Friday Fun: DC Goodwill on the Social Media Runway

09/28/2007

Today's post is a Two-for-One. It's Friday Fun  - Friday Fun is Diva Marketing's virtual happy hour from cosmos to Jack to lemonade. A waiting for the weekend 'playground' time to be sophisticated-silly. Or sometimes just plain silly. Combine with Biz Blog Profile - Biz Blog Profiles! is a behind the scene look at how corporations, non profits, higher education institutions and the arts are using blogs to support their marketing goals.

Take a brand with an image challenge. Add a unique positioning strategy targeting a new segment. Overlay it with the limitations (people and money) of a not for profit. Sprinkle with an innovative, never been done before social media strategy. Toss in a few vintage dresses. Mix well. Welcome to the world of the Goodwill of Greater Washington.

About Goodwill of Greater Washington
Goodwill of Greater Washington provides job training and employment services to people with disadvantages and disabilities throughout the greater Washington, DC region.  We fund our mission through diverse lines of business including our chain of nine retail stores, two e-commerce sites, landscaping, pest control and janitorial contract services, as well as a small amount of traditional fundraising (about 10%).

About Brendan Hurley
Brendan_hurley_2 I have been a marketing professional for 15 years, with a BA in Communications and an MS in Marketing.  I spent most of my career in the “for profit” sector, working primarily in the radio industry marketing for a variety of radio groups including Clear Channel Communications.  I came to Goodwill as the VP of Marketing when Clear Channel’s Regional Senior VP became Goodwill’s CEO in late 2003.  What I enjoy about Goodwill is that it is a charitable agency that helps the community, but also runs more like a business than a traditional non profit.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Vintage shopping is great fun but Brendan, I must admit when I think of diva, cool places to discover cute clothes Goodwill is not top of mind. However, you not only are changing the image of Goodwill of Greater Washington but are creating a new positioning for the organization … from thrift shop to vintage fashion.

How and why did an organization, that is not known for innovation in marketing, decide to step into the world of social media to support and promote that new direction?

Brendan Hurley: There is an interesting disparity in the vintage and classic fashion world. If you spend $150 on an outfit at a high end vintage retailer, it’s considered hip, but if you buy the same outfit at a Goodwill store or “thrift” store, many consumers perceive it as old and used. 

We didn’t want to alienate our core customers, many of whom are bargain shoppers, but we needed to find a way to grow a secondary market segment for Goodwill that we felt we could impact with the right positioning: young, professional females, who tend to be a primary market segment for vintage retailers. Ultimately we felt that a social media strategy would help us address this need.

Toby/Diva Marketing: In a recent guest blog post on The Buzz Bin you said something very interesting: 

It wasn’t until I started developing our 2007 strategic marketing plan that I finally figured out my problem: I was trying too hard to develop a social networking strategy instead of incorporating social networking into my marketing strategy.

It’s the concept that I’ve been trying to help marketers understand. Would you please discuss that a bit more? How did you “get it.”

Brendan Hurley: Like many marketers (I think), I didn’t fully understand social networking as a “tactic” incorporated into a strategy. I kept wondering how we could integrate social networking into our marketing plan (trying to force it) rather than identifying our organizational challenges and applying the best marketing methods to address those challenges. 

Once I did that, the answer became clear:  The use of social networking would achieve multiple strategic objectives. It was like a light bulb went off.  An integrated social networking and new media plan would help us reach the audience we were targeting without alienating our core shopper, drive traffic to our virtual fashion show that we knew would convince visitors we had a good product, then provide them with an easy portal to our online retail store to make a quick purchase.  By integrating mission messages into each step along the way, we could also educate the population on the nature of Goodwill’s mission, thereby developing greater passion for our cause while generating brand loyalty.  The flow seemed very natural.

The only problem was that while I had read blogs before, I had never written one, so I didn’t understand the strategy behind it and how to make it compelling and sustainable.  Fortunately, I knew Geoff Livingston of Livingston Communications from a marketing committee we both serve on at the Greater Washington Board of Trade and I asked him if he would consult us on finding appropriate vintage fashion websites on which to advertise, and on launching our blog. 

It was Geoff that taught me that we had to treat the blog just like any other product with a mission statement, logo, positioning statement, etc.  Doing so has helped us stay focused and forced us to maintain product integrity so that the blog doesn’t become another blatant advertisement that will simply turn off any half educated reader. The content has value and I believe that is what keeps readers coming back. 

Toby/Diva Marketing: Let’s talk about your exciting initiatives. First the Goodwill Fashion Blog. Was it difficult to get buy-in from your board and how was it presented to them?

Brendan Hurley:  Our board LOVED the idea.  They believed that the use of new media was quite innovative in the non profit sector.  And certainly the use of fashion to help educate others on our mission was a very unique strategy.  While they seemed quite confident, my team and I were responsible for the execution of this complex initiative, so I was a a bit nervous having never launched such an effort before.  Fortunately, I have a fantastic team.  Our blogger, “The DC Goodwill Fashionista”, is an employee, Em Hall, who is very keen on fashion. She loves writing the blog and is very talented. 

