Cause & Effectiveness (1)

[October 9, 2009]

Spreading the word about a cause involves a delicate balance between making an emotional connection, raising awareness and raising funds. Add to that the wealth of clinical data, news, celebrity endorsements, testimonials or lifestyle advice these causes may want to convey—and the difficulty of creating an effective Web presence increases exponentially.

To illustrate, let’s look at representative Web sites, selected unscientifically, but not quite at random. Of course, nothing I say here about design or messaging is any reflection on the invaluable work these organizations do. They deserve our respect and admiration for their dedication to helping others. My goal is simply to suggest ways they might engage their audiences more effectively.

Data & Distraction.
As I see it, The American Lung Association site shows the problems cause marketers face very clearly. While the headline “Improving Life One Breath at a Time” offers visitors some orientation, the densely packed array of top navigation, article lead-ins, sidebar links and a scrolling roster of “breaking news” gives the eye nowhere to rest.

No doubt this density results from a desire to offer visitors as many points of engagement as possible. “Whatever your concern,” the site seems to say, “we have something for you.” My concern is that the definition of “you” is not clear.

Even within a targeted audience, site visitors are not all the same. In this case, they may include people with lung disease, their caregivers or local health officials. The site, however, offers each visitor the same experience.

What’s needed is a clear indication of the most relevant user path for each type of visitor. Regrouping site topics under larger collective titles, expressed in action statements, is one way to accomplish this.

Messaging & Structure.
Inevitably, however, the solution goes beyond cosmetic changes. In my opinion, it’s a question of focus. I suspect that the current state of the site reflects a lack of clarity in the Association’s messaging strategy. It needs to clarify its core message to each type of visitor, then map out a step-by-step progression through each message.

Those progressions would then form the “spine” of a revised content outline and information architecture for the site. I’m sure some of that thinking has already been done. What’s missing, perhaps, is a process of consolidation.

Key to success in this area is recognizing that perfection is unattainable. As anyone with a narrative must realize, part of the way your listener internalizes your message is by reading between the lines—then unconsciously adding what cultural context and common sense tells them is implied.

You can’t say “it all,” and you shouldn’t try—if you really want your audience to understand.

I’ll have more to say about cause marketing sites in my next post, where I’ll explore ways a specialized use of the marquee area can help—or hinder—the user experience.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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