Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

By Ben Delaney © 2007

The importance of testing your ideas and delivery, and how to do it.

How do you know what’s best in your marketing and communications? You test, test, test.

MarCom testing is the research that makes MarCom a science. You can test message, demographic selections, imagery, different media, and different options within a type of media. You do this testing by setting up small, controlled experiments, and evaluating the results.

You can test almost every part of your marketing. Where to place your advertising can be tested by running the same ad in several publications and gauging response. The content of the ad can be tested by running different versions, with different response tracking, in the same publication. Website ideas can be tested by alternating web pages to see which one works better. New product ideas can be tested with focus groups. Pricing can be tested by varying prices to see if one elicits more sales. Almost any marketing idea can, and should be tested.
Direct response is one of the easiest media to test, so let’s use that as an example. Direct response marketing means that you send an offer directly to your prospect, and attempt to get a response. That response could be a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, a donation, or buying tickets to an event. Direct response can be sent by email, postal mail, even a telegram.

Running a test

Let me give you an example of a very simple test of a direct response campaign. Keep in mind that real life testing can be much more complex that this, testing each part of a campaign to optimize your results. For important campaigns, I test the list, the message, the presentation, what is in the envelope, pricing, incentives, and even the color of the envelope. In this example, we are testing the quality of our mailing list, delivery methods, and the impact of our message. The same ideas and techniques can be applied to every aspect of your effort.

Let’s assume that you are tasked with raising money for a children’s vaccination campaign in Tracy, California. You need to test your mailing list and your message.
Let’s assume that you have available three lists of about 6,000 people each. One is high-value donors to health campaigns in the Bay Area. Another is parents of kids in school in Tracy. The other is doctors in the Tracy area. Each list has both postal and email addresses.

We take the three lists and do what’s called a random Nth name selection to cut each into four groups with approximately the same number of names in it. This gives us 12 lists of 1,500 names each. Each is coded so we know which name came from each list. (I’m assuming there are no duplicates.) We call these lists A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, B3, B4, and C1, C2, C3, C4.

Now we create two message/image combinations. For example, one mailer has a picture of a sick child and the headline: “Don’t let this happen to the kids in your neighborhood.” Number two shows a group of mixed race children playing together. Its headline reads, “Illness doesn’t recognize income, race, or gender.” We create a printed and email version of each. We set up a website with a landing page for our test group.

The test runs like this. We take lists A1, B1, and C1 and email message one. To lists A2, B2, and C2, we postal mail message one. Lists A3, B3, C3 get message two in email, and the last group gets message two as postal mail. What we have done is send statistically identical groups one of four possible message/media combinations. The return mailer for the postal efforts are each coded so that we know which list that person’s name was on, and which mailing they got. The email versions have a similar code that we ask be inputted on the web page we direct our prospects to.
We expect email response to be faster, so we send the postal mail a week before the email goes out. Now we wait. As the results start coming in, coded so that we know from which list and which message/media combination was received, we count. And we look for which lists performed best, both in terms of response and amount of donation. We wait a predetermined time, typically 2-4 weeks from the first response. And then we tabulate our results.

What we’re looking for is this:

  • When did the response come in? Response rates typically follow a bell curve, so this will tell us when to expect the bulk of the responses for the full effort.
  • How many responded to each test variant? This tell us which message, list and delivery style worked best.
  • Who responded to each test? This will show us if people in different demographic groups or geographic locations responded differently.
  • What was the value of the response from each group. Specifically if you are soliciting donations, or selling something, this will tell you which variant provided the most valuable response.
  • Anything else in those numbers? Looking closely at your results may yield more information. If you tested two web pages, did one perform better? Did more women than men respond? Did particular zip codes exceed expectations? Did people seem confused or respond in unexpected ways? There’s gold in them numbers. Mine it.

When a testing is done this way, it shows you which list is good, which message is good, to whom you are appealing, if a particular message was more effective in postal mail or by email, and other results that you can tease out of the statistics.

And don’t consider any result a failure. Testing is designed to show you what doesn’t work, as well as what does. If a test gives you unexpected results, you’ve learned a lot, saved a lot of money, and have new ideas to work with.

Some campaigns are so important you may want to retest to see if your results are consistent. At the end of your testing, you should have a pretty good idea of how to best communicate with your donors. Then you do your big mailing and bank your success.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Best Practices in Nonprofit MarCom, Part Two

By Ben Delaney © 2007

In which we continue our discussion of some of the best practices in marketing for nonprofits, with a focus on PR.

