Four Practices Nonprofits Can Learn at an Airport

The humble, utilitarian airport gets little respect. But, airports offer a surprising number of lessons for nonprofit organizations trying to get audiences to understand and embrace their messages.

Here are four ideas I picked up on a recent trip.

1. Offer shortcuts

Picture of a moving walking

The people who read, view and listen to your messages are not unlike travelers.

In a big airport, if you are stuck needing to go from one terminal to another in short order, there is probably a tram. Persons with disabilities can ride on a golf cart. You might get a breather for a shorter distance via moving walkway. Or, if you are feeling more leisurely about your layover, you can walk.

Just like travelers, your audiences will appreciate options that suit their needs for the particular circumstances in which they find themselves.

For some people on some days, that’s a gorgeous print magazine with 3,000-word, in-depth articles. But, if you are not providing that content in an easier-to-grasp mobile app, those in a hurry—or those who just prefer mobile apps—will pass.


2. A little pragmatism can go a long way

SignsForRestrooms

How happy would you be with an airport where you couldn’t find the restrooms? Sometimes people already know what they are looking for. They just need you to show them the way.

Among the things I appreciate about airport signage, is that the signs are big, and include not just clear words but clear graphics.

No one tried to be overly creative with fonts and colors on these restroom signs but they are  spot on for what they need to do. Note the placement and the contrast. Also, there’s repetition from different angles.

Think about what your audience will be looking for. Then boldly put that message where they would expect to find it (you’ll need to do some testing).

This is particularly important for your call to action. If you’re doing your marketing right, than people will look for ways they can get involved and help. You want them to join your organization, make a gift, sign a petition, whatever it may be, make sure they won’t miss that when they seek it out.


3. Let them in on the fun

TravelorsUnbrellaAdvertisement

This interactive advertisement was getting lots of attention, and not just from kids. Whenever someone touched the big red umbrellas, they dispersed into hundreds of tiny umbrellas. It was unexpected, surprising and compelling—the digital equivalent of turning down a country road and slipping your arm out the window to ride the wind.

How often do your communications include a sense of wonder, whimsy or fun?

Do they make people smile, laugh, reach out to touch, or want to share it with someone?

Consider adding in a chance for audiences to interact with your brand story in a fun way. New medias are making that more and more possible every day. Think augmented reality, instagram photo contests, a twitter retweet challenge, text to vote, etc. Though the concept is the same even if you don’t go digital.

4. Offer refreshment

foodcourt

The best airports have lots of options for food and drink in lots of places. People have things to do and places to go. But they will always drift toward what gives them energy back.

For nonprofits, what you have to offer can be just as welcome as a refreshing drink or a bite to eat. Show how your organization makes a difference and offers ways for people to be a part of something larger then themselves.

Just like a whiff of freshly baked muffins reminds passersby that they are hungry, your messages need to communicate that your organization does good in the world and that being a part of it feels good.

A bar chart is too abstract, photos from your last gala could leave people feeling inadequate, and talking in aggregate about the people you serve can make their problems seem overwhelming. You need emotional content that shows the real impact of your organization’s work.

Just like a food court beckons to someone who hasn’t eaten all day, let your audience know that getting involved with your organization means they can help in a tangible way. And refresh their weary souls in the process.

Infographics: A scenic overlook for readers

When you’re cruising down a curvy highway at 75 miles an hour in the middle of a long trip, it’s nice to come upon a place where you can pull over for a break.

Anyone in marketing is aware of the demands on people’s time. No matter how fun new media can be, it also adds to the relentless onslaught of information everyone is trying to process. As a result, communicating more rapidly through visuals has never been more important.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I work on a print magazine. Within such a conventional vehicle, it is always a struggle to come up with the right combination of text and graphics to communicate our key messages.

So I always do a “flip test” before putting any publication to bed. Basically I take a final look to see if someone in our target audience didn’t read a single word but simply flipped through and glanced at a few things, would they still get the big picture?

Because I work with an incredibly talented art director the answer is always yes. Invariably, he’s already done a fabulous job with art directing our photography and creating compelling and visually appealing design. I try to do my part with edgy headlines, captions, subheads, pull-out quotes and so on.

But it seems like it is time to step up our game to really engage our increasingly information-fatigued readers. To go beyond the flip test and actually get more of them delving in, really understanding and becoming advocates for our institution.

Recently, that led me to infographics.


What is an infographic?

The best way to explain an infographic is with an infographic.

This is an infographic on infographics from visual.ly which states: “Using Lego blocks and photography we wanted to show that a good infographic is simple and requires very little text.”

 

What is an infographic?


Is this just a trend?

Major publications have featured infographics for decades at least in the forms of pie charts, bell curves, Venn diagrams, bar graphs and the like, as well as in-depth, complex illustration to communicate information that would be unwieldy in text form.

In fact, the concept is anything but new. You could argue that the earliest humans invented infographics when they drew on cave walls.

But infographics have been repurposed in a social media context as profound, creative and absolutely fascinating ways to visualize data.


Where does writing fit in?

While infographics clearly put graphic designers and artists in the lead, the need for good writing and editing will still be an important component.

Marketingprofs.com offers this advice on infographics:

“Edit, edit, edit. Your infographic tells a story, and like any story it benefits from a careful editing process. The end result should be a clear narrative that flows logically from beginning to end.”

So if you were starting to think this infographic stuff has little to do with writers and editors, think again!

Any successful marketing communications should follow a simple three-step process: entertain first, engage second and educate (or sell) last. Done right, infographics can do all of that, becoming a universal language for telling a story with one look.

But that doesn’t mean that clarifying the purpose, researching the content and operationalizing the concept won’t require a good writer/editor.

I liked this infographic on renewable energy by Carrington College which illustrates using a lot more text, but still in a fun, colorful way. Just like the visual.ly one above, they provide the code to make it easy to share/embed their infographic on your own site (And, that’s a good tip for encouraging your constituents to share too.)

Renewable Energy - Infographic

[Via: Carrington College's Renewable Energy Degree Program]


Need more convincing to give infographics a try?

The status quo approach can be a difficult life preserver to sacrifice when one is afloat in a vast, cold ocean, unsure of a new tactic.

Consider that according to Customer Magnetism an internet marketing agency, high quality infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles. Social media experts will tell you that infographics in websites are way more likely to be shared than text. The growing popularity of visual content platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram pretty much confirms that people crave eye candy.

While I know better than to concur with the seemingly popular notion that no one reads anything anymore, I’d have to put on a pair of coke-bottle-thick, rose-colored glasses to believe that people will read everything we put out.


Where to start

Lest you think as a mere writer that you’d have to employ a new graphics team to use infographics, there’s plenty of inspiration on the web as well as plenty of tools for creating your own infographics.

Marketingprofs.com suggests the following for your toolkit:

Many Eyesbuilds infographics based on your data, or on public datasets.

HoHli produces charts with the flexibility to customize their look and feel.

Wordle word cloud generator. You can see an example from yours truly on the about page of this very blog.

The web is also a great place to find tips on creating the best infographics.

But before you go there, you should begin the process with a rough outline of what you want to present. Infographics should answer questions, provide compelling data, or demystify a process. And while an infographic can poke fun, the content must be researched and fact-checked. Not to mention, that you need to know your goal–which should not be simply to produce something cool.

So, that’s what I’ve learned about infographics. My next step is to gain more experience. Let me know what you’ve tried and especially any inspiring examples you create or come upon.

I’ll report back on my progress in a future blog.

I don’t know about you, but giving my audiences and me a chance to pull over to enjoy a scenic overlook sounds pretty good right about now.