Episode 43 – Test based digital marketing for nonprofits

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Episode 43 – Test based digital marketing for nonprofits


My guest on the show today is Geoff Wilson. President and Founder of 352 Inc., Geoff is a tech entrepreneur, investor and mentor who found his passion for business at an early age. After starting a successful computer store in high school, Geoff began building websites in his college fraternity house room and 352 Inc. was born. 20 years later, his digital product development and marketing agency has grown to 60 employees with offices in Atlanta, Tampa and Gainesville, FL.

Highlights from this Conversation

  1. What has worked well for you?
    1. Test based digital marketing
      1. Traction – book on how startups grow
        1. https://www.amazon.com/Traction-Startup-Achieve-Explosive-Customer/dp/1591848369/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1521647208&sr=8-2&keywords=traction
      2. Iterative approach to marketing
        1. Run small tests in a bunch of channels to see what works
        2. Always be running small tests in different channels
      3. Have an approach of continuous experimentation
      4. You can prove ROI early taking this type of approach
      5. Must be data driven
  2. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
    1. Planning big campaigns over long periods of time
      1. Instead be lean and iterative
      2. Do as little as possible and then get feedback and measure results
        1. Then be ready to iterate and move quickly to the next thing
    2. Must be ready to pivot and move
  3. What are you excited about?
    1. Video is interesting and growing
      1. TV is shifting in major ways and will continue to do so
    2. Social is changing is growing
      1. Understanding how people are communicating and how they want to be communicated with
    3. AI and Machine Learning

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:00:03] Hi and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about nonprofit digital marketing and how to make it better so that good people at good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways Eight, a digital marketing agency that specializes in nonprofit work and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.


[00:00:25] My guest today is Geoff Wilson, who is the President and Founder of 352 Inc. Geoff is a tech entrepreneur, investor, and mentor, who found his passion for business at an early age. After starting a successful computer store in high school, Geoff began building websites in his college fraternity house room and 352 Inc. was born. Twenty years later, his digital product development and marketing agency has grown to sixty employees with offices in Atlanta, Tampa, and Gainesville, Florida. Geoff, thanks for being on the show.


Geoff [00:00:59] Thanks, Adam. Great to be here.


Adam [00:01:01] Man, I’m so impressed that you started a computer store in high school. We should dive into that sometime. I need to hear more about that. That’s amazing.


Geoff [00:01:09] It was fun, yeah we had a good time with that it was, got some attention as well, some news attention and that kind of thing. So that was (unclear 00:01:20)…


Adam [00:01:20] (unclear 00:01:20).


Geoff [00:01:21] Yeah.


Adam [00:01:21] High schooler starting a computer store, that’s a big deal. So, Wow! that’s fantastic man (unclear 00:01:25)…

Geoff [00:01:26] Unfortunately at that time, now I think running a startup, like if you’re in college or something and you do a startup that’s the cool thing to do. Like Mark, the Mark Zuckerberg’s…


Adam [00:01:35] Right.


Geoff [00:01:35] …are now like the heroes on college campuses. But back then, when I was doing that twenty plus years ago, it was not necessarily the cool thing to do. I think more people thought of me as the computer nerd than the cool kid, unfortunately.


Adam [00:01:48] Yeah, they probably thought you were just crazy, really…


Geoff [00:01:50] Yeah.


Adam [00:01:51] Every time I’ve started something, even recently, every time I start up people just look at me like I’ve lost my mind. It’s like okay, well, that’s good, we’re good. We’ll keep on trucking here. So.


Geoff [00:02:01] That’s great.


Adam [00:02:02] Well thanks for joining me. Let’s start talking digital marketing. You’ve got a ton of experience, you run a great agency, I really respect what you do. So let’s talk about that. So related to digital marketing. Tell us something that’s working well?


Geoff [00:02:15] Yeah, so. We’re a big believer in test-based digital marketing. So there’s a concept called traction. There is actually a book that came out a few years ago on how startups successfully grow and it’s based on this style of marketing, that they call traction marketing. And the book is called Traction, how startups get marketing success and the concept is basically a very iterative approach to marketing, an approach where you place small bets by running small tests in a wide variety of different channels. There’s nineteen different possible channels of marketing.

