By show of hands, how many people only think about mail and e-mail when considering your multichannel strategy? Some of us over 40 probably consider “multichannel” to mean mail/phone! But the hipsters out there know that multichannel means far more than that. “Online” isn’t a single channel. Effective digital marketing is inherently multichannel — using e-mail to convert online activists acquired through a petition site? Multichannel. Optimizing your search-engine results to drive traffic to your website? Multichannel. Posting a free sticker offer on your Facebook page to collect names for your e-mail file? All together now … multichannel.
Along those lines, did you ever wonder how the elusive gods of the interwebs know that you want to buy a new pair of running shoes? And the shoes you just looked at on Zappos suddenly show up in your feed on Facebook? And then chase you over to The Huffington Post? Isn’t it about time you used such retargeting technology to find folks who visited your website or abandoned your donation form?
But how does retargeting work?
With pixels and cookies and cookie pools, of course! Scratching your head yet? Keep reading — we are delighted to bring you one organization’s story to launch an integrated, multichannel digital fundraising campaign.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has had a robust offline direct-response program for years. More recently, the organization has developed a strong online fundraising program too, as part of its multichannel approach. In 2011, with an emphasis on growing its monthly giving program, MSF ventured online with targeted banner ads promoting monthly giving. Two and a half years later, the organization has refined and improved its targeting and creative strategy to boost performance and enhance the donor experience.
While its program is big today — one of the larger online sustainer acquisition programs in the market — MSF started small with retargeting. By simply placing a pixel (a string of code that drops a “cookie” on a visitor and is stored in the visitor’s browser) on its website, MSF was able to promote a fundraising ask to visitors who did not make donations after they left the organization’s site. These “ads” appeared on news sites, social-networking sites and even on online games. Donors were omitted from these retargeting efforts through the use of exclusion pixels (they are exactly what they sound like!), further enhancing the donor experience and not wasting the marketing spend on prospects who already converted.
When the initial testing yielded promising results, MSF developed targeted creative with more urgency and a stronger ask. As the cookie pool grew, it also could secure better ad inventory and better pricing too.
By monitoring and optimizing the results, MSF now uses its cookie pool (i.e., the pool of people cookied while visiting its site) to retarget nondonor visitors differently from one-time donors — and again differently from monthly donors. For example, a one-time donor is served an ad promoting the monthly giving program 14 days after the one-time gift transaction. With this strategy, sustainer conversion rates were 17 times higher than general retargeting. Not surprisingly, MSF didn’t stop there. The organization has used e-mail to echo retargeted messaging with strong results.
But what does that mean for me?
Well, you might be saying, my organization doesn’t have that much money to spend to create a multichannel digital program. Annika Bryntse and Bob Schwartz, our friends at True North Inc. (the digital agency that helped MSF develop its digital acquisition program), suggest otherwise. Starting with a modest test program gives great insights into messaging, publishers and creative, which in turn can fuel a more efficient rollout. As key acquisition targets are hit, the remarketing campaign can expand as profitability grows. It’s self-funding, in a way.
For those on a more limited budget, targeted use of Google’s self-serve AdWords platform could help optimize your Web traffic with retargeting (just make sure your donate forms are optimized). Separately, but along similar lines, we hear rumors that remarketing might soon also be available through Google Grants on Google’s display network — let’s all keep our fingers crossed!
So, you may ask, where is all this retargeting stuff headed — and what will the next phase look like? As we alluded, the possibilities of refined retargeting are nearly endless — from retargeting one-time donors with sustainer invites to major-donor prospects with special cultivation ads around their areas of interest or planned-giving prospects with information about the impact your organization is making. And now, retargeting can be conducted on Facebook with “sponsored post” ads that appear in news feeds. And some groups are using direct-response retargeting to target online ads to donors, lapsed donors and prospects on their offline or e-mail files regardless of whether they have ever visited their sites — but that may be a topic for a future column.
Please let us know your experiences and ideas about how the nonprofit sector can best use retargeting as part of the multichannel mix.
(Special thanks to Annika Bryntse and Bob Schwartz from True North and to the marketing team at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières for their contributions to this article.)
Karin Kirchoff is vice president at MINDset Direct. Reach her at email@example.com. Jeff Regen is vice president of development at WETA TV 26 and Classical WETA 90.9 FM. reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org