Profiles, Personas and Personalities, Oh My!
Let’s be clear—segmentation strategies do not happen overnight. There’s a lot that goes into a solid segmentation strategy. And, if you are under the impression that segmentation is a standalone approach to how you split up a group of people who are receiving your marketing communication, you are thinking of only the tip of the iceberg. You are not incorrect—segmentation is about how your marketing universe is separated to achieve the greatest performance to meet your goals—but how the segmentation is built is where the real detail (and work) lives.
To segment your constituents you must understand your constituents. I don’t care if you want to call it profiling or creating personas—there are several key elements we all must understand:
1. Basic Demographics: Some of this information may actually be available in your database, because various departments have gathered it or paid for overlays from outside data suppliers. But these are the basics that will get things started. Knowing the age of your donors is a very important piece of the profile for various reasons (channel, messaging, creative, etc.). Most nonprofits have this type of information already due to long-running direct marketing programs and/or planned giving initiatives. Next on the list would be estimated income or some level of wealth indicator. It’s simple, really. Understanding the financial capacity of your constituents will give you a view into the viability of financial opportunities you are serving up to them. Finally, many people consider gender to be a primary demographic data point. However, I would not prioritize this, as most testing in the past around communication-style and creative has not shown major differences between males and females. If you are considering spending money for this information, I would de-prioritize gender and perhaps create rules around first names (the safe first names). With all this said, basic demographics are not going to get you far with your segmentation so you need more to understand who your constituents really are.
2. Location: It’s a simple question: Where are your constituents? However, don’t just think about their zip code—although it is important to know how your constituents map out geographically. This is more than just city/state. Your location profiling can also identify if your constituents are primarily in rural areas or urban areas. But, you also need to understand where they are (spending their time) across your various marketing channels. Who is engaged locally in the community with your brand, who is only using offline channels (magazines, mail, phone, newsletters), who is primarily engaging online with your brand, etc.? Of course, within the online/digital space there is a wealth of information available—are your constituents engaging in social media channels with your organization, only via email, primarily via your website, etc. You have to keep in mind that marketing to your constituents most effectively involves meeting them where they are engaging already.
3. Interests and Preferences: If you are really into data science and insight—this is where it gets really exciting. Yes, I said "exciting!" Okay, maybe exciting is a bit much. With interests and preferences there are two different layers: internal and external. The internal layer is related to behaviors and information you have gathered within your organization. This can be insight gathered from feedback tools/surveys, forms completed online about communication preferences, newsletter signups, and simply how people are engaging with your brand. If your organization is sophisticated and has an e-newsletter, it is possible to actually monitor the topics within the newsletter that your constituents are consistently reading and then build that into a profile for messaging. That’s just one example of how far you can take internal monitoring to understand groups of constituents. The external layer comes from outside data sources. These are typically compiled data sources where consumers have completed surveys about their interests and their lives (pets, crafts, hobbies, entertainment, political choices, illnesses, etc.). Specific to nonprofits, some of these same sources can often provide information about charitable giving by sub-sector (children, health, social services, animal welfare, etc.). This is the type of information that really starts to round out who your constituents are and what their interests are in life.
4. Buying Behaviors: Yes, big data is running at full speed when you get to this level of profiling. This is insight around how your constituents typically make decisions. It is most helpful if you know how they tend to make decisions regarding your opportunities—be it volunteering, donating, etc. How do people typically enter your brand’s space? Do they find you online first? Where are they doing their research (if any) before making decisions to engage? Why was your organization chosen to fulfill their need versus your competition? This is the kind of information you can determine by looking at your internal engagement data if you are tracking and recording interactions across all areas. However, most organizations do not track at this level, so the next best way to understand the buying/engagement pathway is to actually ask your constituents.
If you are thinking through the kind of information you have now at your organization and feeling under-informed—don’t worry! This is one of those situations were starting somewhere is making progress. Build out your profiles as quickly as your organization can, because the greater picture you have of your constituents the easier it is to design marketing strategies for optimal performance.
And, yes, there is a chance when you develop your primary constituent profiles that you will review some of your marketing strategies and realize you might be misaligned. Just remember, knowledge creates the opportunity to be better, so even finding out you need a course correction is a critical step to further success.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.