case for health organizations because of the pace at which health and health care and health care technology is evolving. So, for example, in bright pinks case, when the organization was first founded, genetic testing was not a term that most people were familiar with. Having preventative medicine was not something that people were familiar with. And so how we express ourselves and the work that we were doing, it had to evolve over time to meet the healthcare marketplace and to meet consumer understanding, right?

So if we look back even just 10, 15 years ago, the amount of people who had, you know, this is before Angelina Jolie. This is before people had talked about the B r C, a mutation, which was the mutation that our founder had before people knew about genetic testing before 23 me was on the shelves at Walgreens, etcetera. So I think, as especially in the health care space where we’re seeing such rapid innovation, we had to meet that in terms of understanding our prospective constituents frame of reference and their own understanding.

So, yes, our communications evolved, our brand evolved. And I think for most organizations you have to keep an eye on those trends and how that informs how you show up in the world. So as you’re evolving, what things do you think stayed the same? Like we’re constant in that And what things were shaped by the environment, like the rise of genetic testing, for example, that’s a really good question. So the things that for us that we’re constant, that was constant still remains constant. Is this focus on prevention and that to us was for bright pink, especially a breast cancer organization that that’s not a new thing in 2000 and seven, right?

The pink space is very, very crowded. And so when bright Pink came on the scene, it was very important that we were steadfast in our focus and our differentiation, that we’re focused on prevention and that I think it was like core to our success. That doesn’t mean that we don’t work alongside and partner with other organizations. But it allowed us to be differentiated to partners, to funders and to constituents, for them to know for young women who were unaffected. To know this organization is for me, this organization is different than the organization that worked with my mom or my aunt when she was going through treatment.

This organization is for me as a young, healthy individual who wants to be proactive with my health. So I do think that our focus and our differentiation stayed constant. I would say our tone, Um, and this is something that we can talk about a lax. I think tone is something super unique for nonprofit health organizations, um, in wanting to balance both being an authority and be incredible, but also being relatable and having empathy as as non profit health nonprofit specifically come in to kind of compliment patient and a provider relationship.

We have the added benefit of not having to show up and sounds like your doctor, but we need to be as trusted as your doctor, right? So finding that balance and tone, I think that’s something that Bright Pink has done exceptionally well over the years is being maybe that friend or big sister voice rather than an authoritative voice. But that’s, I think you know, an ongoing struggle for health organizations. I do love that idea of tone. Actually, it’s certainly something that, like, for example, I sit in some research sessions, sometimes with people.

They have different medical conditions, and they’re searching for health information online. So much of the time, I hear just talk to me like I’m a human being and you know that there’s obviously a lot of clinical information that you can find online, but it does seem like it could be happenstance. I don’t know that the organizations that I’ve ended up working with personally they have kind of this patient friendly voice right where it’s like obviously as you said Carli, they have a doctor to be the you know this clinical voice, right?

Um, so I guess with that tone, did you find that that you had it, like, spot on the first time around, Or like, how much of that evolved over time and was a part of, like, maybe learning from from your constituents and like, how did you How did you go about the process of refining that? Yeah. And I think we weren’t so naive to think we’d have it totally squared in right off the bat. There’s a few things. While I think that balance we used as our guide like we want to be, of course you want to come off as credible, but we also need to be approachable and like that’s the only way people are going to engage with something that is a preventive health action, right?

This is not something you need to go and have fixed, right? This is something that you’re doing to preserve health in the long term. That’s that’s something you’re opting into. So we always had kind of that guiding light, but we definitely and I think all health organizations need me to, and all organizations for that matter, did a ton of testing. And so I think that’s where. Really, my my passion for for digital work really came to light, like, I think, the ability to put a message out there and get almost immediate feedback on what’s resonating and what’s driving people to engage with your programming, the ability to, you know, run a B tests an email content the ability to like, very informally pull people using social media to figure out how they would refer to something or to put together informal focus groups and through a Facebook group that allowed us to more quickly hone in on that tone.

Yeah, I mean, I know that obviously, now you’ve moved on from bright pink. But some of those those tactics that you talked about for, you know, for just using social media polls, for example, or, you know, like looking at paid media and using that to understand what people are interested in, how have you been able to apply that to working with other organizations now? Yeah, so you know the way that we, um, craft and commerce the way that we run any of our digital ad campaigns is we We start with a test and learn phase, and we are testing multiple variants of creative against multiple variants of copy.

Now those are informed in the first place by in partnership with our partner organizations. And many times they’re coming from a place where, you know, this is not the first time an organization has spoken on this topic. They kind of have a sense of the messaging. But one big lesson that we learned and this carries over from the bright pink days is not not to be too precious about creative, and that’s something that we spend a lot of time talking about at CNC. Um, what I mean by that is a bright pink.

For example. We had found a specific image from one of our advertisements performed best. And this image year over year after like three years was still converting the most people over to our risk assessment. Now this image was not necessarily like super representative of the brand look and feel we have on our website. It was much more simplified. It wasn’t a work of art. It probably could have been put together very scrap Aly by anyone on staff yet it was moving the masses. So we have to kind of check all of our assumptions when it comes to creative and copy and let the robust data available to us on these social platforms help figure that out.