Toby/Diva Marketing: Did you establish success measures or goals and if so what were they? 

Brendan Hurley: We set financial goals for the fashion show, which we’ve already achieved.  We also set a goal on the number of unique visitors to the fashion show (10,000) which we are close to hitting now and we haven’t even posted the video on YouTube yet. Right now, the only place the fashion show can be seen is on our website.

We have a financial goal for our silent auction, but it hasn’t ended yet, so I can’t tell you whether or not we’ll hit that number.  However, I can tell you that we’ve already successfully converted better than 14% of our fashion show viewers into Goodwill online shoppers. That is a number I had no idea we’d achieve.  Our brick and mortar retail sales increased measurably as well in the two weeks since the fashion show launched.  However, I can’t say whether those numbers are sustainable at this point and how much the virtual fashion show and blog influenced that growth.

As for the blog, I would have been happy with 100 visitors a week and a retention rate of 25% after less than 90 days, but we’re presently averaging about 700 visitors a week and a retention rate of close to 40%.  The blog has also become the second largest referral source for our fashion show.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Did you perceive any risks in stepping into the blogosphere with a blog that has open comments?  What strategies are in place to mitigate risk?

Brendan Hurley:  When we decided to pursue a blogging strategy, it was an easy decision for us to establish a policy of posting both positive and negative comments, provided they were not  inappropriate. No comments go live without our review first.  However, I am a firm believer in transparency and integrity and if someone criticizes us, it will be seen.

Toby/Diva Marketing: The DC Goodwill FashionistaGoodwill_fashionista_blog seems to be having such fun with her posts but why did you choose to go the anonymous blogger route?

Brendan Hurley: That was a strategic decision to protect the long term sustainability of the blog.  We decided to give the blogger an alias because at some point, the author of the blog may change.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Then you took a step into wild side with the launch of what may be the first online fashion show from a not for profit  - The Fashion of Goodwill Virtual Runway Show and Virtual Auction. Please tell us the back-story.

Brendan Hurley:  For three years we have held an annual Goodwill Fashion Show that was designed primarily as a fundraiser and secondarily as an attempt to help change perceptions of the quality of fashions available at Goodwill Stores.  Unfortunately, while the unique fashion show received some good publicity, only a limited number of people could attend the event because it had a high ticket price attached to it.

By converting our live fashion show into a virtual fashion show that we could post on our website and promote through social networks, we believed we could reach a broader and younger market segment by providing entertaining and compelling content that would interest and excite the viewer.  This would also make our sponsors happy because we’d be reaching thousands of people rather than a few hundred who could attend a live event.

Goodwill_runway Creating a fashion blog and pages on social networking sites like MySpace would not only help drive traffic to the fashion show and our online auction site, but also give us access to influential social networks that may help position Goodwill as a knowledgeable resource on vintage and contemporary fashion, while also positioning our stores as untapped destinations for inexpensive vintage and contemporary fashions, rather than stores for low income shoppers. So far the virtual fashion show has been a big hit!

Toby/Diva Marketing: How is the eBay Auction working for you?
Sidebar: Today - 9-28-07 - is the last day of the auction. Take a break and do a little virtual shopping for a few cute vintage pieces .. at bargain prices! Send me a photo of you in your new outfit and I'll post it on Diva.

Brendan Hurley:  Since the auction hasn’t ended yet, I can’t tell you if we’ve hit our financial goal, but I believe we will.  We’ve got a lot of watchers on our site. Our fashion show has become the second biggest referral source to our eBay store behind eBay itself.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Were there any surprises along the way in terms of what people bid or perhaps who bid?   

Brendan Hurley: Yes, there are people bidding on some items I didn’t think would get much interest and other items I thought would be popular that few people are watching.  We did discover through some additional research that a Versace china collection is worth much more than we had originally thought.  The interest in that china has really skyrocketed.  There is also an interesting vintage circa 1920s clutch purse that I am not personally fond of, but is getting a great deal of interest from eBay shoppers.  Then again, I don’t know a lot about purses.

Toby/Diva Marketing:  Hmm .. eBay today .. perhaps Second Life next year. A few diva-type Goodwill_1920_hand_beaded_dress_2questions .. Who were the models?

Brendan Hurley: The models were fantastic. They were all local and supplied by Tu-Anh.  Tu-Anh is a locally based, but internationally experienced fashion designer and consultant who volunteered her time.  She runs a professional fashion consultancy called Polished. She knew exactly who to ask and all of them modeled for free. 

Toby/Diva Marketing: How were the garments chosen and who put together the outfits?

Brendan Hurley:  All of the items were literally taken off the racks from our nine DC area Goodwill Retail Stores by Tu-Anh and her staff. It didn’t take them long. I think they were only hunting for a few days before they had an entire collection. What can I say…the stuff you can find at Goodwill is pretty good! You just need to look.

Toby/Diva Marketing: How will you sustain this new positioning and does social media fit into the Goodwill of Greater Washington’s long-term marketing strategy?

