Skip to content

Implementing the golden rule of marketing

5 minute read

Oxfam, a globally renown aid and development agency founded in 1942, explains how it has recently undergone a company restructure to transform its relationship with supporters.

By James Sutton, Audience Planner at Oxfam


Oxfam, a confederation of 20 independent charitable organisations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty, partners with around 90 countries around the world, and at any one time can be working in around 20 or more global emergencies.

James Sutton, Audience Planner at Oxfam, describes the key issue Oxfam worked on in 2018 to improve the experience for its supporters. “We were very product-led. In the organisational side of Oxfam, you can imagine lots of different teams wanting to talk to our audience about different ways that they can support Oxfam. What that meant was the more supporters talked to Oxfam and the more interested they were in our work, the worse their experience was because we had lots of teams competing for their attention.”

He says this is why a restructure was decided. “We needed to really be thinking about our audiences’ needs and meeting our audience where they are.”


This idea became Oxfam’s “golden rule”, and now underpins all interactions with its supporters. Sutton lists the three key ways in which Oxfam tries to “meet its audience where they are”:

  • Emotionally: “What’s going on in the world around them?”
  • Their life stage: “Think about their emotional state, and the Issues they might face in their world at the moment.”
  • Their device: “What are they using? How do they like to enjoy their media”


Another element to the restructure was moving from a “push” to a “pull” marketing approach. This required Oxfam’s content to be “emotional personal, and engaging” – hitting the audience’s emotional touchpoints in order for it to “inspire, entertain, and emote”.

Sutton explains this further: “We’ve moved to an approach where we’re not selling, but we’re actually speaking and engaging with our audience.” He mentions that, in the digital age, people can feel drained by the constant calls to action they receive. This new, more emotive approach can be a welcome change for supporters. “As you get through to that deeper engagement, you should be thinking at every single stage: how are you tapping into that person’s emotions, or inspiring, or entertaining them?”

Furthermore, this restructure also entailed moving to an “insight-led” marketing approach. “Insight decided everything that we were doing, and should
be pulling all the needs from the audience in order for us to make our decisions on how we market to them.” He says this involved Oxfam moving its “insight
and data teams together”, “really thinking about how we would meet our audience’s needs, going back to that golden rule”, and “asking really simple questions to our audience”

Following on from this, Sutton notes that, although collecting big data about audiences is important for deciding how to deliver multichannel campaigns, it is essential for marketers to not get “lost” in this and consequently “move away from what it actually is that would meet your audience’s needs”. He says asking simple questions can be an essential way to achieve an “insight-led approach” successfully, and helps to “tap into the audience’s emotional state to try and get them to know, think, feel, and do”


Oxfam utilised their “supporter community” throughout the entire process of the organisation’s change, testing their objectives and progress continually
and repeatedly and collecting feedback. Sutton says: “We have developed a community of around 1,000 of our supporters; we recruited them via e-mail, and most likely the fact that they offer to do this is because they are our most engaged audience. Every month we send them e-mails and ask them simple things; it might be what we’re thinking of doing next year, it might be asking what they think of the brand, or it might be testing simple creative with them.”

He continues: “They give us a great insight into whether what we’re doing is working, if we need to go back and make changes, or if it really doesn’t work with our audience at all. We make sure that we test all of our objectives. That links back to the pull approach, making sure that we’re sense-checking everything that we’re doing.”

“It’s a great chance to bring a closer connection with some of our supporters, and make them feel like they’re the ones building Oxfam.”

Moreover, Sutton highlights the need for a multichannel approach in marketing. “Within Oxfam, we roughly know that it takes about four touch points with our supporters for them to either convert or do something with us. When we’re just talking to someone through one channel it is easy for them to switch off or not be as engaged. We know that we need to be serving them across every single channel, and this goes back to both the golden rule and the push and pull approach where you are there at every single stage of your audience’s life cycle or how they use and interact with devices and media.”

He continues: “We have such a large, diverse audience that we need to make sure that we’re thinking about anywhere that they might be. It’s crucial at the
very start of planning to be thinking: ‘is this going to be a multi-channel campaign?’ and if not, then it should go back to the drawing board.”


Sutton says that Oxfam has had a “really exciting last couple of years” with the restructure, and Salesforce is currently being implemented across the organisation. “This is an exciting time. We’re really going to start living our values of this audience-led approach, and we’re very excited to see that come into action, both in terms of a restructure of processes and how we work, and also the technology around it.”

He finishes by emphasising the fact that supporters are Oxfam’s main priority, with a focus on building lasting positive relationships with them. “We want to make sure our supporters get the best experience with us, and they’re deeply engaged with what we do and feel very closely involved. We want to make sure we give them the best possible journey. Over the next couple of years, we’ll start to see that roll out and we’ve got some fantastic campaigns to bring that to life.”


If you are looking for fresh and innovative ideas to bring to your next marketing strategy, hear from like-minded leaders in the industry as they bring you take home tips for building your brand, community and customer loyalty. Register today:


Keep up to date with the latest events, resources and articles.

Sign-up for the Engage Martech newsletter