Originally published in Advertising Age on October 3, 2013.
In the race to understand massive data sets, large companies are frequently highlighted as the big innovators. Large infrastructure projects, outsized resources and long timelines fit into a narrative that depicts the wrangling of untamed, wild data into insightful intelligence. But rarely do these projects get at the heart of their purpose, to forge a better relationship with consumers and uncover some previously unrealized passion.
Advocacy groups have a natural advantage in connecting with supporters, but they don’t always have the means to process the valuable insights at their fingertips. As the numerical representation of their supporters’ passion and commitment, data comes in clicks, signups, petitions signed and calls made. These real-time actions of their most committed supporters provide the pulse of their organization.
The potential for this data is so much greater for both companies and advocacy organizations alike. When the NAACP, a client of ours, was looking to further enable both its mission and its supporters, it combined purpose-driven data and a systematic approach to management to capitalize on latent opportunities.
The NAACP isn’t new to organizing. It is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization and has, for the last five years, transitioned its focus to digital advocacy and a rigorous approach to leveraging their datasets in order to mobilize passionate advocates online. Doing so required focusing first on the data that matters, using that data to create segments for outreach and preparing for the big moments whenever they may arise.
Focus on Data that Matters
It isn’t about appending age, income or interest data from other marketing databases. The only reliable predictor of a user’s willingness to take action is their past actions. And to get that, start small with simple asks, moving up the ladder of engagement to identify supporters at all levels of willingness. The most committed supporters will have wildly divergent backgrounds, so don’t exclude anyone from the outset.
When the NAACP sent an email encouraging the abolishment of the death penalty in the wake of Troy Davis’ wrongful execution, anyone who took action was immediately tagged as a supporter in favor of abolishing the death penalty. Their actions for Troy, and others like him, speak volumes and indicate a likelihood to take further action in the future.
To do this in your own organization, be sure you’re using an email platform that supports tracking opens and clicks, and enables you to easily identify groups of supporters and customers that have taken specific actions based on the email you send them. The platform is the key and listening to the data it collects is the necessary first step in proper email marketing.
Understand Supporters — and Customers
Segment supporters based on their actions, like whether they support a particular issue based on past involvement. Never think in terms of an “email blast,” which conjures images of a one-way, brute-force missive to unsuspecting recipients. Outreach should be tailored, personal and delightful to the supporter, which leads to higher rates of engagement.
Many NAACP supporters believe gun violence is a problem in America. While it’s not the first priority of the Association, specific segments and actions carry out a focused conversation. Enter the NAACP community from a specific landing page or online ad and you’ll be identified as a concerned supporter of gun laws. Subsequent outreach reflects the kind of familiarity that a supporter might get from a friend or colleague.
Brands and other organizations similarly can listen to what their customers and supporters are interested in by monitoring their opens and clicks, segmenting them into smaller, more defined lists and following up with them on the things that interest them most. This isn’t about spamming or ‘blasting’, it’s about providing your users the information they want, as indicated by interactions with your emails.
Prepare for Big Moments
When your company or organization hits the figurative front page of the Internet, or a national event happens to fall right in line with your mission statement, it’s a terrible feeling to believe you missed an opportunity. Preparing for those moments takes a lot of work, a flexible platform and technological infrastructure that can handle the influx of data, a rapid-response communications strategy to immediately reach out to the right audience and an organizational structure that allows for rapid iteration.
When the George Zimmerman trial was coming to a close, the NAACP had prepped several outcomes beginning a month before. Landing pages on their website, emails written, creative on standby – all the pieces were aligned for an eventual result, whenever it may come. When the verdict was announced late one Saturday night in July, the NAACP had an email out in five minutes that provided a tangible action to supporters and generated over a million petition signatures that called on the Department of Justice to take action. And they did.
Making sense of data and using it wisely doesn’t take the resources of a corporate powerhouse, and it also doesn’t require a grassroots advocacy team to create it. It requires a disciplined approach to listening to your biggest fans, and a dedication to following their lead. At the core of all this data are people; your fans and admirers. Get to know them!