Six marketing lessons from the Girl Scouts

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The organization's Digital Cookie sales platform dramatizes the savvy of wired Scouts.

"Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold." 

If these words ring a bell, it may be because they're the opening lyrics of a timeless Girl Scouts hymn. But this scout song doesn't just apply to friendship; it also applies to marketing. And in the case of the Girl Scouts, the old friend is it's 103-year-old legacy, and the new friend is digital.

The Girl Scouts started baking digital into its time-honored cookie-selling program this past December when it announced the Digital Cookie — a two-way digital sales platform. Through the platform, scouts can either send consumers emails inviting them to purchase via the young entrepreneurs' personalized websites or they can use the mobile app component to enable credit card processing and direct shipping for orders taken in-person.

"It's really a layer of the iconic Girl Scout Cookie program, which has been around for almost 100 years," Sarah Gormley, CMO of Girl Scouts USA, said during the Adobe Summit's Day Two keynote. 

People gobbled up the news about the Girl Scouts' Digital Cookie. In fact, the young women's empowerment organization secured about 3.5 billion media impressions within four days of its announcement, which in turn lead to increases in both Web traffic and leads.

But Digital Cookie is driving even sweeter results. Through the program, girl scouts learn valuable business skills, including business ethics, money management, how to connect with others, the importance of giving back to the community, and now digital marketing, Gormley said. 

So in the spirit of believing that you're never too old to learn something new, here are six marketing lessons we can all learn from some of America's youngest entrepreneurs.

1. Don't underestimate the power of human connection. Girl Scouts today are growing up as digital natives. And in an era where it's easier to make Facebook friends than true friends, these young women still see the value of offline personal relationships. In fact, 90% of girl scouts say that they would give up all social media to keep a best friend, Gormley said.

"It's connecting it to what matters — the in-person experience [and] the human connection — and how you translate that into take-action projects and give back," she said.

2. Identify your target audiences and create seamless experiences for them. Volunteers play a crucial role for the Girl Scouts. While the average volunteer in the U.S. gives 80 hours of community service, the average Girl Scout volunteer gives 200 hours, Gormley said. Therefore, making it easy for volunteers to designate their time to the Girl Scouts is vital to the organization.

"The volunteers are the heart and soul of Girl Scouts because they deliver the Girl Scout experience," Gormley said. "They're leading the troops."

However, the Girl Scouts consists of 112 councils nationwide — and 112 websites to go along with them. 

"In terms of streamlining and moving [to] shared services and platforms, we have a little bit more complexity than some...startups," Gormley said. So, the Girl Scouts has to continuously search for ways to make its content and customer experience seamless for volunteers, such as by removing archaic forms and putting volunteer tool kits at their fingertips via mobile devices, she said.

3. Form friendships across your organization. There's no denying that marketing can be expensive. So, it's up to marketers to articulate that their efforts are revenue generators, rather than cost centers, to their CEOs, CFOs, and CTOs, Gormley said. Doing so, she added, will enable the organization's tools, talent, and services to all be aligned. 

4. Know what kind of talent you need: When it comes to securing the right talent, Gormley said that organizations have three choices: "Learn it, rent it, or buy it." Learn it requires companies to enhance their existing team members' skills and get them up to speed quickly; rent it involves relying on a consultancy or an agency to support and build efforts; and buy it demands hiring new staff members who excel in a particular area, she explained.

5. Make sure that everyone is part of the same troop. "It really is that need to align yourself with partners in the technology space, [as well as with] products and services — and make sure that [those partners] know where you are in your evolution as an organization to realize the greatest efficiency," Gormley said.

6. Be willing to learn. Just as how the Girl Scouts develop new skills, it's important for marketers to be willing to do the same. Because, as Gormley noted, nobody has all the answers: We're all trying to navigate the digital landscape together, she said, and learn as we go.

"If I think about the marketing big picture,"  she added, "marketing today is really about transformation, commiseration, and celebration."

This article first appeared on dmnews.com.

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