Getting More Bang for Your Buck--E-mail Outreach and Landing Pages

Katya Andresen of Katya's Nonprofit Marketing blog has a good post on six steps to better email outreach.

One of her pointers is to use a landing page in your e-mail. That is, have a link in your email that sends readers to a specific page in your site or blog. This is useful for a couple of reasons. First, you can easily measure the success of your email campaign by keeping track of traffic that lands there, particularly if the only way to get to the page is through your email. And second, you can customize landing pages for recipients of your emails so that the landing page really complements your email campaign.

So how to make a landing page? There are two things to consider--the marketing aspect (what should you have on the page?) and the technological aspects (how will you actually go about making the landing page?)  I talked a little about this last month when I posted about Tony Karrer's Blog Newbie Guide, but all of this bears repeating in the marketing context, I think.

What Goes On Your Landing Page?
Seth Godin, master of all things viral and marketing, says that a landing page should cause one of five actions:

  • Get a visitor to click (to go to another page, on your site or someone else's)
  • Get a visitor to buy
  • Get a visitor to give permission for you to follow up (by email, phone, etc.). This includes registration of course.
  • Get a visitor to tell a friend
  • (and the more subtle) Get a visitor to learn something, which could even include posting a comment or giving you some sort of feedback

According to Seth, you need to decide what you want your customer to do when they get to your landing page and then optimize your page to make that happen. He recommends trying to get a visitor to do only one, maybe two of the things from the list above--never more. So as you're putting your landing page together, you need to carefully consider what needs to be on that landing page to encourage your email visitor take one of these five actions.

For example, if you want a visitor to tell a friend, then you need to have a "Tell a Friend" button on your landing page that makes it easy for the visitor to send the information on to someone. If you want permission to follow up with the customer, then you have to give them something that will make them want you to continue contact and you have to include a form where they can sign up to be contacted again. And as always with a web-based tool, you can easily include audio, video, photos, etc. to make your message more compelling and interesting for the visitors who click through.

It's critical that you think carefully about what you're trying to accomplish with your landing page because everything you have on the  page should encourage visitors to take the specific action you've selected. A good article to check out to help you with this thinking is Digital Web Magazine's 11 Ways to Improve Web Landing Pages. This article from Taming the Beast might also be helpful.

Strategies for Making a Landing Page
When it comes to putting together a landing page, you have a few options. If you have a cooperative webmaster who's willing to throw together a quick page for you each time you run an email campaign, then that may be the way to go.If you personally know HTML and can put together a page yourself, that's another route. But for my money, the easiest way to do landing pages (and to provide yourself with the ongoing flexibility to create them) is to get yourself a Typepad Pro account.

This is one of the reasons that I think Typepad is such a great tool. If you have a Typepad Pro account ($14.95/month), you can create unlimited blogs. So each time you would need a new landing page, you would just create a new blog (it would only have one page) that you can customize completely for your email campaign.

If you'd like, you can create a design template to use each time you create a new page--probably the easiest thing to do. Or you can design something different to go with your campaign each time you need to. It's really up to you.

The beauty of this approach for me is that it puts the landing page firmly in your hands, making it easier and more likely that you will include one in your email campaign. When you have to rely on someone else to put it together for you, then it can really slow you down or make it likely that you'll just give up and send your target audience to your general website. But if you learn how to put together your own landing page, then it becomes as easy as putting together an email or a brochure. It also becomes second nature for you to include one in your email marketing.

For more info on creating landing pages, try this hack, which has step-by-step instructions for you to follow. I've used these on several occasions and have found them very easy to follow.

So what are you waiting for? Don't you have a landing page to create?

A Seriously Creative Ad!

Roanoke_adI have no idea how much it cost to produce this ad, but it's pretty damn creative and attention-grabbing. I'd be curious to know what it took technologically to pull it all together and the cost for doing it. Might not be as much as we think.

I did have some trouble with the streaming--it worked much better once the whole thing had played its jerky way through and then I clicked on the guy to watch it again.

Pretty neat to see, if nothing else. Thanks to e-Clippings for the heads up.

Could Soliciting Criticism Actually Boost Your Rating?

