Political Polarization? The Medium Is the Message

I was upset to learn that a good friend of mine is no longer speaking with his sister because of an argument over President Trump. He could no longer abide that she, like many members of the president’s “base,” continued to defend the President. How did we get to the place where families are being torn apart over politics? Look no further than where people get their news.

Facebook unfriending
Source: Clay Jones, ClayToonz.com
Facebook unfriending – the struggle is real

[Editor’s note: While this opinion piece is not explicitly about marketing this time, it’s important for marketers to note what’s happening with consumers and the context in which they’re seeing ads. Content marketers have had to keep an eye on this; most recently in April, concerning hate speech sites housing YouTube ads. Chuck McLeester doesn’t mention hate speech sites below.]

I was upset to learn that a good friend of mine is no longer speaking with his sister because of an argument over President Trump. He could no longer abide that she, like many members of the president’s “base,” continued to defend the President. How did we get to the place where families are being torn apart over politics? Look no further than where people get their news.

In the Washington Post column, The Fix, Aaron Blake writes on Aug. 22, “We increasingly live in two Americas. And those two Americas have very separate sources of news.”

Blake cites an extensive study by Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society that examined 4.5 million tweets and looked at those who retweeted either Trump or Clinton. It then looked at the URLs that the users shared.

Not surprisingly, Trump and Clinton supporters relied on very different sources for their news. The tables below show the top 50 media sources shared by Trump and Clinton supporters. It’s interesting to note that Trump supporters sometimes cited “left of center” media, while Clinton supporters never cited “right of center” media. Eleven of the sources cited by Trump supporters were from “Left” or “Center Left” sources, perhaps refuting left-leaning mainstream media outlets like the The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.

This polarization of people by the media they consume makes me think of the work of Marshall McLuhan from the mid-1960s. McLuhan contended that the content in a medium was less important than the change that was brought about by that medium.

As noted in the Wikipedia page on McLuhan, “… the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are, in effect, being brought into the home to watch over dinner. Hence in “Understanding Media,” McLuhan describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time.”

Anyone who has Facebook friends on opposite sides of the political spectrum is bound to witness this phenomenon. In fact, Facebook itself is the complicit medium, creating structural changes in the civility of political discourse among friends and family members.

So while it may be easy to blame Donald Trump or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for pitting brother against sister, shouldn’t we be taking a closer look at the media they’re consuming and the media they’re using for political discourse as the culprit?

Here are the tables that the Harvard study derived from the Twitter and URL data, Trump’s first, Clinton’s second.

In the charts below:

“Partisan Scores” are based upon how often a source was shared by Trump and Clinton supporters. Scores range from -1 for sources shared mostly by Clinton supporters to 1 for sources shared mostly by Trump supporters.

 

Trump backers share these media sources on Twitter, Harvard finds
Trump backers cite these sources, according to “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” DASH terms of use. | Credit: Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University by Robert Faris, et al
Cinton backers cited these sources on Twitter, Harvard finds
Clinton backers cite these sources on Twitter, according to “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” DASH terms of use. | Credit: Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University by Robert Faris, et al

How Events Hurt Major Gifts — And What to Do About It

I was in a meeting with the fundraising staff of a very prominent and successful nonprofit, and the leader of the major gifts program told the familiar story of how he and his staff had been pulled away from their major gift work to organize an event that “meant a lot to the board.”

eventIt happened again.

I was in a meeting with the fundraising staff of a very prominent and successful nonprofit, and the leader of the major gifts program told the familiar story of how he and his staff had been pulled away from their major gift work to organize an event that “meant a lot to the board.”

I was stunned by what I was hearing, because the major gift staff already had its hands full with substantial increases in goals for the fiscal year, and now it was being recruited to spend a good deal of time and money organizing a feel-good event that, quite frankly, had nothing to do with fundraising.

It was true that the event would net $50,000. But when I heard that number, I asked if staff time had been calculated into the cost. No, it hadn’t. And when we did the math, that $50,000 net disappeared in a nanosecond.

