It’s About Branding, Not Clicking

February 12, 2014       The NonProfit Times      

The click is dead. Long live brand awareness. “I don’t give a (expletive) about clicks. I just want to sell cars.” Those were the words of a vice president at Toyota, as relayed by Daniel McCallum, a Westminster, Colo.-based account manager at data analytics firm Datalogix.

“Clicks ultimately don’t mean anything,” said McCallum. “Who cares about how many clicks? It’s about action” when it comes to using online advertising to drive offline response.

McCallum and Richard Becker, president of Target Analytics in Cambridge, Mass., talked about audience-centric media buying to attendees of the recent Blackbaud Conference for Nonprofits (BBCON 2013) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md.

“We’re not following the click. We’re following the consumer,” said McCallum. In years past, he said, it was sufficient to simply build in online data for prospects: where do they go on the Internet, how long they stay there. “But it’s anonymous,” said McCallum. “All this information doesn’t give us a clear picture.”

The old way was simply being where you think your ideal users might be. “Bloomingdales knows its ideal customer goes to YouTube and Facebook, so they’re buying a huge amount of ads on those sites,” said McCallum. The problem is, you don’t know sees the ads. If you buy ads on the New York Times website, your ads could be seen by the C-level executive with affinity and propensity for a major gift, or by her 16-year-old son who is only browsing for research for his biology report.

“If you were hanging your hat on that strategy, you will be horribly disappointed,” said Becker. “Clicks are hard to get and even if you get them, the likelihood of conversion is slim to none. You don’t know who you’re serving those ads to.”

Becker and McCallum gave two examples of the new, audience-centric way of online advertising. The goal is brand awareness: putting your organization’s name in front of prospects so that when a real opportunity to donate comes, like a fundraising email or a direct mail package, the prospect is already primed and ready to give.

The University of Indiana (UI) ran a six-month advertising campaign to supplement a direct mail campaign. The goal was a 3 percent lift in the number of donors, as well as a lift in the average gift size. UI had a house file of 453,000. Of those, some 340,000 were found online via cookies. The digital campaign cost $45,000, and UI expected to see $53,000 returned in six months.

Online advertising went out to 161,000 of the house file. The control was the same number of people in the file that UI had cookies on but didn’t serve with ads. “The click rate is always going to be super low” for the 161,000 test cohort, said Becker. It came in at about 0.04 percent. “If you were hanging your hat on online display as a standalone channel, it’s the type of number that gets you fired,” said Becker. Understand, and make the higher-ups understand, that it’s one aspect of a full campaign.

During the six-month mail campaign, UI got almost 12,000 people to give gifts. It saw a 17 percent increase in total gifts given “when brand reinforcement occurred” via online advertising, said Becker. Those served by online ads generated $220,000 or 16.4 percent more than those who weren’t served. “Remember, the campaign cost $45,000,” said Becker. “It’s not a bad return on investment, five to one.” The average gift per donor was 5.9 percent more. “If you reinforce your brand, they dig a little deeper into their wallets,” said Becker.

Becker and McCallum saw similar results for a three-month direct mail and online advertising campaign for the Environmental Defense Fund.  The initial file had 880,000 names, of which 567,000 had cookies. The campaign served seven ads per month to 250,000, with another 250,000 not served ads acting as the control.

The digital ad campaign saw an 11.24 percent lift in revenue over the control group. The test cohort had 239 more donors than the control, an increase of 8.5 percent, and the average gift for the test donors was 46 percent higher. “This is huge brand exposure,” said Becker. “Raising money is the number one objective, but the side benefit is brand reinforcement.” The target audience saw EDF’s name a total of 6 million times, he said.

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