I also think that the nature of our brand personas on social is a bit more informal that you can solicit that feedback. So we, you know, if it is something that feels right to the organization, put out an instagram story poll asking people their opinions on using the word prophylactic versus risk reducing. For example, Um, I think we know which which most people would would understand. But I do think that the nature of these platforms allows for that testing. So regardless of which organization we’re working with, we always recommend doing that testing and then not only allowing that to inform the ultimate campaign on those platforms, but then translating those results in a more permanent platforms, taking those learnings and putting that copy into your audio recording or onto your billboards, for example.

So I think, you know, thinking about how digital can be that testing ground not just for digital but for all of your work because of the immediacy of the results. I love the concept of not being precious with your creative, So I I know. And it’s This has probably been your experience to at some point you get you do get someone who is maybe precious with with their creative right, even if maybe, maybe there’s, you know, a large subset of people at a particular nonprofit who who agree with that approach.

How have you been able to handle the situation like I’m envisioning a listener, you know, sitting here going like, Yeah, I totally agree with that. But there’s someone on the board or, you know, my boss or whatever who just has this super strong opinion about not changing anything because of reasons X, y and Z. What advice could you give to someone who might be in that kind of situation? Yeah, that’s a great question, and I’m very familiar with this scenario. Two things I think we have to evaluate creative by context and by objective.

So we’ll start with context pretty straightforward, but creative looks different on different platforms on different screens and different mediums, and you have to account for that by objective is probably most important and most crucial. So if your objective is, I need to get as many people for the least amount of spend as possible to sign this petition to complete this quiz to give me their email. Then you’re gonna want the data to win there, right? So whichever variant is producing as many of those objectives as you need right, which everyone is winning per se.

But if you are running, let’s say it’s an awareness campaign or a campaign to distribute. Envision your brain values right and you’re trying to show up in a really thoughtful way. Maybe you’re trying to show up in a new way related to D and I. Maybe you’re trying to be more thoughtful about the representation in your imagery. It’s going to be more important that that creative message gets across, even if it’s not driving as many conversions. So I think you have to think about what is the true objective of this work.

Are we trying to cement a new brand identity or a new creative image for the organization? And if that’s the case, then yes, that creative representation needs to go out regardless of the return. But if you are trying to recruit people right, you might need to meet somewhere in the middle. So I do think that creative has to be evaluated based on the objective at hand, along with the technical implementation of by context. Yeah, it’s a fascinating answer. And thank you for sharing that. I did want to switch gears here and just ask you right now, like, what are two or three resources that you would recommend to listeners who who want to keep up on news and trends and nonprofit marketing?

It’s a great question, Um, and one that we actually were grappling with a lot at crafting commerce. So when I joined C. N. C. At the beginning of 2020 because, as you know, most people thought 2020 would just be a totally regular year, a good time to make a major career change. But it wasn’t a very rewarding time to be working with the team. So when I joined the agency in 2020 we did actually a big analysis of marketing resources, specifically nonprofit marketing resources, and we felt that we had actually found a major gap in resources that were applicable relevant, relatable to nonprofit marketers.

So I for years have been reading Digit a and Adweek and social media times and social media examiner and marketing brew and all of the trades. And most of the time they’re focused on. Today it’s Burger King or Nike or the Olympics or, you know, other fantastical and holy un relatable examples of advertising for the nonprofit industry. Right on the other side, the non profit trades for years and years have been, I think, mainly focused on philanthropy or fundraising or board management. Think, um, you know, the nonprofit Times or chronicle of Philanthropy or Stanford Social Innovation Review, um, all wonderful, wonderful outlets but rarely cover the specifics of nonprofit marketing.

And so we actually created our own to try to fill that gap, and it’s called dollars and change. We created our own resource, and right now we’re sending it. About twice a month, we’re covering breaking advertising campaigns from the nonprofit industry. So recently launched ad campaigns across a variety of channels were also combing through the news from all those other trades and interpreting them through nonprofit lens. And then additionally, we’ll go deep on a topic so For example, one month last year we focused on convergent TV. So what’s happening in TV?

With digital and traditional mediums coming together this month, we’re gonna be focused on audio And what what are the latest trends in the audio space? So I definitely would recommend dollars in change, and we can share some information about how to access that. It’s crafting converses new newsletter and then separately related to the media landscape at large. I’ve recently been reading a fascinating newsletter that’s called the Media Nut. It is written by Josh Sternberg. He actually just took over as editor in chief at all right marketing Brew and I have learned a ton just about today’s media landscape.

And and that’s not just paid media. He focuses on media at large but incredibly informative. And he also goes through kind of the daily trades and does a great synopsis. So those would be to resources I’d recommend. Yeah, thank you for recommending that. I mean, for what it’s worth, you know, I also read dollars in change, and it’s been it’s been pretty enlightening. To be honest to see, I mean, it looks like an incredible amount of work And I know this because, like, I’ve also been on the other end of producing this kind of stuff, and it just it takes time and effort.

So as well thought out. I really appreciate all the work. Um, that’s great to hear. We appreciate your readership. I want to close by just asking. How can listeners get in touch with you if they’d like to learn a little bit more about your work? Of course, you can reach me at carli@craftand.com. So C r a f t A N d dot com. That’s my email. You can also find me on LinkedIn. If you happen to be on clubhouse, I’m there, too.

Would love to start chatting with people on clubhouse about nonprofit marketing. So you can check me out there. But yes. Please. Please feel free to reach out. Wonderful. Well, that wraps up our show today, but thank you again for sharing your wisdom, Carli. And coming on the show. Of course. Thanks for having me.

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