McLuhan was right

In many cases, the medium is the message. Be sure you match the media to the audience.

How long have you had your own email address? Five years? Ten? Do you subscribe to a daily newspaper? How do you keep up with your social community: telephone, email, text messaging, hand-written notes?

How you answer those questions show your preference for media. You are part of several demographic groups, each of which has different preferences and habits. Why do you care? Because if you send a CD-ROM full of multimedia to an older newspaper subscriber, he’s likely to use your disc for a coaster. Likewise, if you send an 16-page brochure to a Gen Z youth, it may just be filed under “recyclable.”

The other aspect of this is that you need to match your media to your message. A long policy discussion is best presented on paper. But an emotional pitch for donors to help solve a chronic problem might best be made on video. The great speech your ED made to the Rotary club would make a fine podcast. An urgent request for donations to lobby Congress is definitely best as email. And trying to understand the opinions of your constituents may be best done through a blog. It is essential in these days of multiple media and multiple information gathering styles that you use the appropriate media to reach the people who need to hear your message.

Balancing mission and MarCom

Crassly commercial. Unethical. Snake oil salesmen. Only interested in the money.
I have heard marketers called all this, and worse. But marketing is not evil. Even the purest mission-driven organization needs to let people know what’s up. And no matter how valiant your cause, your landlord wants the rent every month. Nonprofits need money and their MarCom efforts help keep it flowing.

But as a nonprofit marketer, you need to be especially sensitive to the onus of commercialism. You need to keep the mission and vision in the forefront as you get your messages out. Even if you are selling t-shirts and mugs with a picture of a cute seal pup on them, you need to stress how this purchase benefits the cause, and let your buyers feel good about your organization while they support it.

This point is especially important for people moving from the commercial world to nonprofits. If you are in this situation, remember to stay cool. Downplay the competitive aspect of your personality and your messaging. Keep the mission firmly in front, and don’t EVER bash the competition.

Likewise, if you have always been working for the public good, remember that these days people are overwhelmed by commercial messages, news, and noise. You need good marketing and communications to get your message to the people. Your good work will go for naught if you can’t find the support you need. Nonprofits need marketing as much as any hot internet startup.

Is it news?

Everybody loves to see their name in the paper. Service organizations are no exception. But getting the notice, and being sure it has an upbeat appeal, is not as simple as it may seem.

Journalists are bombarded with press releases. When I was editing a small technical magazine, I often got 20-50 press releases a week. Editors at major publications might get 100 a day. I could use about a dozen every other month. Do the math, and you’ll understand how tough it is to break through to publications.

There are at least 9 factors that are key to getting your news in front of readers and viewers. Keep these items in mind.

  1. Write well. I can assure you that nothing turns off an editor more than a poorly written release. If you are sending your release in English, be certain that your writer knows English. And grammar. And syntax. Know when to use “your” and “you’re. “ Avoid colloquialisms that may be a bit too cool. Check the spelling. And finally, before you send your news out, read it aloud to check for flow.

  2. Spell correctly. I’m not that picky, but a press release with misspellings drives me crazy. Be especially careful of people and place names. Run the spelling checker. Then give it to your pickiest colleague to proofread. Dont luk lyk a dope. Spell wurds rite!

  3. Do some research. Another pet peeve of editors is getting releases that have nothing to do with what they cover. Every week I get releases on cosmetics (don’t care), new financial products (Yaaaaaawn), and breakthrough labor saving devices (sorry, too tired to read). The simplest research is to go to the media websites of the publications that you plan to send your release to, and go to the staff page. Most news media will tell you who covers what. If they don’t, look through some articles until you find the editor or reporter who covers your type of organization or product. That person may care. No one else will.

  4. Pick up the phone. Journalists are people, too. They like to know with whom they are dealing, and they are more responsive to people and organizations they know. So after you have done your research, pick up the phone and call the journalists you have identified as potentially interested in your organization. Ask them what they cover and how they like to get information. Invite them to events. Send them some background material. Make your ED available for background interviews. Do what a friend would do – be helpful. A caution: don’t overdo it. Media people are wary, knowing that their publications are highly desired forums. So don’t push too hard, but do stay in touch.

  5. Make it real. Another issue I have with many companies is that their releases aren’t news. Or interesting. Be sure you really have something to say. It’s really not too hard. A new top-level person is interesting. A big grant award will catch eyeballs. Setting a record, rolling out an important new program, giving away a million dollars – those are all newsworthy.