[00:02:59] If you look at how this book segments things. Everything from PR to traditional TV and radio, to paid social and paid search to content marketing, to email marketing etc. etc. All these different channels you could possibly use to market anything. And the concept of the book is that you really need to be running tests in every single channel, you need to be spending time brainstorming, a small test you could run in every single channel and at any given time you should always have a few small tests running in different channels and your approach to marketing, in general, should be an approach of continuous experimentation, where you’re always

doing small experiments in these different channels. And of course, as you find success in a particular channel that’s when you start to hone in on it. You put more budget behind it, you start to do more testing and eventually upgrade it to being kind of a core part of your marketing strategy.


Adam [00:03:57] Man I love that, I love it. And so, just to ask the dumb question here or to define the thing. By channel, you mean like an e-mail newsletter or Facebook ads or Facebook sponsored posts even or Twitter, that’s how you’re defining channels. Correct?


Geoff [00:04:15] Absolutely. So when we bring on a new client, we’re going to look at what their business goals are.


[00:04:21] And so let’s say, like a lot of our clients, it’s: “Oh, we need to sell more things on our E-commerce site, or we need to get more people signed up for an event that we’re going to do, or we need to get more donations to our nonprofit,” whatever that goal may be, we say, okay so now we’ve got a goal, so now let’s look at each of the different channels that are out there and come up with ideas. If we were to market this customer using paid Facebook ads, what would be some different ideas we might have. If we were to market this customer using email marketing. If we were to market this customer doing influencer marketing or doing sponsorship of a podcast, what would be different ideas we would have. And so we will spend you know a half day or a day doing a brainstorm around every possible marketing channel and coming up with a whole bunch of different ideas, some of which we know would never, maybe ever be used in reality but we go through the process of brainstorming as a team because you uncover opportunities that you might not have ever thought of. And then we’ll stack rank all of these different ideas in terms of what we think is probably going to produce the most success. But coming out of the brainstorm we’ll have a large stack rank of all of these different marketing ideas across all kinds of different mediums and we’ll then pull the top few off the list and we’ll actually test them, we’ll take small budgets.


[00:05:49] Oftentimes like a $1,000 experimentation budget per channel and so we may start by running tests in three or four different channels. So we’ll take a $3,000 or $4,000 experimentation budget to split it across those channels and run tests in each and figure out what channel performs the best. Obviously measuring is key, measuring analytics by channel and how each channel is performing is key. Some channels don’t…


Adam [00:06:15] Right.


Geoff [00:06:16] …require budget, like you can do a lot of this testing without a budget. Some of them maybe just outreach right and one of the tests we may have is we want to identify the fifty people on LinkedIn that meet this specific type of criteria and we’re going to send them all e-mails or InMails or that type of thing. So some of it’s…


Adam [00:06:39] Right.


Geoff [00:06:39] …time, some of it’s a test budget.


Adam [00:06:42] Wow! I love that, I love that approach. I’m a big advocate of test-based digital marketing. I think just diving into digital marketing and throwing a ton of money at something, doesn’t really make sense until you’ve proven that what you’re throwing the money at is going to be effective in delivering what you’re trying to get done.

Geoff [00:06:59] Exactly. And that’s the thing, you really can prove (unclear 00:07:05] taking this type of approach. And one of the knocks on marketing, in general, is that sometimes marketing can be hard to measure brand awareness, can be hard to measure, people can therefore sometimes be reluctant to spend money on it. If you want to adopt this approach to marketing, you’ve got to be very very data-driven. Everything has to be…


Adam [00:07:28] Yeah.


Geoff [00:07:28] …measured. It has to be a very analytical data-driven approach.


[00:07:32] A very scientific approach to marketing but I think it’s the best approach because you can prove success, you can show numbers that are being moved by particular actions and then as a result of that your client can make a much more informed budget spend.


Adam [00:07:53] Yeah absolutely. That’s fantastic. So next question related to digital marketing. Tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from?.


