Free solutions for your direct marketing program

In a perfect world, all of our direct marketing costs would be marginal, so they scaled as we mailed, helping us to pick the exact right quantities and people every time.

Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to solve the social ills we are trying to solve as nonprofits.  So that’s a good indicator that we are not in such a world.

In this world, most solutions (which are like products, but more expensive) have a fixed cost.  You are forced to do the math – am I going to use X enough to justify spending Y?  What if it doesn’t work?

But then there are the products that have the best fixed cost of all: zero.  Many free solutions are classic cases of “you get what you pay for,” but some rise above and can be valuable parts of your technology stacks:

  • Buffer.  Schedule your social media posts; I use this for some morning retro Twitter posts.  Paid version allows you to queue up more – be patient and it’s free.
  • Canva.  I suck at design. Canva makes it easy.  Like Photoshop, but free.
  • Fiverr.  OK, this isn’t free.  It is, in fact, $5.  But that’s five dollars for ad creative, copy writing, proofing, and other tasks you may need to get done, quickly and not by you.  Most solutions will cost more than $5, as there are increases for quantity or tight timelines, but it’s far better than many services that are much more expensive.
  • Google Analytics.  Really, there are many Google products that could be on this list.  And while the free version doesn’t have the bells and whistles of its paid counterpart, neither does it have the $150,000 price tag.  You’ll be able to track traffic, see how your site is functioning, and, best of all, set up your goals and see how you are generating your conversions (and how you aren’t).
  • Google Scholar.  Want to see if anyone has tested what you are thinking about testing?  Or learn the psychology of donors?  Google Scholar brings you scholarly articles about all manner of subjects.
  • Hemingway. Put your copy here.  It will simplify it.
  • M+R’s Toolbox.  Quick tools to help you with your T-tests, chi-squareds, benchmarks, and more.  Subscribers to my newsletter have known about this for months (become one here!).
  • QuickSprout.  An audit of your site to let you know what you can be doing better.
  • Simply Measured free tools.  They have a lot of paid tools, but their free ones will give you a good idea of the basics around your social media presence.
  • SplitTester and Split Test Significance Calculator. Never again wonder if you will ever achieve statistical significance on your ad test.
  • WordPress. I use it for this blog.  Some may say that isn’t a huge endorsement, but there are other, more attractive sites there as well.  You can also have static landing pages in addition to your blog using the Pages tool.
  • Wordstream’s Free AdWords Grader. What it says on the tin.

And, of course, my free newsletter – it’s what every stylish marketer will be wearing this summer.  Or reading.  Or something.

Free solutions for your direct marketing program

Attribution challenges for online and offline marketers

This week, we’ve been looking at the differences between online and offline direct marketing and how the specialists from these two different worlds can talk to each other.

This difference may be no more stark than it is for attribution.

With online attribution, you can follow a Web visitors journey through your site.  You can (and should) follow them through the site and say that someone we attract to the home page is worth X; if we get them to take an advocacy alert, they are worth Y; if they download a white paper, they are worth Z.  These steps toward donation each have their place in the donor journey firmament online.

With offline, attribution is usually applied with a sledgehammer — they donated to X mail piece, so X gets the credit.

Having run a quasi-membership program, I’ve seen the absurd joy of watching donations spike to last year’s membership pieces the moment this year’s come out.  (OK, “spike” is a bit dramatic; “hill” perhaps?  They go up by a little for a time, then back down.)  People almost certainly set them aside and then, reminded by the latest piece, send in whatever reply device they have at hand.

This is one minor example of how offline attribution is often done, but simplified to the point of absurdity.  One is put in mind of the old physicists’ joke about milk production:

Ever lower milk prices were driving a dairy farmer to desperate measures, so he consulted with  a theoretical physicist. The physicist listened to his problem, asked a few questions, and then said he’d take the assignment, and that it would take only a few hours to solve the problem. A few weeks later, the physicist phoned the farmer, “I’ve got the answer. The solution turned out to be a bit more complicated than I thought and I’m presenting it at this afternoon’s seminar.”  As the talk begins the physicist approaches the blackboard and draws a big circle. “First, we assume a spherical cow of uniform density…” (here’s the origin joke, which I simplified

b_-0px8ugaav6t7

So I guess was the only one who thought of that joke with oversimplification?  Sorry ‘bout that…

Anyway, this way of looking at attribution has several program-damaging faults:

  • It can cause people to cut cultivation communications.  These communications that help retain donors, learn about them, and bring them ever closer to the mission but don’t directly convert can have a big impact on eventual conversion.  In essence, you may end up cutting the wrong thing.
  • It can cause overcommunication.  If you add a communication and it nets positive, you may think it is the power of that communication, when it’s really about the the last communication but there wasn’t enough space between communications to differentiate.
  • It puts you in a mindset where you are thinking about the individual communications, not the individual donors.  This puts you in real trouble.  It’s natural to look at a mail piece or an email and think about how it “generated” the gift (when some research indicates that the last piece is about 16% responsible for a gift, leaving the vast majority to other causes).  In reality, the donor generated the gift.  How do you want to treat that donor going forward.

While sacrilegious to some, offline direct marketers would do well to take a bit of the humility from online attribution models (if not the models themselves) — there is only so much the proximate communication is responsible for.

Attribution challenges for online and offline marketers

What are the open rates and click-throughs of your mail pieces?

It sounds like a non-sensical question.  And it highlights another major difference between offline and online direct marketing — trackability.

Those who live in the digital marketing space are used to being able to track what happens with their emails and campaigns down to the user level.  They complain when tracking pixels don’t work quite the way they are supposed to on every device and aim for ever better attribution models to understand where their investments are going.

XX Home Maytag B.jpgThose in the offline space are used to sending something out and waiting for results.  And waiting.  And waiting.  

Further, they are used to looking at packages as a whole.  They get one result: did someone donate (OK, two: and how much)?  Because of this, it’s tempting to think of mail testing as the thumbs up or thumbs down as in the Roman coliseum.

But you can find out things like your offline open rates and tweak them to your heart’s content. Take a simple 2X2 testing matrix.

While you won’t be able to tell what your actual open rate was, you can to content yourself with relative open rates.  With online, you have an intuitive feel for whether a 20% open rate is good or bad compared with the emails around it (and whether they generally are opened at 10% or 30%).  This same relative weighing works well in mail.  If 20% more people donating with envelope A than with envelope B all other things being equal, then you have a 20% better open rate with envelope A.

Similarly, if letter C does better than letter D by 30% with the other parts of the mail piece staying constant, you have a 30% better “click-through” rate.

And you probably already know the trick that you only have to test three of the four quadrants here.  If envelope A beats B when they both use letter D and letter C beats D when they both use envelope B, chances are pretty good that the winning test is envelope A with letter C, even though that wasn’t a tested combination.

But what you may not know is the right algorithm can do this writ large with a wide variety of variables.  Ask your vendor(s) if they can run permutations that will allow you to figure out what happens when you five envelopes, four offers, three letter permutations, six different ask strings, and so on.  They should be able to create a variablized stew that helps you run a number of tests at once.

The other thing that I’d recommend is not just taking a page from the online playbook, but using online tools to test your efforts first.  Don’t know if your teaser copy will work well?  Try it as an email subject line or a CPC ad headline first.  While the audiences are a bit different online and offline, catchy is generally catchy and boring is boring.  Working out details like this online can save your testing for things that can actually help you get to know your donor better, leading to more valuable communications and donors.  

(Or, better yet, scrap your teaser copy and test a plain white envelope — it may have the best open rate of all.)

What are the open rates and click-throughs of your mail pieces?

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

Testing the post-content ask

Someone has come to your site.  They have downloaded your eight-point plan or a white paper.  They’ve taken an advocacy alert.  They’ve looked at your infographic.  Now what?

When we think about donors, it’s often with our fundraising glasses on, thinking how do I get this person to donate?

One of the underrated aspects of donorcentricity is starting off with the idea of “how do I solve this person’s problem?”.

That is to say, for people who come to your site with the intent of making a donation, most of them are going to make a donation.  For the majority that come with some other intent, however, what is their mindset and how can you help them achieve it?

Let’s take the person who wants to do something about your issue.  That something is, to them, to email their legislator about a particular piece of legislation you are working on.

A traditional fundraising approach would be to have a button on the advocacy page that encourages them, instead of taking an action alert, to donate to your advocacy campaigns.  This interruption marketing is trying to take them away from what they want to do to what you want them to do.

What I would advocate testing is finding your biggest content engagements and put a logical ask (not necessarily a donation ask) after the person has completed what they came there to do.