Brendan Hurley: I suspect that we’ll see a bit of a drop off once the auction ends and the initial excitement over the fashion show starts to fade, but we’re committed to a long term blogging presence and will very likely do another virtual fashion show next year. The challenge now is sustaining and building upon our early success. 

Toby/Diva Marketing: What were a few of the lessons learned?

Brendan Hurley: First, treat your blog like a product, not a strategy.  Second, to be successful at a blog you need to be willing to make the commitment. A blog requires much more research and time than I would have ever thought.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What advise would you give a not for profit who wanted to step into the social media space?

Brendan Hurley: I would tell them something that sounds like a cliché:  Think out of the box.  If you want to engage a new audience and educate them on your mission, you don’t necessarily have to force your mission upon them. 

Engage them using a common interest. If your cause is homelessness, maybe think about developing a blog about homeowner related issues and weave your mission into the blog content. You’ll reach a broader variety of people, develop a personal relationship with them and then gain their trust and support. The population that is already passionate about your cause is going to support you anyway. Use the blog as a way to acquire new untapped supporters.

Brendan Hurley On Social Media
Your take on using social media as a marketing / business strategy. Your get the last word (smile)

I’m amazed at how others are willing to market your product or service for you if they feel it has value.  Build an online product with significance and treat it with the respect you would give any more tangible product or service. If you do, you won’t have a problem finding people willing to help you communicate your message.

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Comments

Wow. He's good.
Thanks for this great interview!

Posted by: Meg H. on Sep 28, 2007 11:42:59 AM

Great story. This is the best kind of marketing-- when you're able to give people a brand new way to look at your product (or store.) The very act of maintaining a blog gave the DC Goodwill store an upscale image, which allowed it to be a "resale shop" vs a "thrift shop."

Visionary client who got the good results he deserved.

Posted by: Tangerine Toad on Sep 28, 2007 5:48:34 PM

@Meg - perhaps the Fashion Mash can find inspiration for some cute vintage outfits ;-)

@Toad - I too love that Brendan didn't include social media to be cool but because it supported the strategy direction of the new positioning.

By the way, the Goodwill Fashionista is another anon blogger to join your club ;-)

Posted by: Toby on Sep 28, 2007 11:07:46 PM

I work for Goodwill Industries and have to say that the Goodwill of Greater Washington has started a transformation of the Goodwill image. Because of their diverse demographics many Goodwill’s struggle developing a unique selling point while maintaining the brand image. However fashion is a universal language that all other Goodwill’s can and need to capitalize on. So thanks for leading the way for all other Goodwill’s.

Posted by: Alisa on Oct 2, 2007 9:47:44 PM

Why don't you write or have a interview about how Greater Washington totally rips off people with very deseiving descreptions of the items they sell on their online auctions. How they can take hundreds of dollars from someone and after pleading for a refund nothing. They really are the best of the best when ripping off people. They are heartless money hungry. If they say a item is ---by ---, then it must be that as described to keep your money,or they must say it is beleived to be ---by---.
Goodwill isn't only to those they give to but should also be goodwill to those who give.
Dianna Hayes.

Posted by: Dianna Hayes on Dec 17, 2007 9:28:58 PM

I would like to let all the readers know since my first message that I have been contacted by Goodwill and they have been more than fair with me about my issues. They have extended their kindness and goodwill to me as I have know Goodwill to do. I won't go into detail but want everyone to know that I will contuine to shop with them and to donate. I was a little harsh in my first email and I want to say I am sorry, I won't make this mistake again. Please visit your Goodwill store or shop online, you will enjoy the visit and feel good that you have just helped someone in need and really that is what its all about.
Thanks again Goodwill,
Dianna Hayes

Posted by: Dianna Hayes on Jan 8, 2008 8:09:02 PM

@ Dianna - Thank you for your gracious comment. This is a wonderful example of that if a company is listening to consumer generated content and reaches out stronger relations can be built. I'm glad that Diva Marketing could play a role in helping to resolve the issue.

Posted by: Toby on Jan 8, 2008 8:48:40 PM

While we wish that our shoppers never found a need to complain about our service, it is only through our willingness to listen to our customers that we can improve upon the quality of our customer care. I'm glad that we were able to make Ms. Hayes happy and not only save that relationship but actually strengthen that relationship.

Brendan Hurley
VP of Marketing & Communications
Goodwill of Greater Washington

Posted by: Brendan Hurley on Jan 9, 2008 12:20:22 PM

This blog Is very informative , I am really pleased to post my comment on this blog . It helped me with ocean of knowledge so I really belive you will do much better in the future . Good job web master .

Posted by: flower girl dress on Oct 25, 2008 2:34:27 AM

Is this theeee Brendan Hurley. Do you remember me from Arlington, VA? Steve Burton, Pat, John Cas, etc.
I am happy to see that you are doing very well and I think you are making a great difference for Goodwill. I hope you drop me a line.

Your old friend,
Leonard
LYee364@yahoo.com

Posted by: Leonard Yee on Nov 25, 2008 11:42:27 PM

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