Let’s define “empowerment marketing” as follows: a marketing technique by which you empower members of your community to market your organization and its cause. I’m definitely not the first person to use the term (in fact a colleague from my MySpace days used it before), but for some reason I feel like I’m one of the first and that’s just wrong; this is powerful shtuff. Everyone is hyper-focused on viral marketing; well folks, I’d argue that viral marketing is a subset of empowerment marketing. Aaand I’d lose that argument. But I think people would agree that there’s a very Venn diagram overlap thing going on between the two.
Back in early 2006 I joined Kiva, a *phenomenal* non-profit, as a part-time staff member to run marketing. If you don’t know about Kiva yet check it out; they’ve built a platform that enables people like us to lend to low-income entrepreneurs in over 30 countries in the developing world, empowering them to earn their way out of poverty. *Absolutely revolutionary*. Anyways, upon joining, I asked Premal what my marketing budget was and his calm reply was $0.
Though I took several standard approaches in crafting Kiva’s marketing strategy, I quickly found that in our lender community we had impassioned evangelists who were running around their communities and networks raving about Kiva. In other words, we had a distributed marketing team on the ground in communities around the world. All we had to do was arm them with the tools to do the job better — so arm them we did.
We developed a suite of banners for bloggers. We provided sample text for people who wished to email their friends about Kiva. We got on the social networks. We provided sample email footers. We set up Yahoo Groups so folks could connect with each other regarding anything from setting up fundraisers and awareness events to sharing best practices (a die hard fan ended up setting up a much slicker kivafriends site for this purpose). We published our one-pager for folks to print out and use at events they hosted. We allowed them to volunteer. We gave them ideas for things to do such as contact celebrities they knew to see if they’d want to promote Kiva (it worked). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we communicated with them so they felt like a part of the Kiva team.
Empowerment marketing by no means got Kiva to where it is today (a world class team, an amazing product, an inspiring mission, and a heck of a lotta press did that). But it has (and continues) to let the small Kiva team focus on execution and not spend too much time on marketing; after all, they’ve got you to do that.
On a side note, we’ve been using this a bit for the Help Vinay campaign as well. I wonder if empowerment marketing is only effective for cause-oriented campaigns. For my myspace page I went out and grabbed banners of a few organizations I support, but they’re closer to causes than companies. If REI (a company I like) allowed me to get banners from their website for my blog, would I put ‘em up? Hmm….