Geoff [00:08:03] Well, I would say kind of taking the reverse of that. I’m not a big fan of planning out big campaigns over long periods of time. I think that in general, my philosophy about business, my philosophy about developing products and my philosophy about marketing is a very lean, iterative approach. I’m a big fan of lean startup when it comes to product developments and applying those concepts to marketing into other areas and basically the concept is, you want to build or do as little as possible, put it out in the world and then get feedback instead of doing a big build or in the case of marketing, planning a big campaign. You want to plan something small and you want to put it out there and get feedback and measure results. But the key is, be ready to iterate and move really, really quickly as that data and those results are coming in. So, I think how not to operate is to plan a 12-month calendar of marketing initiatives. I recognize with certain things, like event marketing, obviously you do have to get a jump on that and plan that sometime out in the future.


[00:09:25] But I think if you’re trying to plan most of your marketing year or most of your marketing spend a year in advance, as part of some sort of annual budgeting process, you’re really making a mistake.


Adam [00:09:37] Right.


Geoff [00:09:37] You have to take a very iterative test-driven approach. I think you can really, you can define a very complete plan for the next thirty days. You can define a looser plan with iteration ability for the next 90 days but then beyond that, it should really be much more wide open to allow yourself the opportunity to pivot.


Adam [00:10:02] Right. I love that. And pivoting is key. It’s a big buzzword in the startup industry and in our industry right now. But the ability to move quickly, to shift focus quickly is really key to do good marketing. Because what works today on, let’s say Facebook may not work tomorrow. I mean Facebook is tanking right now. Who knows what’s going to happen next.


Geoff [00:10:25] Yeah, you’re right. Digital is moving really quickly. And as new digital platforms come out, it’s typically those who find those platforms first and develop and experiment with those platforms are typically the ones that end up with a unique advantage on that platform. Over time everything returns back to the mean.


[00:10:54] So over time, like whatever advantage you might have advertising on Facebook or doing social media marketing in the early days, over time it’s going to become tougher and tougher to win because as competition increases and more people become aware of the platform and become a lot more sophisticated about how they’re using the platform and advertising on the platform. The inherent advantage you could have had on that platform begins to dissipate. So I think being an early mover in the marketing space can yield a nice reward.


Adam [00:11:31] Yeah, I totally agree. Get on board early and plow forward and take some small risks and iterate on those and see what happens. You can really own the space in a lot of places when you do that. So last question related to digital marketing. What are you excited about?.


Geoff [00:11:48] That’s a great question. It’s really interesting seeing how digital marketing has evolved and how just everything new that’s happening in the space. I think video is really interesting. I think that we’re going to continue, what happens with TV in general over the next ten to twenty years is going to be fascinating. We’re going to certainly see a shift away from the big cable. We’re already seeing now, we’re already seeing the cord-cutting beginning to happen. We’re certainly seeing a movement towards on-demand and you’re already seeing that with the rise of Hulu and YouTube TV I think is particularly interesting. Where YouTube is providing an online play for a lot of these cable networks and of course, all of that is going to begin to move more on-demand as time goes on. We’re seeing some, some of the clients that we’re working with, we’re doing video pre-roll on YouTube. We’re doing some on-demand video advertising within on-demand and we’re seeing really good results on that. And part of that is because of the really advanced segmentation that you can do with that type of advertising that’s not possible with just traditional cable or that type of thing. So…


Adam [00:13:16] Right.


Geoff [00:13:17] …you can get very specific with the marketing spend and very specific with the targeting. So I think video is going to continue to present itself as a bigger and bigger opportunity, as time progresses. And so that’s definitely one area that I’m excited about and that we have our eye on. Obviously, social is changing all the time, you referenced, so far this year Facebook’s algorithm has already changed pretty significantly a few different times. I think exploring…


Adam [00:13:45] Right.


Geoff [00:13:46] …new opportunities, seeing where social goes and how people are communicating, how they want to be communicated with. I know that some brands are starting to experiment a lot more with tools like Facebook Messenger and chatbots and…


Adam [00:14:05] (unclear 00:14:05).


Geoff [00:14:05] …different ways of reaching out to people and are seeing a lot of times better engagement rates through those platforms.