What is it about nonprofit boards, leaders and staff who so easily catch events fever and lose their way on thinking objectively about this topic?

Yes, a well-organized event, with the right content, can raise the profile of a nonprofit. But then, why not have the public relations or communications department handle it? Why pull the major gift folks away from relating to their good donors to do this work? I know. Because it’s the donors on the caseload that will be the core group who will make the event financially successful.

Hold on. Did you just hear what I said? The donors on the caseload will make the event financially successful. Hmm. So we are moving money from the major gift officer’s caseload to the event and increasing the expense to secure that money? Yep. Crazy. And, likely, the gift the major donor gives at the event will be far less than what she could have given if the major gift officer had managed the giving outside of the event.

But these major donors will bring their friends, and we can make them our friends, and everything will be grand. It’s true. I have seen this happen. But not very frequently. Here’s why. The friend has come at the invitation of the major donor, and two things are working against them getting further involved:

• The friend is simply servicing an obligation. They have no intent to get involved. It is a nice social time out with a good friend and that’s that. Or they are trading favors. “You came to my gig last month. I go to yours now.” And while you could turn this around with a compelling program, the fact is …

• There is no compelling program presented. This has always amazed me. We get all of these wonderful people together. And they have a ton of capacity to give. But all we offer, besides a nice meal, is some quick facts about who we are, a testimonial, an award to a board member or key volunteer and other nicey-nicey things. And everyone goes home feeling good.

If the leaders in your organization have events fever — in other words, hardly any argument or reasoning will dissuade them organizing an event — then make the best of it by doing the following:

1. See if you can get some other department to do the heavy lifting. Get PR, communications, the volunteer coordinator, the assistant to the executive director — someone other than you — to organize it. In other words, protect your major gift time as best you can. Time is all you have. And there is very little of it to put toward relating to your caseload donors. So have a mindset of delegating as much as you can.

2. Sell tickets to cover costs. This isn’t a new idea, and it’s regularly done. I only mention this to set up the next point. Your objective is to break even or have a positive net to cover the labor involved.

3. Create a compelling program that presents an “I can’t avoid supporting it” project. Yes, you heard correctly. I am suggesting selling tickets and asking for gifts at the event. And the ticket-selling process should clearly outline what you are doing. “I am selling tickets to cover costs because I want you to come with your friends and hear about this exciting must-do project.” Obviously, you have to create something that the donor and their friends and other prospects want to attend.

Think about this like you do when you go out with friends to dinner and split the check. That’s all that is going on. The donors are covering the cost to attend a presentation. The whole event must then be carefully choreographed, from start to finish, so that the donors and their friends are completely engulfed in the drama and journeys of the people who will be helped when they get involved. When I say start to finish, I mean things like:

  • The look of the ticket and program.
  • Signage at the venue.
  • Material on the tables or, if outside, those materials as well.
  • What the greeters say to people coming in.
  • The sequencing, cadence and messaging of the program — every single element is discussed and programmed. Nothing is left to chance.
  • The testimonials and comments of people invited to speak.
  • The pictures, videos, music and any other program elements.
  • Every single element is strategic — even when and how a meal is served. Everything.
  • The price tag for the project needs to be large enough to accommodate the giving goals you have set for every donor on your caseload and their friends and other non-donors who may be present. You do not want to have a $100,000 project when the sum of all the goals of the donors present is $750,000. Doesn’t make sense.

Here’s the thing. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is intentional. And all of it draws you to this amazing thing “we must all do!” That is what I mean by compelling. You are drawn in and compelled to act. That is how engaging the program/project is.

4. Seed the event and the giving at the event with up-front giving by selected donors. Go to selected caseload donors and ask them to come to the event and make a commitment to the project. You might ask for a matching gift that can be unveiled at the event. It could really be quite dramatic. Picture this. The project is $850,000 and one donor, in advance, has pledged a $300,000 matching gift.

