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Effective Nonprofit Marketing Isn't About The Marketer’s Preference

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In more ways than one, marketing is a lot like an art form. Both require equal parts strategic planning and creative execution to get a message across. But some art forms are a little more ambiguous, leaving the interpretation up to the consumer. We’re going to leave the abstract up to Jackson Pollock and steer clear of ambiguity in marketing. Art is about relatable self-expression of an artist to their followers. Conversely, marketing is not about self-expression, but does require a certain level of relatability.

Art and marketing are just different trades.

As obvious as it sounds, when it comes to art, we’re attracted to what we’re attracted to. Sometimes it’s inexplicable. We purchase what makes us feel a certain way and hang pieces on our walls that fit our personalities or feng shui of the room. In contrast, oftentimes as marketers we forget that marketing has nothing to do with what we prefer. It has everything to do with what our audience prefers, and what will get them to act.

You’re not going to hang a screenshot of a landing page, popup ad or any other piece of a marketing campaign on your wall. You’re going to blast them out to your audiences and pray for conversions (conversions = clicks, donations, or petition signees, among other goals of marketing campaigns).

The hardest part is getting over yourself.

The point is this: your constituents don’t care what you prefer, and you shouldn’t either. You should only care about what will get the highest number of conversions, and what you think your audience will not only like better, but take action because of.

The worst thing you can do is make a decision based on your gut feeling (or your boss’s, graphic designer’s or Kevin in Accounting, for that matter) with no actual data to back it up. Just because you like the way something looks or sounds doesn’t mean you should use it.

Innovation is the name, conversions are the game.

For example, it’s easy to get in the habit of making every internal page or landing page on your website match. You have a standard header image (probably a stock image), some copy explaining the purpose of the page, potentially a few more images or a call-to-action button. Seems fine, and I guarantee if you Google “awesome landing page layouts,” you’ll see similar examples. I’m not going to say any of these strategies are implicitly wrong, but it’s not fair to generalize your constituents based on what other people have found about their constituents.

Experiment and learn about your constituency.

Nonprofit Hub is always running experiments. We’re testing out new designs and layouts, and tinkering with a variety of marketing pieces before comparing the results. For example, we were surprised when the popup ad we all voted on—the “pretty” one—performed less than half as well as the one with very little design. The “ugly” option ultimately converted higher.

The same goes for our landing pages.

Aesthetically, we prefer designing landing pages with a similar formula mentioned above with the big header image, a few words and call to action. But when it comes to the most effective marketing strategies, you have to get over yourself and do what you’ve found works best, based on data and research—not just what you “like better.” For people that come to our site, we have found that a two-column landing page without any header graphics and a clear call to action on the same page converts the highest. What we’ve found might not be true for your audience or your website, so it’s up to you to do the legwork and find out what is true of your audience. Once you find that out, you’ll be able to properly tailor your marketing efforts..

Check your personal preference at the door.

Marketing is an objective business based on optimization and results, not emotional work based on what you feel or what you “think might be true.” Try new things, use what works and scrap everything else—checking your personal preference at the door.

So marketing may be like an art form, but it’s different in that art is about personal expression, while marketing is about expressing your organization’s message in the name of conversions. To be the most successful, marketers need to breed a culture of openness for feedback, and those in leadership need to know how to deliver that feedback to make sure campaigns are executed with the goal in mind.

Now what?

My charge to any marketers who’ve found themselves of making gut decisions or decisions based on tradition is to start running experiments to inform future data-driven decisions. Depending on what website software you’re using, there are tons of resources available to try out A/B testing on landing pages—a quick Google search will help you find one that works for you. Same goes for email marketing. Marketing is obviously a broad term, but whether it’s a landing page, popup ad, direct mail piece, email blast or any other component of a marketing campaign, there’s always a method to test and see what performs best.

If nothing else, find something that you’ve done a certain way, just because you’ve always done it that way. Take your year-end appeal, for a timely example. In my experience, year-end appeals tend to be about the same year after year for most organizations. Have you always sent direct mail? Dare to try a paid social media campaign, wait out the results and compare the effectiveness to your tried-and-true direct mail from previous years. If it worked, do it again. If not, you’re on to the next experiment. Rinse. Repeat.

If your organization can’t justify scrapping the old to try something completely new (i.e. scrapping direct mail and swapping for a Facebook campaign), try your “normal” execution in tandem with a more innovative initiative and compare the results. Or, at the very least, take your direct mail campaign and try a new shape of cardstock, incorporating new colors or make a different ask entirely.

Now shake off the dust and get to innovating.

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