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Used with permission: CTI

Used with permission: CTI

Compatible Technology International (CTI)

An article in this weekend’s Star Tribune business section introduced me to Compatible Technology International (CTI). A quick look at the mission statement on CTI’s website convinced me that if I wanted to dive deeply into the marketing of an organization working on the UN’s first sustainable goal “No Poverty,* CTI would be an excellent choice for investigation. The first sentence of their mission statement reads:

‘We believe that a world without extreme poverty is entirely possible, and for us, it starts with providing tools for communities that are traditionally overlooked by mainstream engineering.

No povertyCTI’s Communications Director and Grants Manager Meghan Fleckenstein generously answered my questions about how CTI’s marketing facilitated CTI’s success.

What caught my eye about CTI’s marketing

To begin our conversation, I shared with her my impressions of what I admired about CTI’s marketing:

  • The home page has a clear attractive brand and brand colors and allows responsive viewing across various devices. (Meghan: We update the website several times a week and typically redesign it about every five years. Our next move will not necessarily be toward minimalism but will tend toward easier navigation and a cleaner design.)
  • Right at the top there’s a bright (brand-colored) call to action requesting donations, along with invitations to other social media platforms and to sign up for CTI’s newsletter.
  • The site’s menu layout seemed clear to me, offering plenty of opportunities to explore without confusion. The pages had an interesting mixture of pictures, graphics, and video. (Meghan: the pictures are helpful because the type of work we do isn’t familiar to many. The pictures help visitors to the site understand what we do quickly without bogging them down in technical details and help them connect on a human level with the people CTI serves, too.)
  • CTI puts their annual reports right on their website. That transparency is a good thing to see in a non-profit.
  • The mission statement was clearly written and concise.

In fact, just about the only thing I could find to have a quibble with was the lack of updates on the website calendar.

Audience

Who do you see as the audience for your website? Judging from the FAQs, it looked to me as though you were talking both to potential donors and to the farmers using your products.

Yes, we really do have two audiences we’re communicating with, and we have to keep them both in mind. Obviously, donors are an important part of what we do and that’s the key focus. But there are the collaborators, partners, and farmers who are online. Sometimes we’ll get requests for equipment directly from the farmers.

What about volunteers? The Star Tribune mentioned you work with retired business people and engineers; how do you reach out to them?

We put out ads on Volunteer Match, our website, and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.  A lot of businesses we work with, including big businesses, have internal volunteer databases. We don’t have as many opportunities for people to come in to do non-technical work and leave after a few hours.  Instead, we’re often looking for retired people with a lot of time who are willing to volunteer, who have a lot of expertise and experience that we don’t have the resources to pay.  St. Thomas (University) works with us, especially their engineering department. We also work with a lot of senior design classes where we’ll challenge them to solve a design problem in a new technology.

The challenges of marketing internationally

What we do at CTI

Used with permission

For the most part, the rural communities that we target won’t have internet access. They do have cell phones with text capability and text apps.  So we use old-fashioned techniques: getting out into the field, introducing farmers to the technology, and leaving behind flyers. So many organizations come in and make promises, but their technologies break down. We need to build trust in a brand that is seen as reliable and rugged.  We’re not going to go away if something fails to work the way it should.  Instead, we’ll make sure that someone’s there to help you.  Just because someone lives on a dollar a day doesn’t mean that they don’t recognize quality.

The marketing materials we leave behind are very well-designed.  When we were introducing our thresher in Senegal a few years ago, we developed posters instead of brochures.  People would often hang them up on their wall, so our marketing materials doubled as artwork that people might want.

Training materials have to be sort of IKEA-style, with not a lot of words but pictures so that it can be used in multiple languages. Many of the people we target aren’t able to read, so the technology manuals must be really easy to interpret.

Targeting your message for different platforms

To take one specific example, what would be different about your website versus your newsletter? I saw a reference to the newsletter containing ‘exclusive updates from the field.’  Is there anything else different about the newsletter and the way you present yourself, sort of a philosophy of handling it or presenting information because it’s a newsletter rather than a website?

Anything on the web, we have to imagine that people are going about busy with their day. It has to be easy to scan, easy to read quickly.  Click here if you want more information.  Usually, with the newsletter, emails will be sent out with links to click to read longer articles on our blog. Really, anything we put out should be easy to scan, apart from the annual report. People just don’t sit down and read long articles.  But with the newsletter, with the option to read updates from the field, we want to offer that option for people who are interested in reading more.  We’re going to be introducing an in-print newsletter, which is something we haven’t done. That’s going to be a little bit longer format with more in-depth information.

Written marketing strategy

Do you have a written marketing strategy, apart from the CTI Design Innovation Path?

Yes, we do. We have a communications plan. We also have separate pieces, like a social media guide with some standards because we work with interns and volunteers a lot.  Sort of tips for volunteers who help us, specifically with Facebook.  But yes, on top of that, we have a communications plan in which we put out specific goals and strategies for each year, and it’s really looped in with our development plan each year.

What might you add?

What would you like to do to add to your marketing if you had more time and resources?

  • If we had more money to invest, I think we’d definitely want more video. It is so important for people to hear the voices of the farmers that we’re trying to help, but it can be very expensive. We don’t have a lot of money to hire professional videographers, so we’re always trying to balance just getting video out but making sure it’s professional.
  • We’d like more communications resources in-country. We just had our staff here from Malawi and Senegal.  We spent a lot of time training them on communications: how to take good pictures on a smart phone camera, basic practices on video, and how to interview people.  Our in-country staff needs more tools because they’re talking with farmers every day. That knowledge will help.
  • We’re always looking for help with the technology, the product marketing.  Not a lot of people have focused on targeting small farmers, so we’re breaking new ground, and trying new things.

How are you doing it all?

You have so much going on, and I understand you’re doing the fundraising and development work, too. You’ve said you have relied on interns. I was wondering whether you were using any particular marketing tools.

Honestly, we’re all super passionate about what we do. It’s fun, so we try to keep it fun and then it doesn’t feel like it’s work. But we’re really conscious of setting goals and managing our time.  We all have our own organization tools. I still love writing out a to-do list so I know what’s coming up.  We use an Excel-style dashboard that’s for communications about fundraising, mapping out what opportunities we know are coming down the pipeline, like who’s going to be traveling. What are the big pieces we need to put out each month? We try to re-use content as much as possible to save us time, as we do with the newsletter and the blog. We get a lot of volunteers, and two communications interns are helping us this year. And we try to be very conscious about not overlapping work, so we’re very organized about what we’re working on.

For further reading:

Meghan referred me to a blog post she wrote about CTI’s marketing strategy in Senegal.  She also recommended the blog How Matters, which covers international development and marketing.

Your turn

What do you find particularly striking or inspirational about CTI’s marketing? Are there some ideas here which you might like to bring to your own organization?

[*This is the first in a series of posts examining the marketing of non-profits and organizations that are addressing the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  See my initial post “Helping the Pale Blue Dot: Earth” for the beginning of the project.]

Finally, here is one of the videos on CTI’s home page, created for them by a talented intern.