[00:14:13] I think communicating with somebody via text message, although obviously you have to be careful about spam and how you’re handling that but you get certainly a lot more engagement and open right so to speak through that or through a Facebook Messenger, than what you’re able to get through an e-mail these days. And so, I think just rethinking communication strategies, artificial intelligence and machine learning and how those are going to really affect marketing. They’re already having an impact. There’s a lot of marketing tools now that are coming out, that are touting themselves as smart marketing tools because they’re layering in machine learning and artificial intelligence to be making better marketing decisions. Better ad optimization decisions etc.. And I think a lot of those tools are still in their infancy and they still have a way to go. However, it’s clearly the future. So seeing how that develops out is going to be really interesting as well.


Adam [00:15:14] Yeah absolutely. It’s funny how all that stuff just continues to roll out and roll out and roll out. And there’s so many tools coming out and I think, some of them sort of claim artificial intelligence, then maybe they’re little less intelligent than they would like to believe. But I think it’s going to have a profound impact on our industry and pretty much every industry. So let me see if I can recap what we’ve learned together so far, to have some takeaways for our listeners here. Then you can let me know if you have any final thoughts. So related to digital marketing for what has worked well you said, test-based digital marketing. You specifically mentioned the book Traction, which I will have a link to in the show notes for anybody that’s listening.


[00:15:55] Also you mentioned, that approach is iterative in its approach to marketing, so you run small tests across a ton of channels all at once to see what works and you begin to grow that. And you said, we should always, always, always be running several small tests at once to see what you can do better and where you can grow in different ways. And you said, always have an approach for continuous experimentation because you can prove ROI early by taking this approach and that you must be data-driven when taking this approach.


[00:16:27] For what has not worked well that we can learn from you said, basically the opposite. Planning big campaigns over long periods of time tends to not work well instead be lean and iterative and grow from there and you also said that with marketing, in general, you need to be ready to pivot and move because that’s going to be key for you in order to have success in your marketing efforts. For what you’re excited about, man totally agree with you on that, video is really interesting and growing. TV is shifting in a major way. I cut the cord a while back, which I find just beautiful, I love not having cable TV and it saves me a ton of money, so I’m a big fan! You also mentioned that social is changing and growing constantly and understanding how people are communicating and how they want to be communicated with is really important as social continues to change and evolve. And that AI and machine learning is really going to play a significant role in the near future for digital marketing tools in particular. So, did I miss a thing or anything you want to add to that?


Geoff [00:17:24] No, that’s great.


[00:17:26] I think hopefully some of the listeners agree.


Adam [00:17:31 ] Absolutely. Well this is really…


Geoff [00:17:32] (unclear 00:17:32).


Adam [00:17:33]…really good, man, I got a lot out of this.


Geoff [00:17:36] Thank you. I do have some, there are some posts on my company’s blog 352inc., i-n-c dot com. If you go there, if you go to the blog, there are some posts about traction marketing and some of this different style towards marketing, so you can learn a little bit more there. If anyone’s interested.


Adam [00:17:54] I love that. Thanks for mentioning that here and for our listeners, I would definitely encourage you to do that. I think there’s a lot you can learn from the 352 blog, there is a lot of smart people over there, to say the least. So. Well Geoff, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with the listeners before we sign off here?


Geoff [00:18:12] I would say that as part of my belief in lean, kind of a lean approach. Innovation is 99% iteration. I feel like the future is no longer necessarily about the big bold idea or the big bold campaign as it is about having a really good cycle of iterating based on user feedback, based on what you’re seeing out in the marketplace, being very customer-centric and you will land on a very innovative idea and a very innovative approach if you bring that type of philosophy to bear.


Adam [00:18:51] Man I love that! That’s so good. I totally agree with you. So that’s fantastic. Well, Geoff, this has been great.


[00:18:57] Thanks for being on the podcast, love to have you back again sometime and really appreciate your time today.


Geoff [00:19:02] Take care. Thanks.


Adam [00:19:05] Thanks for listening to the Good People Good Marketing podcast, to get more resources about nonprofit digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources.


[00:19:16] Also if you want to find me, Adam, your host you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks for listening and tune in next time.


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