Online-offline translation guide for acquisition

When I was an exchange student in Japan, I carried a pocket-size English-Japanese dictionary with me.  (Pocket sized to make sure that it never had quite the word I needed, causing me to resort to “large bald person’s religion’s house” when I wanted to find the Buddhist temple.  I quite possibly offended the entire nation and thus apologize here for my adolescent self.*)

Recently witnessing a conversation between two people– one an older direct mail veteran; the other, a digital native online community builder who may never have seen a piece of paper – put me in mind of those days of mistranslation and bumbling.  They never seemed to grasp that one man’s teaser copy was another woman’s pre-header (or close enough to be getting along with).  Thus, they talked past each other and went their separate ways thinking the other was an idiot, even though they seemed to my ears to be agreeing.

Thus, this week, I’d like to try for some peace, love, and understanding between the often warring nations of offline and online.  Or at least the understanding part.

We’ll start with one of the simplest areas of cultural differences: acquisition.

Those who have been weaned on online will find the offline acquisition culture strange and terrifying.  Most notably, they trade and rent acquisition lists from each other!

For those in the offline world, don’t suggest this as a tactic for your online brethren.  Not only is it illegal (sending unsolicited emails is called spam and it’s even less appetizing than its namesake), but it is culturally not done in the online world.  (Yes, the cultural taboos are even worse than the legal ones.)

Despite, or because of, these differences, however, there is a lot that each tribe can learn from the other.

For online folks, just because you can’t and shouldn’t exchange or rent lists online doesn’t mean that you can’t create mutually beneficial relationships.  You can do this through shepherded emails.  Let’s say another nonprofit has a similar constituents or issue area to you.  You might consider sending an email to your list saying, in essence, that if you like us, you might like them.  And vice versa (of course; there is no quo within the quid).

Similarly, you might try engaging your corporate partners to see if they will run a shepherded email for you to their constituents, urging them to engage with you.  This has its own built-in incentives — the for-profit looks like the valuable philanthropic member of the community they are and you reap the list building benefits.

For offline folks who think the no-list exchange or retail rules are overly puritanical, know that an opt-in model for mail is on the visible horizon.  For those in the US, our friends in Europe are facing this by virtue of EU/UK regulations.  (How politicians justify themselves being able to send mail as they wish with opt-in only for nonprofits baffles me, but I suppose that’s what happens when you write the laws yourself.)

And opting in does provide a stronger bond between you and the donor or potential donor.  Thus, you can learn from your online partners how to build that bond.  Some tips:

  • As we’ve advocated, make sure you are setting expectations for what communications a person will receive in your welcome series.
  • Make it easy for a person to change the frequency, timing, and/or nature of their communications.  One tactic smart online folks will do is have multiple lists for which someone can subscribe.  If a communication is not to the person’s liking, they can be removed from those emailings without losing a constituent.  If a person does not want (for example) premiums, they should be able to request that and have it be honored.
  • Make it easy to opt-out with clearly visible instructions.  A person who asks to be taken off of your mailing list is doing you a favor (not as much of one as they might have done, but a favor nonetheless).  They could simply let you mail away and waste your money, but instead, they are helping you save it.  Help them help you.
  • Get your list through organic means.  Online and offline content can help you build a subscriber and constituent list.  This content marketing isn’t good for just online activation — it can be used for mailing as well.

Hopefully, these will help you discuss acquisition fluently across channels.  Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the cost implications from offline and online, using fun and exciting terms like “marginal costs.”  You won’t want to miss it.

 

* Of course, if I’m apologizing for my adolescent self, we’re talking about way more people than just the entire nation of Japan…

Online-offline translation guide for acquisition

Let there be lightbox

Come, children.  Let’s gather ‘round the fire and I’ll tell you a tale of the Old Web.

Once upon a time, when you went to a site, you would be confronted with “pop-ups”.  These were new browser windows that would open when you would go to, interact with, or try to exit a site.  Sometimes, when you closed them, they would automatically open a new pop-up and so on.  

I’m told that the more ethically dubious the site, the more likely they were to have an endless loop of these.

We fought them with all of our might and hatred, until they became a casualty of the Second Browser Wars, as web browsers realized that they could make us happy by purging these from us once and for all.  Now only a few scattered pop-up survivors live among us, surviving on the barest scraps of attention.

