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RNLI shifts marketing strategy to focus on younger audience as it plots app and personalisation drive


By Natalie Mortimer, N/A

October 21, 2014 | 4 min read

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) is undergoing a major overhaul of its marketing strategy and digital infrastructure as it looks to engage with a younger audience and create more personalised content for its supporters.

Speaking to The Drum, digital transformation manager, Neil Thornburn, revealed that the charity is trying to change the way it interacts with what is “essentially the polar opposite” of its historic audience and is working in conjunction with Bournemouth University to understand how to better target the youth audience.

“Rather than chasing the 22 year-olds now – because by the time we get there they’ll be gone - what we’ve done is to look to the 15 year-olds to understand the way they absorb the internet and share content, because it is so completely different than the way a 20 year-old will use the internet.

“If we can start to change the way that we create content and push messaging, and start to drive change now, by the time they [the audience] get to their early twenties we have a new set of people that we can start to target. It’s a challenge and it’s essentially the polar opposite of our historic target audience.”

The RNLI held its first hackathon with local fisherman this month to create a new app focusing on coastal safety and prevention. The app was born out of the idea that the RNLI needed an engaging digital asset that was more than “just a microsite”.

“The RNLI respond to about three incidents every day involving fisherman, so we decided we needed to push something out there to fisherman to start to raise awareness of the dangers of fishing and things to look out for,” explained Thornborn.

“Obviously digital came to the forefront in this space and I’ve been working with the coastal safety team to come up with some innovative ideas and it became apparent that we couldn’t just create a microsite that says, ‘wear a life jacket when you go fishing or wear a life jacket and take a selfie’, it’s just not going to work.”

Thornborn and his team drummed up ideas for an app that could potentially send out warning messages to fishermen, but then decided to invite 30 local fisherman to come up with their own ideas and present a six-second Dragon’s Den-style pitch.

The winning app went into production late last week, and while Thornborn remained tight-lipped about what the content of the app will entail, he did say that it was something that RNLI “couldn’t have come up with” had it not had the input from the fisherman.

A stream of digital projects are also in the works, including overhauling the RNLI website, to deliver hyper-local, personalised content, alongside the exploration of social platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram.

As part of the overhaul, the RNLI began to accept Bitcoin, after it decided that the charity needed to be prepared should it be left a legacy donation in the currency.

Luke Williams, social media innovation officer, who led the Bitcoin project told The Drum that since launch on 30 July, the charity has received 167 donations totalling around £1700; a figure he feels will continue to rise.

“It’s been very encouraging; we had an initial spike in donations but it has continued and we see a donation every couple of days.

“We realised that it will open us up to new audiences and supporters and one of the things we’ve found from comments on platforms like Reddit is that it has been really well received.”

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