Retailers are getting better and better at persuading consumers to spend. Whether that’s through ease of purchase journey, responsive mobile experiences, or great customer service, brands have plenty of ways to encourage their consumers to convert. But it’s not only retailers and commercial brands experiencing digital success. The non-profit sector is experimenting with ground-shaking, disruptive digital solutions to improve their services and connect with supporters. Figaro Digital caught up with Steve Armstrong, Head of Digital at Marie Curie, to find out how the charity is getting closer to its supporters than ever before.
FD: As a charity, how has Marie Curie found itself evolving in the digital age?
SA: In the last three years at Marie Curie we’ve been focussed on our digital transformation. The key challenge for any industry at the moment is the exponential growth of technology versus the ability of a brand to keep up, and in Marie Curie’s case the gap was big. The charity recognised a need to rapidly bring the charity’s digital capabilities up, because our supporters were beginning to react and engage with charities and brands in ways that we were unable to accommodate. Another important area for us to consider during that transformation was how digital technology can drive relationships with our service users as well. So for us digital has two goals; we look at it in terms of how online and digital technology can support those relationships with our supporters, and then how can we can use technology to strengthen the reach of what we do.
FD: How does Marie Curie’s messaging differ across its distinct base of users and supporters?
SA: The relationship on the services side is in some ways is much more transactional. We operate in a very niche space, and we offer very specific information around palliative and end of life care, so we’re using technology to meet those needs as quickly and easily as possible. Most people who are carers or who are terminally ill access our website via mobile, so we spend a lot of time trying to make that experience as smooth as possible.
FD: How does your digital content reflect your brand purpose, and how do you connect with people digitally on such a difficult subject?
SA: So the first thing we use digital for is to build understanding. Everyone’s familiar with our daffodil, people know that we’re a charity, what they’re less understanding of is what kind of charity we are, and what exactly we do. We’re not just a cancer charity, as some think, we’re a terminal illness, end of life and palliative care charity, and driving that understanding is absolutely key. Without that it’s impossible to bring people into a deeper relationship with us. We use content and storytelling to present our purpose. We’re really lucky, as a charity we’ve got a huge number of very rich, emotional stories that we can tell, of patients and carers as well, and we find moments in the year where we as a charity are able to have the authority to communicate online. One example is called extra hour, which coincides with the clocks going back. This is a great opportunity to talk about what our nurses are doing, as they work an extra hour through the night. We then use a mix of social and more traditional display channels to reach audiences that we know will have a connection with our cause.
SA: Storytelling is always at the heart of what we do. We have a very clear social strategy, but I think in some ways it’s a bit dangerous to start thinking in terms of channels. We need to initially rise above that and ask what we’re trying to achieve, who’s the audience we’re trying to connect with, and what are the things that we can talk about as a brand. We’ve created two separate pillars that our content stems from; ‘difficult conversations’ and ‘joyful moments’. That distinction is so important to our brand messaging. It’s a myth that what we deal with is all doom and gloom and sadness. In our hospices, there’s quite a lot of energy and positivity there, despite being faced with terrible things that are affecting families, and we need to celebrate that as much as the other. Only then do we start thinking about what channels we should be using to start influencing and reaching those objectives.
FD: How do you see digital transforming the charities sector in the coming years?
SA: I think that in the charities sector, and certainly in our type of charity, most of the innovation potential is actually in our service side, rather than the supporter and donor side. And I think there’s a real opportunity to get digital closer to care. Tech can never replace the support or empathy that a nurse or hospital can provide. But having said that, I think there are opportunities around taking a more humanistic approach to the way we deliver our content online. I think technologies like AI are going to influence the way in which people are accessing the content and services we’ve got. There are already examples in the charities space of chatbots being created which are replacing static ways of navigating to the content that you want, and that is something that we should be trying to look at in terms of helping our patients and their carers get to the right information as quickly as they possibly can.