Unfortunately, some of the stigma of pop-ups rubs off on lightboxes (or sha220px-fionaappleshadowboxerdowboxes, which I prefer (while less common) because I think of the Fiona Apple song)

You made me
A shadowboxer, baby
I wanna be ready
For what you do

People think that a light box* (slash shadow box) is just a glorified pop-up.  But when done properly, it has several advantages: it is easily closed, doesn’t cause a loop of pop-ups, and provides a quick guide to the first thing someone might want to do or know on a page.

But most of all, you should be trying light boxes because they work.  One report found that the average conversion rate for email acquisition light boxes is 1.66%.

So how do you make a lightbox work for you?  A few tips:

  • With a few exceptions, I would not suggest a donation ask lightbox.  Like we talked about yesterday, getting the first microconversion is easier and potentially more profitable that a straight ask on the home page.
  • Those few exceptions are:
    • End-of-year fundraising, when people are far more likely to be coming to your site with the express purpose of donating.  A light box will make it significantly easier for them.  (If there are similar campaigns for you, like Giving Tuesday or a special anniversary.  For your non-profit, not your spouse, although you should get them something nice.)
    • Any ask with urgency associated.  For example, if you have a matching gift campaign and can count down to the end of the match in your lightbox, I strongly recommend it.
    • When you are using the lightbox not on your homepage, but after some other action.  For example, shadowboxing the confirmation page of an advocacy action with a campaign-specific ask is a great idea.
  • Make them easy to get out of.  If this offer isn’t for the person, you want them to still enjoy browsing your site, rather than hating your guts.
  • Make them easy to get out of in mobile.  It is a little known fact that hell has expanded to a tenth level to accommodate new technology-associated crimes.  These include:
    • Making a lightbox that is unclosable on a mobile device because you can’t get to the X
    • Taking mobile phone calls in a public restroom
    • Replying all to company wise emails
    • Putting a conference call on hold so that 70 other people have to listen to your hold music before they hang up on you and call back in
    • Making a lightbox that is unclosable on a mobile device.  Oh, I mentioned this one twice?  That’s because it’s a special hell within the special hell.  Like child molesters in prison or Kourtney Kardashian**.
  • Make it smart.  Don’t show a repeat visitor the same shadow box over and over; use cookies to either vary your offer or leave it off altogether.  Research shows that you get the same number of sign-ups showing your light box every month rather than every time.  Also, customize your ask to the content a person is seeing.  If they go to your statistics page, give them an offer for your statistics white paper.  This will increase your conversions and their satisfaction.
  • Give a reason. You don’t want a lot of text on your light box, but you do want to have at least one statement that says why a person would want to take the action you want them to take.
  • Wait about five seconds.  That gives the person enough time to look at (and more than enough time to judge) your site, but not enough time to lose them to another offer.
  • Make sure you are layering in other techniques.  In particular, social proof XXX (“join the other 123,456 people who enjoy our email newsletter”), color theory (having a button color that stands out), and having a no option that doesn’t fit with a person’s self-image (“yes, I’d like to join the fight” versus “no, I don’t care about the environment”) can all be very effective.

So, pop-ups didn’t really die that day, kids.  They evolved to be less intrusive, more useful, and something that both users and nonprofits can value.  Now, alla you young’uns get some sleep, and dream of increased conversion rates.

* No, not a typo.  There does not appear to be a consensus on whether people say light box or lightbox or shadowbox or shadow box.  Thus, I’ve included all of the words in this piece so that they can be found by search engines.  I suggest you do the same in your content marketing.

** I don’t actually understand this joke myself, but I’m told it’s funny.

Let there be lightbox

Simplifying your donation form

This week, we’re going to look at different online techniques you can try to help increase your conversion and donation rates.  I’d love to be able to share your ideas as well, so please email me at nick@directtodonor.com with your comments and case studies.  Or leave them in the comments section below, where we actually have intelligent conversations, unlike some sites (*cough*cough*YouTubecomments*cough*cough*).

 

henry_david_thoreau1

We’ll start with simplifying our donation page.  As patron saint/oversoul of simplification Henry David Thoreau almost said:

“Our [donation form] is frittered away by detail… Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity*! I say, let your [form requests] be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”

Let’s start from first principles.  What is the point of your donation page?