  6. What’s the subject? If you’re sending your release by email, be sure to use a subject line that makes sense. Don’t get carried away and don’t make a sales pitch. A subject like, “’New XYZ Foundation Program Feeds 10,000 Starving Children” is more likely to get the release read that, “Gala Event Ends Child Hunger.” Believable and interesting are the two key words to remember.

  7. Make it local. Few news stories are national in import. Do your research to discover who covers your kind of news in areas where it really matters. A new after-school program in Stockton is only interesting to people in Stockton. A grant to the Trenton Theater Association may not play well in New York. Keep your geography in mind when you send your releases.

  8. Keep it short. Journalists seldom read long releases. Enough said.

  9. Don’t send attachments. In these days of rampant computer viruses, spyware, trojans, and other maladies, few journalists will open attachments from unknown correspondents. Put your release, in plain text, in the body of an email. If a reporter needs a different format, she’ll ask.

Well, those are the top items on my list on MarCom best practices. There are certainly plenty of other good ideas about how to create and execute good marketing and communications in nonprofits. I’d love to hear about your faves. Drop a line.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Some Best Practices for Nonprofit Marketing, Part One

By Ben Delaney © 2007

There’s a lot to learn from the marketing pros

My first six months in the nonprofit environment was a real eye-opening period. I felt confident that I knew my craft, but I had a lot to learn about the culture and work style of the nonprofit (NP) environment. Sometimes tough, the lessons I learned will help me going forward. But there were a few things that the NP organization can learn from the private sector, as well.

In particular, the best practices of marketing that are routinely applied in the FP (for-profit) world can provide useful structure for the NP marketer, in large or small organizations. MarCom is essential to nonprofits, for getting people to events, encouraging donors, and even selling products. So let’s look at a few of the MarCom best practices that definitely have a place in the NP world.

These are in no particular order, and I may have missed a couple. And this was running long, so I have broken it into two parts. Let me know what you think.

Who’s in charge here?

Responsibility and the collaborative decision-making process.

In a democracy, everyone has an opportunity to speak. Each citizen gets a vote. Each vote is of equal value. After a count of votes, decisions are made.

Most businesses are not democracies. Most businesses are run by dictators, hopefully benign, who have virtual life and death power. Decisions can be made quickly, and responsibility for bad decisions is usually required.

Many nonprofits are run a lot more like democracies than most FP organizations. Staff meetings are held regularly, departments and various groups meet frequently. Everyone has a say. And depending on the leadership style of the top person, decisions are made, as quickly as possible. Responsibility for bad decisions is shared, because everybody bought in, or at least, had a say.

However, in an efficient business, somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to watch the budget and deadlines, and ensure that the work is being done, correctly, on time, and at the right price. Each project needs one (and one only) accountable manager.

Once a decision is made, make one person responsible.


Its not just for accountants anymore.

Many organizations see their marketing budget as a witches cauldron. They throw money in, and magic happens. Many a manager has complained to me that he was spending his marketing budget, and sales were OK to good, but he had no idea what he was getting for his money. Hearing this always makes me cringe. This is the manager who, when times get tough, is going to cut the marketing budget to save money. This should never happen. Marketing is an investment, not an expense. And like any investment, it needs to be closely monitored and managed. Accountability in marketing is not just a slogan. It is a necessity. Each program should include goals, a budget, milestones and deadlines, and a post-action debrief.

If you are leading a team, do your best to get the right people. Get people, be they staff or vendors, who will do what they say, when they say they will. Be proactive to get the other resources you need to do the job properly. And set reasonable expectations, so that people have a realistic idea of what to expect.

Accountability in marketing is based on measurable goals like: “we expect between 1000 and 2000 leads from this mailing,” “this ad will produce 200 leads and 5 new customers,” “this mailing will bring us between $200,000 and $500,000 in new pledges,” “we expect this press release to result in 2 national stories and 10 regional articles,” or “this campaign will bring us 10 new major donors, 20 renewals, and 200 new, smaller donors.” You see what I mean? These are measurable results.

Every well-planned MarCom effort includes anticipated results. And every campaign should feature a full-team, post-campaign debrief in which you look how the execution went, the results of the effort, and how to do it better the next time. Marketing is a repetitive endeavor. Even an effort that provides better-than-expected results should be looked at to see how you exceeded your goals, and to determine if it was a fluke or replicable. Obviously, efforts that don’t meet expectations need to be looked at closely to see why you missed your estimated return. Remember, while there is still a lot of art to marketing, most of it is science.

