How the collecting bug can motivate your customers

The human need to collect and solve challenges can be used by small businesses to raise their profile even if the inspiration is from large public art displays.

If you are looking for an example of innovative fundraising and profile building, you cannot go further than a campaign last autumn run by a Sussex-based Sussex Martlets charity which raised £337,000 in one night through an auction.

Not a bad night’s work, but what were they auctioning? Nothing more than giant-sized fibreglass interpretations of Raymond Briggs’ Snowdog, the auction finale of an two-month campaign of public art and events that had dominated Brighton & Hove late last year.

There is no doubt that significant investment, and therefore risk, was put in to make this a success. After all, 44 fibreglass Snowdogs and a sand sculpture, each individually designed by an artist and sponsored by a local business or organisation, and placed at a wide number of locations across the city would take some significant logistics and planning, but the results were impressive.  

I must say I wasn’t sure when I saw the first couple of dogs around Brighton’s Preston Park and the Duke of York’s Cinema.  But a chance meeting at the Brighton Chamber of Commerce Summit with their project leader change my mind. She  explained how the sense of loss in the story of the Snowman/ Snowdog chimed with their work around hospice care, and I got to see how it fitted with their profile.

Then I saw the map of the 45 dogs dotted from the Amex to central Brighton to Hove Lagoon and Hove Park, I saw the scale of the project and suddenly that collector’s bug started in me.

 From the Panini Football '86 sticker album.
From the Panini Football ’86 sticker album.

Thirty-one years ago,  my collecting bug was like most boys – Panini Football Stickers – and a determined need to find David Preece of Luton Town to finish my collection. You see, there is a human need to collect sets of things, it may be thimbles, vinyl records, books, but also people like to collect locations. Every year groups try to visit every London Underground station in one day. I once knew someone who said he visited McDonalds in every place he visited (rather dull). This same spirit of going on a journey, to seek and find, had come again, so I decided I would visit all 45 in one day by foot.

It was a long day – taking me 9 hours and 15 minutes starting at the Amex Stadium in the East walking to the Marina then Kemptown, Queen’s Park, Preston Park, central Brighton, Seven Dials, Hove Lagoon and Hove Park. My rough calculation is that it was 19.5 miles, but since I had to walk a mile to my bus to the Amex it was over 20. I was tired but there was a sense of achievement. My wife and daughter managed to walk 20 the next weekend and we picked up another 20 as as family before they were taken in for their final show. In the end, through generous contributions of friends and family, we raised a nice sum for the Martlets.

 Somewhat tired at Snowdog 45 in Hove Park (9 hrs and 15 minutes after I started).
Somewhat tired at Snowdog 45 in Hove Park (9 hrs and 15 minutes after I started).

What I found interesting, is that before this, I knew a little about the Martlets Hospice but I had never thought of fundraising for them. This impressive display of public art and a challenge to visit them all took me to new boundaries and I understand I was not alone. Some keen cross country runners ran the route, others cycled, and some joyfully took eight weeks to visit them all – we don’t all need to rush you know. There was even an app which linked in with local businesses offering deals and value for the visitor which VisitBrighton sponsored, adding more profile, gaining 8,500 downloads and 180,000 QR code clicks. As a result, Martlets’ profile has risen significantly, and in some ways they can say they have written a page into the history of the city.

Of course, the ultimate collection is owning one, and many congratulations to their new generousowners who put their hands in the pockets or business bank balances to buy one. My eagle-eyed son noticed that my favourite one based on Blue Willow pottery is now in the reception of Bright Blue Wealth Coastal in Kensington Street. But even this was well thought out, with porcelain models on some, t-shirts and books at pocket money prices, so everyone would have a souvenir.

Yes, this was a big budget exercise, beyond the abilities of most small charities and organisations, but that doesn’t mean smaller firms cannot learn from this campaign. 

Is there an innovative way you can raise profile and engage with local businesses, making them feel part of a club? Maybe you can present your services in the form of a set of collectable postcards?  Or you can engage with your customer to interact with you by setting them a challenge to learn more about what you do?  Even advertise in a limited number of locations with thought provoking questions encouraging customers to seek out the other adverts and find the answers like a treasure hunt.

This might seem light and unbusinesslike,  But before this campaign would you have thought that giant fibreglass Snowdogs would have any link with hospice care?  It captured the imagination. By doing the same with your customer, donor or service user, by producing something creative and distinctive, you might well see profile and interest in your company increase.

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