It’s not a trick question.  The point is to get donations.  Anything else on that page should be subordinated to helping the person coming to the page make the donation for which they came to the page.

Once you have this as the aim, you’ll find that many of the things you put on that page don’t help in this regard:

Top navigation.  You should still have your logo that links back to your home page.  After all, you could do as well in user interface design with the maxim “never make the user use the back button” as you could in Christianity knowing only the Golden Rule.  In each, there’s a lot more to learn, but that one bit will get you through for now.

But do you need the link to each area of your mission, your about us page, and so on?  You do not, because the goal of the page is to get donations.  Take a look at St. Jude’s home page.

stjude.gif

 

It serves those who want to learn about, engage with, and donate to the organization.  However, once you go to donate, they know what you are there for and everything else melts away:

stjudedonation

Only those things necessary to make a donation remain.

Extraneous fields.  The donation form is not the place to ask for your entire database to be filled in.  Thus, prefix, middle name, and suffix can all be deleted.  Nor is it the place to ask for things you are interested in, but do not need.  Thus, phone number, fax number, connection to the cause, etc., should all go away.  (This is not to say you shouldn’t ask for them; that’s why God invented the confirmation page and/or post-donation survey.)

Any more convincing than is necessary.  I’m being intentionally vague here.  The challenge is that people come to your donation form from very different places.  If they came to your site, clicked on your light box (which we’ll talk about later in the week), and got to your donation form, they probably need some convincing to donate.

On the other hand, if a person subscribed to your e-newsletter, got your welcome series (you do have a welcome series don’t you?  If not, learn the basics here), and clicked to donate on the final email, they have already followed the journey you set out for them.  They are convinced and converted, so get them on their way successfully.

There was a great test I recommend a read of here.  In a nutshell, a nonprofit was testing their donation form, which normally had a video at the top of it, versus a back-end book premium.

The key to this test (I believe) was that it connected with email — people would already have been sold once they got to the page.  Thus, the non-video version had three times the conversion rate of the video version.  The goal of the page was to get them to donate, not to get them to watch the video.

This isn’t to say that the video can’t be an important part of the conversion process; just that it probably doesn’t belong on the donation form.

Similarly, reducing copy at the top of this email acquisition campaign increased response by 26%.

So I would definitely test taking much of the verbiage out of your donation page and see what happens to your conversion rate.

Remember, a simple donation form is (usually) a converting donation form.

* Yes, he said “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity” instead of “simplify, simplify, simplify.”  I was surprised too.

Simplifying your donation form

Judging your online file

We’ve gone over email, Web, and constituent metrics so far — now we need to look at how your online file stacks up.

imageThe easy, and lazy, metric is file size.  There is a certain type of person — and I’m not going to name any names or get political here — that always thinks that bigger is better.  And that yuge…  I mean huge… is better than bigger.

I would be lying if I had not seen this used as a case for investment at some points.  There is no small amount of power in standing up in front of a board (which is, sadly, more older white men than we should probably have as a society at this point) and saying “your X is too small.”  That X stands for “email file size” is not entirely relevant at that point.

These people, whoever they may be, because I have too much class to single out any one particular person, are wrong.  File size is a vanity metric.  It makes you feel good (or bad) but doesn’t impact performance.

Deliverable file size is a skosh better.  Here, you subtract out people who have unsubscribed, hard bounces, people who haven’t opened an email in a significant amount of time, and other malcontents.  At least this can’t be gamed (in the long term) by going on fiverr.com and paying five bucks for thousands of email subscribers, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, etc.

But ideally, you want to take your file size and overlay your value per constituents.  If your advocacy constituents are worth $1 and your information-requesters are worth ten cents, a file that is 90,000 advocacy folks and 10,000 requesters will be worth a lot more than vice versa.  So, deliverable file size by actionable segment is probably the thing to shoot for.

But more than that, you need to look at those segments by how you get there and where you are going.  This means looking at the positive side (growth) and negative side (churn).

I’ve professed my love of the M+R metrics report here, but there’s one thing I don’t 100% agree with.  They say:

Our job is not to block the exits; our job is to throw the doors open and welcome people in.

