Data Challenges: A Marketer's Guide to the Present by Way of the Past
Once upon a time, the only customized marketing available was face-to-face (the First Age). That changed when people got mail addresses (Second). Then phone numbers (Third). Then email addresses (Fourth). Each media and age started as something both completely mass market and completely individualized, with nothing in the middle.
The Web used to be like this. But then came cookies (Fifth), which could recognize the device accessing a site. But now, we are awash in connectivity: desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, watch, game console, etc.—at work, at home and everywhere else.
To solve this, our Facebook, Google and Twitter logins follow us around the Web (Sixth). These sites connect us to our browsing, our browsing to our email addresses, our email addresses to relationships with people and organizations, and those relationships to customized experiences as we travel the Web.
As we marketers look at this sixth-generation world, we see both opportunity and threat. The opportunity is to be able to create an online experience that fits users’ needs, wants and as-yet unexpressed desires. The threat? We will be expected to do so, as we have with mail, phone and email before us.
Think of how you feel when you get a piece of mail addressed “Dear Occupant,” a cold call from a telemarketer or a spam message by email. Pretty soon, that’s how you will feel when you get an ad that isn’t targeted to you, online or offline.
In summary: With great addressability comes great customization responsibility. It’s time to embrace the promise of online addressability for our nonprofits.
Here is (part of) how:
Set your budget. This may sound counterintuitive, because the first targeting you will be doing is to those most likely to donate. As a result, you should have an initially positive return on investment (ROI). (Hopefully you will get to the point where you are investing to get new constituents, but that comes later.) Thus, setting your first online advertising and outreach budget is a bit like setting your budget for entering a casino: How much are you willing to lose this first time out?
If you make money, congratulations: Plow your winnings back into investing in online constituents. If you don’t, you want your losses to be capped as you regroup, learn and try again.
Set up remarketing. While device tracking is so, like, totally, Fifth Age, you don’t get to ignore previous ages as we move forward. If someone came to your donation page from a computer, but didn’t donate, that is still a very good prospect. Work with a partner (a few in the space are AdRoll, Facebook, Google, Perfect Audience, Quantcast and ReTargeter) and start trying to re-attract people to your site and engage opportunities.
Customize your retargeting to your audience. It’s OK to start with the logic of “if they came to my donation page, they must be interested in donating.” But if your nonprofit focuses on education, conservation and advocacy, shouldn’t the people who come to the advocacy section get an advocacy pitch, and so on? The answer to this rhetorical question is yes. And, believe it or not, doing this will put you ahead of most of the nonprofit remarketers out there.
Get your tags in order. A system like Google Tag Manager, which is free, can keep track of your cookies and tags that you are applying to your users. At minimum, you will want to have tags from your analytics system (Google Analytics or a like service) in this, along with information from whatever ad networks you want to use.
Start with free. I know it sounds like I am promoting Google a bit here. This is not necessarily because it is the best. (It may be, but I don’t know.) It is because it is free. In my experience, when you are starting out, free is a magic word that allows you to cut through bureaucracy, purchase orders, invoices, managerial approval and the like. You may want a paid solution in the future—there are many good ones—but these campaigns go much better when there’s proven ROI first.
Get your audience data in order. While we are talking about online audiences here, your goal is to have multichannel discussions with every constituent who wants them. Running an e-append on your offline file and an electronic change-of-address (ECOA) process on all of your bouncing email opt-ins not only helps your email file, but also provides the necessary grist for the mill for your device-independent targeting.
Start co-targeting campaigns. These are most easily run on Google and Facebook to start. Generally, you will have about a 50 percent match rate with either service. These ads can go directly to your donation and/or engagement pages, depending on your goals. Your first campaigns will likely be to existing donors trying to get them to donate again (proving your ROI first). But any time after this first campaign, you will want to start on the following two items.
Expand your co-targeting campaigns. Some immediate potential wins:
- Advertising to donors who will be receiving communications in coordination with that campaign. For example, if you just mailed out a membership card and emailed your constituents about their memberships, setting up membership-focused ads on Google and Facebook can improve the response rate online and offline.
- Advertising to lapsed donors as a way to reacquire them to the organization.
- Conversion co-targeting of non-donors. That is, if you have online advocates, advertising to them as a way of asking them to make the leap to giving.
Differentiate co-targeting audiences. One common mistake with co-targeting campaigns is uploading everyone with an email address into one campaign. Let’s say you are advertising to mail donors, encouraging them to become an online donor. Do you want your $10 offline donor and your $1,000 offline donor to receive the same $25, $50, $100, $500, “other” online ask string? You likely do not.
Similarly, you don’t want your advocacy supporters to get the same ads as your education supporters. Ideally, these supporters would be uploaded in separate groups so that you can test and target different ad copy/design to them.
Once you have your remarketing and co-targeting set up, it’s time to turn on look-alike audiences. Yes, your online data can help you with new donor and constituent acquisition as well. These services, in addition to advertising to your current constituents, will find people that model similarly to the people who already like you, then encourage them to like you as well.
Finally, you want to check ROIs and refine constantly. Some organizations will embark on this project looking to acquire new donors at no net cost. Some will look to be net positive. Others will realize that an investment is necessary to further growth. Regardless of your goals, the only way to make sure you achieve them is to consistently tweak your audience, offer, budget and message to refine your program.
At the beginning of this article, I teased that we are going to be living in the Seventh Age of addressability. The eagle-eyed among you will see only six. The Seventh Age, which is right around the corner, is customized advertising by medium. Netflix, Hulu, DirecTV, Spotify—all of them have your email addresses and robust knowledge of your preferences. Right now, they are running algorithms to see what you will want to watch and listen to.
But they also have an unexploited platform. Right now, Hulu runs seemingly undifferentiated ads. How much more could they make per impression if they were serving ads to the specific people that advertisers want to reach?
So, strap on your sixth-generation tool belt. Because the future is coming. And it will not pause to lament your cause if it passes by.
Nick Ellinger joined the Moore, where he works to increase the automation and customization of fundraising as chief brand officer, in January 2020. Before that, he was DonorVoice’s vice president of marketing strategy, working with organizations like Catholic Relief Services, Share our Strength | No Kid Hungry, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation to look at their fundraising with a different lens. He developed his direct fundraising muscle running Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s direct marketing program for a decade. He’s also the author of "The New Nonprofit" to challenge fundraising norms.