The Long Sell: When Mission-Based Brands Solve Long-Term Needs

Posted by Jake Solyst | April 18, 2017 | 1:27pm

Brands in industries like education, not for profit, community service and environmental protection tend to have one thing in common: they sell delayed gratification in an instant gratification world.

While vital to personal and communal growth, benefits such as knowledge, a more equitable society, and increased sustainability aren’t as easy to sell as, say, a pizza to someone who’s hungry. Yet these benefits are greatly important, and they have a huge impact for years to come. The question is, how do you sell them? How can you get audiences to act immediately, when they won’t get the fullest benefit until months—years—later?

Paint a Picture of the Future

One way to sell a long-term benefit is to tell the future. If a potential donor isn’t convinced that their donation will support a long-lasting cause, then you need to tell them what the world will look like years down the road, with or without the support of people like them. This smartphone app, for example, shows users what rising water levels will do to their immediate surrounding through augmented reality. 

Similarly, if a prospective student is unconvinced that they’ll benefit from a liberal arts education decades after graduating, then you need to show them what a successful alumni looks like. This 2016 commencement video from Cornell University, for example, is a great example of how to convey the passion and satisfaction of a future graduate.

The goal with this type of communications is to make the future as immediate, and attainable, as possible.

Confront the Audiences Priorities

You could also try downplaying the role of immediate gratification in the lives of targeted audiences. Think of nonprofits that say, “Be a legacy donor for only $5 a month. It’s the price of two cups of coffee,” or universities that show what’s possible when adults spend their free time studying instead of playing video games. In such cases, the immediate “want” seems far less important by comparison, forcing audiences to evaluate their priorities.

Above all, mission-based marketers must create an immediate need for further action by depicting a future that ignites the audience’s sense of optimism, and emphasizes that future’s attainability. The hard-sell version sounds something like “just one phone call can make a big difference.” Soften to taste.