Age UK: Championing Connections At Christmas

by Shannon Lynn Figaro Digital

 Christmas is not only a time for festive joy, but a prime opportunity for marketers to get across their brand message. For charities like Age UK, it is even more important to tap into seasonal marketing. There is a need to produce a strong campaign in order to ensure that vulnerable, elderly people are not forgotten amidst the Christmas chaos. Figaro Digital spoke to Matt Barber, Digital Marketing Manager at Age UK, about the importance of creating a strong digital campaign ahead of Christmas. Not only do they have a TV burst which truly tugs at the heart strings, but they have also introduced an interactive advent calendar on their social media and have worked with celebrity influencers like Joe Sugg to promote the charity.

FD: Age UK have a history of producing quite emotive Christmas campaigns, can you talk us through your approach this year? Also how important is seasonality when it comes to marketing?

MB: For our Christmas campaign this year we decided to highlight the importance of our Advice Line. Our Advice Line offers help 365 days a year and it answers hundreds of thousands of calls annually. Although we’ve somewhat stepped away from our previous loneliness messaging, that theme is still very much paramount. The Advice Line is something that offers assistance to people who might not necessarily get it elsewhere. It is a vital service that we offer our beneficiaries. There are 2.65 million older people who have no one to turn to, so Age UK want to be there and help spread the message about our service.

Seasonality is key to keep messaging relevant for our target audience. In the Charity Sector in particular, Christmas is a really important time for fundraising due to the higher propensity for giving. We find that our audiences are that bit more generous at Christmas and we aim to encourage people to donate without making them feel too guilty. We utilise messaging in such a way that we make people remember that there are others out there who are more vulnerable than they are, or perhaps don’t have a support network around them at this time of year.

FD: How do Age UK incorporate digital innovation into their marketing strategy? 

MB: The Digital Marketing team, which I lead, sits within our Content and Brand department, which enables us to incorporate digital into most brand discussions. Our biggest brand burst is always around Christmas and we make sure we understand from a very early concept stage how our campaigns are going to translate digitally.

Last year we worked with an agency to identify key moments throughout the Christmas calendar where there was a high proportion of the population participating in the same activity. It was a real eye opener. We found that on a particular day a high percentage of people had their office party, or did their Christmas food shop, or put the tree up. These were all moments that we wanted to tap into and use our content as a juxtaposition.

The messaging last year was focussed on loneliness, so we posted content on Facebook and Instagram during these moments which we had pinpointed. When a high percentage of people were preparing their Christmas dinner, we would contrast this with content on social of an elderly person with a Christmas meal for one. We were one of the first UK charities to launch Facebook’s donate functionality that enabled people to donate directly on their platform. That really helped us make our campaign successful as it enabled users to watch the social content on Facebook and donate easily in the same place.

FD: You’ve been involved in marketing for a number of brands, how does the approach differ in the charities sector?

MB: The brands I’ve worked on have been quite varied, from B2C retail to the more corporate end of B2B. Although the message may change, the fundamentals are the same across the board. The biggest difference in the approach I’ve had to take at Age UK is in regards to the budget. I’ve always been aware, as we all should be, of ensuring ROI and value for money. In the Charity Sector this is even more vital.

I’ve had to get creative with my budget to make sure that every pound I spend really makes a difference to our overall aim, and ultimately, the people we are trying to help. As the Charity Sector is funded by generous donations, I’m hyper-aware that everything we spend needs to be driving awareness of the cause, or helping people in need. That is quite a stark difference to helping someone sell a property or selling a lipstick. It’s a different perspective on digital marketing that I’m quite grateful to have added to my experience.

FD: How has the way customers interact with charities digitally shaped the way you communicate as a brand?

MB: Digital is constantly evolving and what may be the right tactic one day, might not be the next. At Age UK we are seeing a growth in the importance and viability of digital channels as a first point of contact, particularly with our supporters and beneficiaries. Recently we have invested in our virtual assistant, our chatbot, which is live on our site right now. We are constantly trying to improve and optimise these journeys.

In terms of the brand question, Age UK offers so many different services and not all of them are necessarily nationwide. It’s about how we can have a consistent brand approach digitally which allows us to connect people with the cause and to their nearest, relevant Age UK service through our improved local directory. Cultivating our audience is really important and that helps us to create brand advocates who help us to drive awareness of Age UK and show people how to access the help they need.

FD: And then looking towards the future, how do you see digital transforming the charities sector in the coming years?

MB: Digital transformation has been quite the buzz word for a few years now, but it’s a bit of a slower process in the Charity Sector. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but it goes back to that value for money that we need to invest in the right places. Digital is already transforming both the supporter and beneficiary experience and this is only going to grow in the future. From our side we are seeing investment in voice, on both the search front and with voice assistant technology. We are about to launch our Alexa Skill as we are finding, particularly for the most vulnerable and for people who may have certain disabilities, that accessing technology through voice is actually a really positive thing for this sector. I think it’s one of the most disruptive things happening in the sector at the moment. We are also seeing more digital leaders taking up director level positions, so there is definitely an appetite for digital growth.

FD: What motivates you?

MB: This is probably going to sound incredibly cliché, but it’s using my digital skills and expertise to make a difference in whatever small way I can. When I took the leap from the private sector over two years ago, it was initially quite a risky move, but honestly two years in and I haven’t looked back. This sector has so far given me opportunities to develop my skillset, particularly in areas like budgeting. The sector is on a very exciting trajectory right now; people are doing great things with voice search and assistants that could actually enable us to be thought leaders within this space and showcase that they can be used for good.