They put this in the proper context in the next line: “You should be paying more attention to growth than churn.”  But this doesn’t mean you should be paying no attention to churn.  You want to make sure that people aren’t leaving in droves, especially if they implicate one of your acquisition strategies.  For example, if 90 percent of the people who sign a petition aren’t on your file in six months, you are either doing a bad job of retaining them or you likely didn’t want them anyway.

But, as M+R says, don’t lose a lot of sleep over churn.  The two recommendations I have are:

1) Customize your exit plans.  Many of the people who unsubscribe from you don’t want to unsubscribe as much as they want a different email relationship with you.  That may be something you are able to provide with segmented emails, fewer emails, etc.

2) Do electronic change-of-address maintenance of your file so you can recapture all of the people you want to get back.

I also like to look at online list by origin.  Sometimes, increasing online subscribers from one means of acquisition (e.g., e-append) can mask weaknesses in others (e.g., organic conversion).  There is no ideal here, but it’s good to see some diversity in origin.

Finally, make sure you are measuring the share of online revenue you get from email. You want to stay in a Goldilocks zone here.  Too little from email and your emails aren’t effective in driving people to take the most important action on your site.  Too much from email and you aren’t attracting new people to the organization.

Judging your online file

Using your real estate better: preheaders

You have your subject line science down — you do an A/B test in the morning and you roll out with the test in the afternoon.  You ask questions to entice someone to open.  You create urgency.  And you are still seeing your open rates going down.

Maybe it’s that right after your subject line, people see “To view this email in your browser, click here” instead something of interest.

Gone are the days where the subject line was all that mattered.  The first lines of your email now matter, because in many email clients, they are shown alongside the subject line.  This verbiage is called the preheader and it’s valuable real estate that many otherwise really strong marketers ignore.  For example, here are my last few emails from Home Depot as I write this:

home depot

If you thought that these were the first emails I ran to open, you would be incorrect.

Not only to preheaders show up in this way, but they also travel with the subject line to show up in the lower-right corners of Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook accounts.  Additionally, the preheader can entice someone to read the email (gasp!), not just open it.

So what do you want to do with this to draw your readers in?  Some ideas:

Keep it relatively short.  Not subject line short, but make sure that it gets your point across in the first 75 characters or so, so mobile email clients will show what you want shown.

Tag team with your subject line.  My best email newsletter open and click performance was on the same email.  (Hey, if you thought we were getting through a post on email pre-headers without me plugging that you can sign up for my free weekly e-newsletter, which gives the story version of the week’s blog posts plus super secret extra benefits, you were sorely mistaken.)

The subject line was “Lead gifts and priming and men, oh my.”  The pre-header was “And the details on how social proof works in direct marketing and the power of hedonic good comparisons, but that made for a really long subject line…”

If you have only 75 characters, you get the gist of what the email is going to be about.  And if you have more, it’s a paired attempt at humor.  This had an 80%+ open rate and 40%+ click-through rate.

Another good tactic here is to ask a question in the subject line that you begin to answer in the pre-header.

Personalize.  A pre-header can start with “Dear Mary,”.  (This, of course, only works if the recipient’s name is Mary.  If it’s Vlad, you may be in trouble.)  Anyway, this pre-header establishes that you know the person’s name.  This, sadly, differentiates it from many other emails that don’t know your name, so it’s more likely to get opened.

Tell them what’s in the tin.  If you have a video in your email that thanks the person for being a supporter, your preheader may not have to be any fancier than something like “Watch a thank-you video from our president.”  If you don’t have content that is worthy of being in the pre-header, rewrite the email.

Make the call-to-action.  Not “Donate now!”  I haven’t tested that as the beginning of a pre-header only because I anticipate it would go down in flames.  But “Today, you can save a life with one minute and two clicks.” does a nice tease of the content as well as creating urgency and timeliness.

So make sure you are testing this valuable real estate.  And when you do get that email from someone who just has their logo’s alt text as the pre-header, forward them this email if you like the organization (and if you don’t, prepare to steal their donors).

Using your real estate better: preheaders

Let’s get small: microseconds

You haven’t got long.

We’re on to the next email, text, phone call, app.

Literally milliseconds.

What you have to do:

Make the first online images count. People know what they think of a site faster than they blink.  That impression carries over.  It impacts content, action, and donation.