Test, test, test

In which the author merely teases...

How do you know what’s best in marketing and communications? You test, test, test.

MarCom testing is the research that makes MarCom a science. You can test message, demographic selections, imagery, different media, and different options within a type of media. You do this testing by setting up small, controlled experiments, and evaluating the results.

Testing is really important, so I’m going to devote an entire chapter of this blog to it exclusively. Stay tuned for it next week.

You (often) get what you pay for

Volunteers, and the hazard of the lowest bidder.

Volunteers are great if they can do the job you need done. However, because MarCom is such a strategic function in the organization, the use of volunteers has to be carefully planned. For example, I think nearly anyone can stuff envelopes properly. But I want a skilled professional designing my website, or writing a press release.

Also, I generally advise against using a lowest-bidder budgeting plan. If your vendors are bidding too little, they may not be making enough money to provide support when you need it. It’s important to build a reliable team of vendors, so that when you get in a deadline bind, they are willing to help you. Low bidders have less loyalty. I typically prefer a low-middle bid, all else being equal.

There are plenty of other best practices in nonprofit MarCom. The next chapter will give you four more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More on Messaging

By Ben Delaney © 2007

Effective communications in 4 easy steps

Talking is not communicating. Sending a million emails is not communicating. Yelling from atop a soapbox in the town square is not communicating. Printing a glamorous four-color brochure is not communicating. Sending out a well-written press release is not communicating.

Communication requires a receptive audience. A message has to be heard and understood to be considered communication.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it is remarkable how many pieces of “communication” fail to get their message across. I am constantly amazed by websites that fail to describe the service or product being sold until you dig through virtual reams of copy and pointless pictures. Or how many nonprofit people falter when it comes to explaining their mission, vision, and programs in language that non-initiates can understand.

There are several issues that cause these problems. As a follow up to my last article on messaging, let me go a little deeper.

The 4 C's of effective communications

What you say needs to be consistent, clear, concise, and contextual. I discussed the first C, “consistent,” in the last article. The crux of consistent messaging is that all of your materials, and all of your people, need to be on the same wavelength, providing a consistent message to all comers. The other side of that coin is what your messaging says. In other words, you can be very consistent, but still be saying the wrong things. And saying the right things can make a really big difference in the success of your organizations. Let’s go through the other three C’s of good messaging.

Clear: Is anything not clear about your messaging? You should be able to describe what your organization does so that someone who has no knowledge of your group can quickly grasp what you do. Use simple language and words that are easy to understand. People will not work to get your message, so keep it simple and easy to comprehend. Clear messages look like this:
  • Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.
  • Since its founding in 1881 by visionary leader Clara Barton, the American Red Cross has been the nation's premier emergency response organization.
  • TechSoup Stock connects nonprofits and public libraries with donated and discounted technology products.
  • GuideStar's mission is to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.
  • Springboard Schools is a nonprofit network of educators committed to raising student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap.

Concise: Remember, even your long-form description of the organization should be no more than 100 words, and (Now, this is important!) each sentence should be no more than ten words. People forget the beginning of your sentence if you haven’t finished it within about ten words. Many nonprofits, especially academically-oriented groups, have a problem with this. One organization I used to work with seemed to need to impress people with their vocabulary. I describe their method of communication as never using 10 words when 100 would suffice. Don’t fall into that trap! Nobody cares how many words you know. They care about understanding what you do.

A good elevator speech is key to successful communication with donors and program participants. This short-form presentation is based on the idea that you are in an elevator and need to describe your organization before your fellow rider departs. You have 30 seconds. What will you say?

The clear messages I noted above are also great elevator speeches. Take another look at them, and then practice getting your descriptive message down to 30 second. Remember, use short, punchy, sentences and unambiguous language. Practice saying it out loud and work on it until your elevator speech flows smoothly and naturally and tells your story.

Contextual: This means that your message fits your audience, mission and vision. Keeping your message contextual means not getting sidetracked. For example, if your organization provides seminars on gender equality for HR professionals, you should not start off by talking about the technology that enables online discussions. A contextual message stays on topic and is not cluttered with interesting but nonessential information. Remember that data and information are not the same thing, and supply just the data needed to back up your information, and not a lot of extraneous facts or opinions.

Contextual messages also relate to whom and when you are communicating. If you are talking to your Senator, you want to address concerns that relate to national policy, how your organization can help, and what you need to get the job done. If you are talking to high-value donors, you want to stress the big picture, the great need, the wonderful work you do, and how supporting your organization will benefit them. If you are promoting an event, stress the value of attending, the reasonable cost, the important contacts to be made there. Get the picture? Context is everything in communications.