This could be:

  • On the confirmation page.  If someone downloaded a white paper, it could be “this white paper was made possible by the generous support of people like you” or, perhaps more engagingly, “now that you know about the plight of the Brown Bar-ba-loots, can you email your legislator to add them to the list of protected species?”
  • In a lightbox.  We talked about these earlier this week.  In addition to coming up after a page opens, you can also do them as they are about to close.  This type of ask can serve up your best reason or pitch to complete the action they came to the page to do.
  • As a follow-up email.  The test here can be what the appropriate action to ask for is.  If you have someone who has taken an action alert, what do they want to do next?  And what is of most value to you?

On a related note, I’ve worked with advocacy campaigns where a donation ask after an advocacy alert performed better than a similar up front ask by email without the action alert.  People wanted to take action, then donate.

The great thing about this is that you can be very specific in your ask.  That is, if someone took your Brown Bar-ba-loots action alert, your donation ask (if you choose to do that) can be a Bar-ba-loot specific campaign, crossing confirmation page, lightbox, and email follow-up.  You don’t have to ask this person about polar bears or penguins, because you already know what they care about.

So test out how you can solve your potential donor’s problem first, then ask for something of value.


Thank you for reading.  If you’d like more content like this, please sign up for my free weekly newsletter here.

Testing the post-content ask

What color are online donations?

I was once a color theory skeptic.  People forget that, before blue meant male and pink meant female, blue meant female and red meant male.  Because of this and the sometimes Chinese zodiac level of imbuing colors with different emotions, impacts, and even personalities, I branded the whole thing voodoo.

Then I looked at the data.  And while there is definitely still some chromatic shamanism* out there, there’s also some real life impact to the colors that you use on your site.

I’m not going to talk about the blue means passive, yellow means cowardly, etc. type stuff that you can get from research.  If you would like that, I recommend the Information is Beautiful color chart that you can see here

But in the words of a tweet from @NaomiNiles:

Next time I see an article telling people to increase their conversion rate by using one color instead of another, I’m going to cry.

So there will be no magic color at the end of this (or in the middle).  I’m speaking specifically about the colors you use to delineate the important, converting parts of your site and how that can pop.  Let the people who make up thick brand guidelines have the rest of the site; your job will be to stand out.

Because we are hardwired to seek out that which is different.  Even now, people will look longer the lion or snake in a picture than an antelope or mouse.  Our brains still seek out, notice, and fear perceived dangers even when our greatest professional threat has gone from “gored” to “recipient of cutting remark.”

Colors can make a big difference in this regard.  Dr. Nicolas Guéguen sent female hitchhikers out to get rides wearing different color T-shirts.  With male drivers, there was a significant color impact for red — so much so that the title of his article included Gentleman Drivers Prefer Red. This is likely because of the romantic associations of red as a color.

However, there was a potential impact among female drivers as well.  Females stopped 9.6% of the time for hitchhikers in yellow shirts and 9% for red shirts.  On the other side of the spectrum (rim shot), green shirts were picked up 5.3% of the time, with black at 6%.

The theory, because it is less likely statistically for female drivers to be impacted by romantic cues, is that red and yellow pop out visually when the background is largely gray roads.  

The same thing holds true for your donate (or subscribe) button.  How does it stand out from the rest of your site?

Hubspot looked at red versus green buttons:

red_green_button

They found the red button outperformed the green button by 21%.

But that was likely because other things on that page were green.  The red button was meant to stand out from the rest of the site.  

Let’s see how St. Jude does it:

stjude

You can see the two actions they want people to take — treatment and donation — are specifically delineated to get people to notice them amid the other colors.

WiderFunnel calls this type of button the BOB — the Big Orange Button.  The trick is that if your background color is orange, an orange button is the last thing you want.

On the flip side, here’s Autism Speaks’ home page.  In disclosure, I have two kids on the autism spectrum and have been both a recipient of its services and a donor to them.  I advocate for you to do donate as well.  But the donate button doesn’t jump out at you on their site:

autismspeaks.gif

This is clean and beautiful and fits their brand guidelines.  But I’d bet they could increase their donations if the donate button was orange (or red or yellow).

So I strongly encourage to use color (and size) to make your button stand out from the rest of your site — whatever that color is.  You can go down a rabbit hole trying to trick out your color to the exact shade you want, but having something that differentiates is most important.

Actually, what’s most important is having a compelling ask that touches the heart of the potential donor, but color can help it get noticed.
* Google says this is the first page on the web to use the phrase “chromatic shamanism.”  Now we just wait for the searchers to come, like moths to an extremely dim flame…

What color are online donations?

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