The American Red Cross wants every household to do three things: to build an emergency kit, to create a communication and evacuation plan, and to be informed about the disasters that are common in their communities. Fair enough, but how are they going to make it happen? By working the basics of a good marketing strategy: Defining their audience, creating a message that resonates with that audience, and delivering the message through channels their audience already trusts and uses.

Yesterday I spoke with Mark Ferguson, who manages the “Do More than Cross Your Fingers” campaign and other corporate partnerships for the American Red Cross. He shared some of the back story behind what you’ll see at, which officially launched yesterday.

Defining the Audience: Moms with Kids at Home

Mark says that historical research and experience shows that moms with kids under 18 living at home are especially receptive to messages about disaster preparedness. No surprise there — if anyone is going to care about the nest and the babies in it, it’s mom. But some recent research also shows that 82% of moms say they drive household purchases. So if you are trying to get a family to organize a disaster preparedness kit that will most likely require some purchases, reaching out to the people who decide what to buy makes sense.

Creating the Message: Testing the Campaign Slogan

But what do you say to a busy mom to get her to make this a priority?

Mark says that it was important for the Red Cross to come up with a message that spoke to moms but that also had broader appeal to the American public at large. Even if moms were the target, the message needed to be appropriate for a much wider audience as well.

It was also important, says Mark, for the message to start from where people are now and to help them move forward with their family disaster planning, regardless of how much they may have already done. Through their research, they knew that about 80% of families had taken one of the three key steps (getting a kit, making a plan, or staying informed) and this campaign was about moving them to take another.

To come up with the right message, the Red Cross hired the firm Catchword Branding which specializes in naming. They provided 1,000 possible slogans to the Red Cross, many of which were simple variations on one idea. Using a cross-functional team (marketing, development, disaster preparedness, field staff, etc.), the Red Cross whittled the list down to the best five. Those five were then tested through an online survey with Harris Interactive to find which one resonated best both with moms and with the public at large.

Of the five options, says Mark, one was in the form of a question and one played on the “heroes” theme that the Red Cross has used successfully before. Another one was deemed too snarky or too clever (survey respondents said it just didn’t sound like the Red Cross). The chosen theme, Do More Than Cross Your Fingers, stood out among the five with both moms and the public at large. “It was fresh,” says Mark, “but not in any way offensive.”

I think the message works for two reasons. First, it meets the stated goal of starting where most people really are, which is crossing our fingers. Second, it urges us to take action, to “Do More” and not so subtly points out that finger crossing is not really a valid approach, but without being pushy or preachy about it.

Delivering the Message: Going Where Moms Are and Using Voices They Trust

With a message in hand, the next decision was how to get it out to moms. “We know that moms are really active online,” says Mark, quoting a Nielsen survey this year that said that 20% of the active online population are moms aged 25-54 with at least one child living at home. Thus the campaign centers on and all of the other online and offline tactics will point back to that page.

The Red Cross also wanted to emphasize that each family is different and so what’s in their emergency kits should be different too. Thus one of the key components of the website is a game called Prepare 4 that helps you build your own personalized kit.

“One of the goals is to make disaster preparedness simple and interesting,” says Mark, “Not just a brochure or ho-hum shopping list. We wanted something interactive and friendly.” During the game, you answer questions that help you build a kit that’s customized for your family, right down to including something fun for the kids to do while the power is out. At the end of the game, your list of items in emailed to you so that you can go gather up the items from around your house and go shopping for what’s missing.

You can also share what you are including in your personal kit with others in the My Kit section, as spokesperson Jamie Lee Curtis has done on the site via video. The selection of Curtis as the spokesperson is another move that connects well with moms.

The Red Cross’s social media maven Wendy Harman has been reaching out to  Mommy Bloggers (one of the biggest forces within the blogosphere) who have blogged about disaster preparedness before. They are also pursuing coverage in traditional print magazines focused on women and parenting. Cause marketing partnerships with Clorox (a brand many moms use daily) and FedEx (many moms also run small businesses and FedEx is already reaching out to NASCAR moms with the preparedness message) round out the campaign channels. FedEx is distributing disaster preparedness brochures and Clorox is sponsoring a radio media tour.

Measuring Results

Mark says that the Red Cross will use its annual fall survey with Harris Interactive on how well prepared American households are for a disaster to help measure the effectiveness of the campaign, including a survey later this month. They’ll compare those figures to a baseline survey completed in August.

No matter how big or how small your nonprofit may be, going through these basic steps in creating your strategy is always a smart approach. Just like with disaster preparedness, you have to do more than cross your fingers with nonprofit marketing too!