Make the first words count.  Average reading speed is about 140 WPM.  Average subject line is about 7 words? (makes math easy)  Ergo, subject line = 3 seconds.  That is, if you are reading and not skimming.  You are skimming.  So’s your audience.  Be sure to use pre-headers as well.  I’ll talk about those next week.  Subscribe here to get an email when it’s up.

Evoke emotion.  Emotion hits the brain 3000X faster than rational thought.  Reason hasn’t got a chance to set the hook.

Load quickly on mobile.  Only 11% of people expect content to be much slower on their phones.   One additional second = 7% decrease in conversions.  One. Bleedin’.  Second.

Send those thank you’s quickly.  Thank you speed is among the best predictors of retention.  Long-term and short-term.

Don’t wait for your mail testing.  Test to your mail audience online.  Facebook and Google ads = messaging tests.  Subject lines = teaser copy.  It’s not entirely representative.  But it will predict disasters well.

Make the ask.  The act should be in the first three paragraphs of the letter.  They need to know why you are writing.

Flood the zone.  They pitched your letter?  Even after you did outbound voice mail to let them know it’s coming?  You’ll get them in the email.  

Didn’t open the email?  We resend those to people who don’t open.

Still didn’t?  We have ads that follow them around the Web.  Then we’ll call; can’t escape just by going offline.

Multichannel is the way to get in the impressions.  Impressions are the way to get a message through.  Message is the way to get the donation.

Spend time where it counts.  Some donors actually want to read a 12-page letter.  But only if it’s written well.  Not Shakespeare well.  Not James Joyce well.  Da Vinci Code well.  Tom Clancy well.  The kind of letter that forces you to read to find out what’s next .

Sign up for my newsletter.  I won’t waste your time.  Promise.

Let’s get small: microseconds

Acquire your own online donors

I know, it’s an odd title.  But every year, 30% of your online constituents go away not because they aren’t interested in you anymore, but because they changed their online contact information.  Seventeen percent change after six months.  That means that the half-life of your list is less than two years.

halffull.jpgIt doesn’t matter if it’s half full or half empty, just that it’s half of what it was.

This is going to be online acquisition week and I’ll go through a lot of tactics for bringing folks into your organization online.  But because of this, the best and the easiest way to acquire new online constituents is not to lose the old ones.  Conversely, it doesn’t make sense to start acquiring new online people if you aren’t ready to keep them.

So we’re going to go back to that old saw: data hygiene.  If you don’t believe in the necessity of data hygiene, then there’s a PSA you need to read.  We’ll look at the online specific ways to keep your data clean.

Scrubbing user-entered data.  Users will misspell their own names, then blame you when you address them by that wrong name.  Email addresses are no better, but those at least have a standard format that you can check.  Hopefully, you have an email validator on your forms, but you probably have data that predates your validation.  Some things to look for:

  • Does the email address end with a top-level domain (e.g., .com, .gov, .net, .org, .edu, .mil, or a country code)? Many an email has bounced back because it went to aol.con.
  • Does the email address have an @? If the email has a ! or # in it, chances are that, because these are right next to the @ symbol, @ is what was intended.
  • Does it bounce? That is, when you send the email, does it come back to you?  This is one reason that it’s important to send your email from a real email address – so you can change bounced emails or mark them for further work.  (Also, a real email address will help with charges that you are spamming people).

Put an email validator on your forms if you haven’t already.  Just to make that perfectly clear.

Run an ECOA service.  ECOA, or electronic change of address, is a service that functions a bit similarly to the national change of address (NCOA) registered with the USPS.  These services look at innumerable services across the Web to determine where a person might have gone.  You should ideally run both bad email addresses and email addresses that have not opened an email in a certain amount of time (say, six months).  If they haven’t opened an email in six months and they have a good email address…

Suppress chronic nonresponders from most emails.  If people aren’t opening your emails continually, they won’t miss you not sending emails (and, when you do send a very occasional email, it will be a bit more of a surprise).  And they won’t drag down your open rate or mark your emails as spam, making you more likely to survive email providers spam filters.

E-append your file.  Take your offline donor file and give it to an e-append service; they will return email addresses of people who would probably like to interact with you online, but haven’t yet given you their email address.  This also works like ECOA for bounced and non-opening addresses.

This isn’t going to stop your attrition from bad email addresses.  But it will help you hold on a little longer to the people who want to hear from you.

Acquire your own online donors