Guy Kawasaki reports on a UCLA study he found, "The Availability Heuristic in the Classroom: How Soliciting More Criticism Can Boost Your Course Rating." According to the study, two groups of students were asked to evaluate a course. The first group was asked for 2 ways to improve the course and the second was asked for 10 ways to improve. Interestingly, the group that was asked for more criticism actually reported higher levels of satisfaction with the course. The study seems to indicate that the more you solicit feedback and even criticism, the greater the likelihood that your service will be rated positively.

Of course, the study may apply only to course evaluations. But it does seem to have some potentially interesting implications for nonprofits deciding about whether or not to solicit feedback through blogs and other social media.

Made to Stick Part Three: Sticky Ideas are Unexpected

ChairsQuick--which chair do you notice in this photo?

Odds are, it's the red chair. But why does it  stand out? Because in a sea of gray chairs, all the same size and shape, the larger red chair is unexpected. It violates the pattern set by the other chairs and our brain immediately notes that there's something different in the photo.

Our brains are wired to notice novelty, to take note when something is different than what we expect. If something fits into our general pattern of expectations, our brains will blip right over it, saying in effect "I've seen this before, no need to pay attention to this." But if something stands out, then our brains will immediately pick up on the change telling us to pay attention, this is something we need to consider.

Because we are wired to notice and record the unexpected, surprise is a key factor in making an idea "sticky." According to Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick, once we've honed an idea to its essential core, making it simple and profound, then we need to answer two important questions:

  • How do I GET someone's attention?
  • How do I KEEP their attention?

Getting Attention
To get someone's attention, you use the element of surprise, the violation of their pattern of expectations. As the Heath's explain:

"Common sense is the enemy of sticky ideas. When messages sound like common sense, the float gently in one ear and out the other. And why shouldn't they? If I already intuitively 'get' what you're trying to tell me, why should I obsess about remembering it? The danger of course is that what sounds like common sense often isn't. . . It's your job, as a communicator, to expose the parts of the idea that are uncommon sense."

So we need to look at the core idea and find the things that are counter-intuitive about it, the aspects of the idea that are NOT common sense.

Like, "Did you know that the "healthy" juice that you're giving your kid is actually nothing more than sugar water, with  juice used only as flavoring?" 

It's "common sense" that juice is healthy for you--that's our expectation. But if you tell someone that the juice they thought was healthy is nothing more than empty calories, that violates their expectation. That gets them to pay attention.

Keeping Their Attention

Getting attention is one thing, and if you're presenting a relatively simple idea, getting attention may be enough. But for more complex ideas, you have to look at how to engage people's curiosity for a longer period of time. You do this by exposing gaps in people's knowledge and then helping them close those gaps. You tease them to draw them into asking questions, wanting to solve a mystery, and then providing them with the information that helps them do that.

News teasers are a good example of this approach--"What if there was a drug that made you sexier AND could get you a raise? Watch Action News at 11 to find out about how one new medication may do both."  To make our ideas sticky, we need to do the same thing. Find the surprising information, the questions in the material, and ask those to create curiosity. Those questions should be relevant and engaging to the audience. And your "sticky idea" should help them answer those questions.

Think of the best teachers you've had. They asked important questions and then helped you solve the mystery behind those questions. And today, years later, you probably still remember the lessons that were taught. Those are some sticky ideas. That's where you want to be.

So . . . simple ideas presented in unexpected ways will get people's attention. The next time I write on this, we'll look at strategies for making ideas concrete.

Made to Stick Part Two: To Make it Stick, Keep It Simple

Keep_it_simple_1Think about the last time you were reading e-mail and talking to your partner at the same time. If you're honest, you'll recognize that you were really only paying attention to either reading your e-mail or talking to your partner. The other activity was happening on auto pilot. Our brains simply can't apply full attention to more than one idea or activity at a time.

That's why Chip and Dan Heath's first rule of stickiness in Made to Stick is that the idea you want to make stick must be simple. It must be the core of an idea, it's very essence. Otherwise, people will be distracted and unable to make a decision. Since the point of a sticky idea is to ultimately move people to action, they must be able to identify your idea. When you say three things, you say nothing.