To sum up: Your communications are how people know who you are and what you do. Remember the 4 C’s of communications – Consistent, Clear, Concise, and Contextual – to ensure that your communications do the job for you and your organization.

Monday, September 3, 2007

You May Have Heard This Before

By Ben Delaney © 2007

The importance of consistent messaging

Have you ever seen an ad, or a TV commercial and realized you already knew exactly what it was going to say? Have you ever found yourself with a jingle rattling around your brain, hours after you heard it on the radio? Have you glanced at an ad in a magazine, recognized the company, and turned the page? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you’ve been a target of effective and consistent messaging.

One of the prime characteristics of effective messaging is that it’s boring. Boring that is, to those who create it, because it seldom changes. Boring perhaps to those who hear it, because they are constantly being told the same thing. But not boring at all to those who rely on people understanding their organization, because effective messaging creates an image in the mind of your customer that is long-lasting, cohesive, and easy to remember.

Messaging includes every public impression of your organization. That includes your logo, your tagline, what the CEO says at the country club, how your receptionist answers the phone, the sales literature, your trade show presence – essentially, every public manifestation. As a marketer, your goal is to create a consistent and coherent message that hammers a few key points over and over – until your customers know them as well as you do.

Messaging isn’t a slogan, though. It’s much more than that. Messaging is the overall impact that everything you say and do has on your customer. If you use blue and gold on your logo, but your ads are red and black, you have muddled your messaging. If your website proclaims, “The only product you need to create better relationships with your customers”, but your business card says, “Great CRM System”, you have created a dissonant and less effective message.

The keys to effective nonprofit messaging

For nonprofits, consistent, effective messaging is even more critical. Every nonprofit has a Mission Statement. That’s where your messaging starts. But not where it ends. Your organization also needs a Vision Statement, a Needs Statement, and a USP, or Unique Selling Proposition. Let me explain each one and how they differ.

Your Vision is what you hope to accomplish, such as “ending hunger in Central America.” Your Mission Statement describes how you fulfill your vision. You might say, “We will end hunger in Central America by teaching locals how to farm more effectively.”

The Needs Statement is for your donors. Donors need to believe that your organization is meeting a critical need, and doing it better than your competitors. (More on competition in a later installment.) Your message has to evoke a need that is relatively unchanging. Your needs statement is a quick explanation of why your organization exists and why people should support its mission.

Your needs statement is that rationale behind the vision and mission. In our example, it might read like this: “Thousand of children in Central America go to bed hungry every night. If their parents understood a few recent discoveries about farming in their region, they could produce 50% more maize and feed their children every night.” See the difference?

Like commercial enterprises, each nonprofit also needs to have a “unique selling proposition (USP).” This is a few key points that differentiate your organization from others with similar missions – as your customer perceives them. I have heard dozens of clients in for profits and nonprofits tell me that they have no competition. That is bunkum. Your customers will perceive competitors, and you need to offer a unique reason that they should support your organization instead of any other one. There is a limited pot of donor money out there. Your unique selling proposition is key to differentiating your organization from all the others. In our example, the USP might be, “We provided more money to support farmer training than any other organization, and our method has been proven to be highly effective. Last year we helped 8,431 farmers learn new techniques and help their children getter more to eat. Won’t you help?”

You mission, your vision, your needs statement and your USP form the basis for all of your messaging. Be sure that everything flows from those key statements, and that every opportunity for communicating your message is clear, consistent, and true to those ideals.

Here are some key questions that will help you evaluate how consistent your messaging is:

  • Do you present your mission, vision, and needs statements consistently?
  • Have you identified and codified your Unique Selling Proposition?
  • Does your logo look the same in every usage?
  • Is your color scheme simple and consistent?
  • How often does your tagline change?
  • Is the look of your website and literature appropriate to your company, products, and customers?
  • Are your customers comfortable with the language you use?
  • Do you consistently make the same sales arguments (your USP)?
  • Do you describe your services differently in different places?
  • Do your service or product names relate to each other and the company name?

If your messaging is consistent, and true to your mission, vision, needs statement, and USP, you will find that soon your customers are parroting it back to you, and even your competitors will start to talk about your organization in your terms. That’s good messaging.

Thanks to Kathy Cole, of West Wind Consulting, for helping me better understand these important aspects of nonprofit messaging.