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How Cancer Research became UKs “most loved” charity

How Cancer Research became UKs “most loved” charity

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

Dealing with a range of emotive subjects and issues one might think not-for-profit organisations would win hands down over brands in terms of brand loyalty.

Charites offer opportunities for people to come together and unite under a common cause rather than, say for example, simply purchasing an FMCG product, or a financial service.

So it was perhaps with surprise that readers may have noticed an absence of not-for-profit organisations in a recent ‘Brands we love’ poll carried out by Joshua G2.

In fact, out of the top 50 brands featured, just one was from the charitable sector. That honour fell to Cancer Research UK.

The charity is the world's leading independent organisation dedicated to cancer research and supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,250 scientists, doctors and nurses.

But just because you’re the biggest in your field, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can automatically instill the “feel good” factor amongst members of the public.

So has Cancer Research UK managed to achieve this way and ahead of any other charity?

For the charity’s Head of Communication and Information Directorate, Sarah Lyness (pictured), there are a number of reasons.

“Because cancer effects so many people, there is hardly anyone with no connection with the disease,” she said. “As a result, the cause has a collective concern.

“The other thing is our approach. It carries hope to change the future. It’s a big theme and an essence of the brand and people buy into that.”

Lyness added, “Other cancer charities might offer care and support, while others might deal with a specific type of cancer, such as breast. Our appeal is down to the fact we’re not aligned with any particular cancer, but with the research.”

“As the largest independent cancer research organisation globally we can also tackle the social issues others can’t”

The brand perception of Cancer Research UK for supporters is that they get what the charity promises in delivering results, according to Lyness. This promise together with providing a voice for cancer sufferers results in the charity receiving a high degree of trust.

“Reputation is paramount,” she explained. “We’re not a product or service to buy into and so our supporters have to trust us to spend their money wisely. We adopt a mass marketing approach to reach millions, who traditionally only donate small amounts. But basically we aim to reach to people how and when they want to be engaged.”

Events play a major role in the marketing of the charity allowing supporters to become activity involved with and engage with Cancer Research UK cause. Race for Life attracts around 250,000 women participants every summer and plays a major role in cementing the feel good factor of the charity.

“It’s a fun, healthy and active event which raises money while creating a sense of camaraderie of all women together,” Lyness said. “We also encourage engagement with the charity through the information we offer.

“Cancer can attack an individual seriously and we can offer help and support to sufferers, their friends and wider family circle, especially though our website. Without discrediting, for example Third World charities who simply give funds, we offer a whole support network.”

When Cancer Research UK was launched six years ago the main marketing thrust was concerned with building brand awareness through the traditional channels of press and TV, measuring the impact through traditional means, but also by checking with supporters.

Marketing has also been used to convey brand values. As opposed to fmcg brands, Cancer Research UK donation ads play on the importance of legacy and the important role of Race for Life.

While the success of the brand is measured on awareness, the success of the charity’s services as a product can me measured more directly.

“We’ve adopted a ‘media neutral’ planning approach to our campaigns,” Lyness revealed. “Perhaps it’s not been implemented as well as we would have liked but we’ve restructured to bring our internet and new media operations under brand control, together with our press and PR work.

“The result has been to forge closer links between departments.”

The Race for Life is driven online with sign up and event management, while there is a patient information area online which has received around one million unique visitors.

The key to making any event a success is to provide a “great experience” according to Lyness. The charity’s flagship Race For Life has build participants through the usual traditional channels nationally and locally, but even more important is what happens at the event itself.

“It can be a very emotional experience,” she added. “Back signs naming friends and relatives whom runners are taking part in memory of can be a great source of inspiration to others, carrying slogans such as ‘I surviwed’ and ‘Running for grandmother’.

“But we also try to make the event uplifting and ensure that when participants leave the event, they feel fired up and positive about the brand.”

Key marketing tips from Sarah Lyness

1. Don’t be afraid of mergers. Cancer Research UK was formed in 2002 on the back of a merger. The result was that the new charity could tap into the marketing clout of all the individual members coming together.

2. Just because you have a great cause, don’t take it for granted that others will feel the same. You still need to convey a message in a compelling and engaging way. Be outward not inward looking.

3. Branding at events is not a dirty word. Be passionate in what you believe in.

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