Market Invention and Advocacy

By Denise Kohnke, Chief Strategy Officer, Merit

3 min readOct 7, 2021

Should there be “profit” in “non-profit?”

This direction was given to me by one of my favorite CEOs I’d ever worked with — for multiple metropolitan YMCAs and a stint with the YMCA of the USA. “I will spare no expense to look cheap.”

We worked together for over a decade, because everywhere we went, growth followed. What he meant was, “The brand has to have the appropriate tone, fit and finish depending who we’re speaking with.” He got it: The brand still had to convey quality, because no one wants to join, give to, volunteer for, or be identified with an organization that looks that it cuts the wrong corners.

Brand development, and corresponding campaign development for non-profits or advocacy groups, is the equivalent of showing up to X meeting in X clothes. Do I show up to a job interview looking like I need the money? NO. Do I show up to a donor meeting looking like I’m on the front line of food drive? NO.

Our marketing results, together, were nothing short of remarkable. It wasn’t called this at the time, but what we did was Market Invention, in that we made the YMCA something no one had ever seen before, something that broke through existing perceptions, and the literal impact of our campaigns closed fitness clubs wherever we went.

He operated his YMCAs like businesses. And in each market, because of that, the impact of the YMCA transformational experience, the “pixie dust” of belonging to a community of good people doing good things, was exponential. This brings us to Market Invention and its applicability to non-profits and advocacy groups.

For those of you who don’t know, Market Invention is taking a challenger brand out of its struggle to compete in a saturated market, and systematically creating a new market that is lead by the said challenger. Market Invention’s foundation is audaciously big thinking in parallel with laying the foundation with day-to-day, short-term marketing.

Is Market Invention for every non-profit? Probably not. Market Invention thinks BIG. It is brave. It is creative. It is for organizations who are PASSIONATE about their missions and visions for a better world.

And, frankly, it is best suited for non-profits and advocacy groups that, themselves, think like for-profit brands to support sustainability and reinvestment: multiple revenue streams, advanced donor and user personifications, high impact creative and analytics to track effectiveness of all media and their manicured expressions — paid, earned, owned and shared.

It’s not over-communication (like what has become of political advertising), but, rather, appropriate storytelling in a narrative with beats in a prospect journey.

If done right, the organization becomes something that no one has ever seen before, leading an eco-system of influence that is rocket fuel for growth, understanding and impact.

What’s your “Spare no expense to look _______” and why?

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Hello. We are Merit. We are business consultants and futurists who activate brands with creativity and rigor. Market Invention is the philosophy that drives us.