The problem for most people in getting to the core idea is that it forces us to radically prioritize. We must strip away all of the ideas that are important, but not essential until we are at the idea that is the most central and critical.

Let's use Southwest Airlines as an example of getting to the core. They are THE low-price airline. Their central idea is that they will be the lowest fare in any market in which they operate. This means that everything they do is evaluated against that idea. Herb Kelleher, the former CEO, tells a story about how they use the idea internally:

"Tracy from marketing comes into your office. She says her surveys indicate that the passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts and she thinks a nice chicken Caesar salad would be popular. What do you say?  . . .

You say, 'Tracy, will adding that chicken caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn't help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we're not serving any damn chicken salad.'"

In Southwest Airline's case, there are other important ideas about them--they are a fun place to work, for example--but fun is not the core. Low cost is their core. And everything they do is measured against that.

Finding the core idea is important because it helps people avoid decision paralysis. Studies show that when people are operating in an environment of uncertainty, they can become paralyzed by choices and will often make NO choice, even if their choice is between two good options. When we keep our idea simple, we can make the choice for them in the sense that they aren't paralyzed by having to figure out which is the most important idea out of several options.

Simple = Core + Compact
Getting to the core of the idea is one issue. But simple also means expressing the core idea in a compact way. The Golden Rule is a great example of this concept--"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." A simple idea, economically stated, but so profound you could spend a lifetime implementing it.

How to make your core idea compact? The Heaths suggest tapping into what your audience already knows by tapping into their "schemas." A schema is a psychological term for a collection of generic properties of a concept or category. When you hear the word "car," that calls up all sorts of associations for you. You see a picture of a car in your mind, but you may also have emotional connections to cars because you and your dad worked on them when you were a kid or you were in a bad car accident at one point.

When we tap into people's schemas, we shortcut the process of learning for them. People can make all sorts of connections between their schema and the new idea that you're presenting. That's why analogies and metaphors work so well--they help people understand a new concept or idea in light of one they already understand. The best analogies allow audiences to deepen their understanding of a new idea by delving deeply into what they know about the analogy and then applying it to the new concept.

The Enemy of Simplicity
Why do we have so much difficulty making an idea simple? Because we are under the "Curse of Knowledge." Once we know something, it's very difficult for us to return to what it felt like to NOT know something. Once I can play the piano, it's difficult for me to put myself back into the mind of someone who doesn't know how to read music or move their hands across the keyboard.

Techies are notorious for having this problem. You call with a computer question and the next thing you know you're knee deep in motherboards and processors and have no clue what they're talking about. Nonprofits are offenders in this area, too. We often have program-specific jargon that we all understand because we've been in the business. But outsiders are left completely confused by what we believe is perfectly comprehensible.

Somehow we have to remove the Curse of Knowledge and get back to the Zen practice of "beginner's mind." We have to be able to put ourselves into the shoes of someone who knows nothing about our idea and figure out how we can make our idea simple enough to appeal to them.

Talking to people outside of our normal circles is one way to test the simplicity of an idea. I also believe that you get an "aha!" feeling in your gut when you've finally hit on your central idea and stated it well. "Maximize shareholder value" isn't a core idea that gives me an aha. But "We're going to be the lowest-fare airline in every market," DOES give me that feeling. It's the difference between being able to see the path to clear concrete action and having that path obscured.

So the first test of stickiness is finding your central idea and stating it in a simple, profound way. Once you've done that, it's time to move on to how you present that idea to an audience. We'll take a look at how that works in several future posts.

Note--for more on schemas, read George Lakoff's tutorial on "Framing," which describes how conservatives have made phenomenally successful use of schemas.


Making Messages Stick Part One: Introduction to "Made to Stick'

Made_to_stick Back in November I was doing some thinking on Malcolm Gladwell's notion of "sticky ideas"--those messages that are really memorable and spur people to action. While Gladwell did a great job of describing what happens when messages are sticky, he didn't spend a lot of time talking about how you can actually make your message sticky. Fortunately Dan and Chip Heath decided to dig into this topic a little more deeply in their new book, Made to Stick

I got this book around Christmas. Unlike poor Beth Kanter,  I actually got to finish my copy, and it's been on my mind for a few weeks now. As I'm working on some projects that require me to make my ideas VERY sticky, it seemed like this might be a good time to blog a bit and get my thoughts in order. I actually plan to do a series of posts on the book because it's pretty meaty and worth digging into more deeply. So here goes . . .

