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Lessons in Simplicity, courtesy of the American Red Cross

January 15, 2010

You can text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.

The earthquake in Haiti this week has had a profound impact on people from all over the world, and it’s quite moving to see the outpouring of support that has taken place in the aftermath of this disaster.  One thing that occurred to me last night was how the American Red Cross has been able to engage people to donate money quickly using a very simple method – an SMS campaign.  As of Friday morning 1.15, they had raised $8 million from the campaign in $10 increments, and donations are still on an upward trajectory.

Let’s take a moment to think about this.  $8 million in less than 3 days.  This is big!  To put it into perspective, this is equal to the corporate cash donations of Microsoft, Kellogg, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Bank of America, Western Union, General Mills, Kraft, GoDaddy, Walmart, and Morgan Stanley combined!  And we’re only 3 days into this simple text-to-donate campaign.  This is a remarkable example of simplicity being the key to getting people to take action.  I can’t think of a better example of a successful, yet simple campaign that has taken off so quickly.

What is the lesson here for marketers?  I believe there are a couple of lessons actually.  Number one being that people have a desire to help others in need.  This goes back to the cause efforts that I’ve been writing about lately.  It’s obvious that we have a connection with our fellow humans that runs deeper than social classes or geographic boundaries.  I won’t beat this drum to death here, as I think it’s self explanatory that aligning with relevant causes can be an effective way for brands to connect with people.

The second lesson that inspired this post is that sometimes simplicity can be very effective at getting people to take a desired action.  I think sometimes we fall into a trap as marketers and digital pundits where we are so focused on the new tools that are out there that we forget some of the most effective tools have been around for quite a while.  The Red Cross could have probably created a much more elaborate donation mechanism using all kinds of fancy tools and tactics, but instead they set up a simple way for people to make a donation quickly and easily from their mobile phone (not just smartphones).  Simple.  Effective.  Viral.  Of course, the message went viral due to people posting the campaign on social channels and the exposure the campaign received in other media, but you have to wonder how this would have worked if there had not been such an easy path to donate.

Take a moment and think about programs you have coming up or goals you are trying to achieve as 2010 gets underway.  Are there things you can do to simplify the process for the people you are communicating with?  It’s worth taking a step back from time to time to evaluate what’s working and how things can be made easier for people.

What do you think?  Did simplicity play a part in the Red Cross achieving this level of support?

Also, if you are interested, here’s a great article from AdAge that details the efforts that some corporations are making to assist in the disaster recovery.