For an idea to stick, to be useful and lasting, it must get the audience to:

  • Pay attention
  • Understand and remember it
  • Agree with and believe the idea
  • Care
  • Be able to act on it

Sounds pretty simple, right? Except that we often fail at getting audiences to do any of this--often from the get go.

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan help us remedy that. They outline six major principles that make an idea sticky:

Simple--Stickiness means focusing on an essential core idea. Ideally, the idea is profound AND simple, as simple doesn't mean simplistic. Proverbs are a good example of a simple, profound thought.

Unexpected--For people to pay attention to an idea, it must violate their expectations. The human brain is remarkably adaptable and will habituate itself to stimuli after surprisingly few exposures. Sticky ideas wake our brains up by jolting us out of our habits. When Southwest flight attendants began cracking jokes during the safety features review, that was unexpected. That got people's attention and got them talking about Southwest.

Concrete--Sticky ideas are concrete. They operate in the world of our senses and in human action. One of the problems with "experts" is that they tend to use more abstract language. This makes it harder for non-experts to understand what the expert is talking about. But when you're introducing an idea that's new, you must do so with concrete examples so that your audience can "see" or "feel" what you're talking about.

Credible--Of course people must believe in the idea for it to stick. Sadly, the idea doesn't actually have to BE true. It just has to APPEAR to be true because it's backed up by some sort of statistics or recommended by a reputable person. Urban legends, for example, are incredibly sticky because the SEEM like they could have happened to someone (in fact, in the stories they usually have). If your friend's cousin said it was so, then there MUST be people who are stealing your organs!

Emotional--While we like to believe we are rational creatures, acting on the basis of fact, the reality is that we are guided primarily by our emotions. Sticky ideas appeal to our emotional side, the side that wants to connect to other people, as we're wired to do.  That's why donors are drawn in by the idea of paying for a poor child in Africa, but NOT by the idea of paying for the nonprofit's electricity.

Stories--Humans have always told stories. We respond to them, see ourselves acting through them. Sticky ideas tell a story that allows us to mentally rehearse, to prepare for action.

Naturally our stickiest ideas will possess all of these characteristics. The fewer of these traits our idea has, the less sticky it is.

Now look back at the beginning--remember that there are several things we need an audience to do in order to have the idea stick? Well we can map these principles right back to each of those steps:

  • Pay Attention (Unexpected)
  • Understand and remember (Concrete)
  • Agree/Believe (Credible)
  • Care (Emotions)
  • Be able to act on it (Stories)

All of this, of course, assumes that you've started with a simple idea. And simplicity may be the hardest part to get right. At least it is for me, because I possess the "Curse of Knowledge," as Chip and Dan call it.

But that's a post for another day. Tomorrow, in fact, when I want to talk about how knowledge can actually get in our way and what we need to do to make our ideas as simple as possible. 


Potential Donor Looking for Nonprofit Wish List

Sarah of Freedom for IP is looking for a way to create a "nonprofit wish list" similar to an Amazon Wish List that allows her to:

  • Create a list that she could give to friends, family, etc. where they could donate money to support one of her favorite nonprofits, in lieu of giving her gifts. She's interested in unrestricted giving (and aren't all nonprofits looking for those opportunities?) so existing sites like Changing the Present aren't cutting it for her.
  • Combine this nonprofit wish list with her list of the "material stuff" she would also like to receive.

A few Chip-In Widgets might get her toward her first goal, but I think a little API magic is required to get her toward her second one. Lacking that expertise, I'm opening this up to the nonprofit community to consider, because I'll tell you what--the first person who figures this one out may have a pretty killer app on their hands.


The Rise of Doing Good Among Youth

YPulse, which offers daily news for marketing to Generation Y, has published Part One of their Year 2006 in Review. At the top of the list is "Doing Good" and the rise in public/private partnerships for social change as part of youth marketing efforts. The article includes some links to other resources, which might be useful to nonprofits that do a lot work with and for youth.