At a strategic moment at the event, the executive director calls on the donor to speak. She says something like, “When I heard about this project, I just had to get involved. Think of the difference we all could make if, tonight, we funded the whole thing! It would be so exciting. Look at all the lives that would be forever changed. That is why I am putting up a $300,000 challenge grant. Whatever you give tonight, up to $300,000, I will match. Come on, let’s get this done!” Wow, that would be something.

***

So, you get what I am saying about the same old, same old event vs. a version of what I am describing above. This is a real fundraising event. Not the faux event that so many nonprofits spend so much time on. If you are going to do an event, do it right. Make it cause-oriented vs. just a happy time.

The cause is why the donors are involved — they want to make a difference in someone’s life. Program your event toward that reality. It will make a tremendous difference in the financial outcome and how the donors feel about your organization.

Wasted Personalization

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message 

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message.

As my friend described the most memorable email he had received, I thought about why that same email would have been memorable to me. That led me down the path I started in my last article—applying direct-mail lessons to today’s email campaigns.

In 1995, I founded The World-Wide Power Company, the world’s first international distributor of all (graphics) extension-based technology. As the only distributor of all things plug-in, we had extensive records about who owned what, their core applications, versions, numbers of copies and so much more. Back then, this data lived in our invoicing system, which suited us perfectly as we had customized FileMaker Pro for inventory, invoicing, reporting, vendor tracking, managing the product matrix, and other day-to-day business activities. This meant our customer and purchase data were clicks away any time we built a direct-mail campaign.

Our most-successful campaigns were our weekly direct-mail postcards and letters, nicknamed PUN (product-upgrade notice) and CUN (competitive-upgrade notice). These events were mailed each week to everyone in our quarter-million name database who owned a product undergoing an upgrade during the week or for which a competitive product had been announced. The messaging on the cards went something like this (I’ve represented some of the messaging with the field names from our database, shown in all caps, to save space and to illustrate connections to fields):

CUSTOMER NUMBER: [001097]

[LESLIE STRONGMAN], [XYZ PRINTING]
OR THE CURRENT IS/IT DIRECTOR OR GRAPHICS MANAGER

[ 1/22/1997 216350 1 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/4/1997 221450 5 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/7/1997 221527 2 Imposer XTension/MarkIt Bundle]

Dear [Leslie],

On behalf of [XYZ Printing], you purchased [Imposer] from The World-Wide Power Company. Your purchase information, including invoice date, invoice number, and quantity, is listed above. According to our records, you currently own [8 copies] of QuarkXPress [4]. In order to upgrade your [QuarkXPress] to version [5] and maintain the ability to [SHORT DESCRIPTION], you must also upgrade your [XTENSIONS] purchases listed above.

[Imposer 2.0] has been upgraded to provide
[1-LINE BENEFIT] and to support [QuarkXPress 5].

[LIST BENEFITS]

[LIST FEATURES]

[Imposer Pro] retails for [$399]. For a limited time, upgrade each of your copies of [Imposer 1.X] or [2.X] to [Imposer Pro] for [$199].

Call ThePowerXChange to upgrade and take advantage of this special pricing before [31 March 2003]. Prices do not include taxes, where applicable, or shipping. Delivery options are as follows: [electronic delivery is free] or [CD-ROM sent via Airborne overnight for $12].

The response rates from these postcards averaged more than 50 percent, but our best result was more than 80 percent! This is a number to make any marketer salivate.

Having set the stage, the reason I bring this up is to discuss the opportunities lost by today’s marketer—even me, and I most certainly know better.

Today, personalization is demonstrated in our emails often by including the recipient’s first name in the greeting or subject line, but rarely, very rarely, do we see the level of personalization I’ve shown above—except perhaps in the case of our shopping cart abandonment messages … but that’s actually my point.

We know abandonment messages enjoy high open and click rates and yet we don’t apply the trigger of those messages to our everyday marketing messages. Why not? Difficult? Lack of technical know how? Lack of resources? All of the above? Probably.

Step back and ascertain a complete view of the data you have within your organization—and I’m not talking about big data here. Look to your accounting system and ferret out nuggets like those in my example. Look to your marketing database and find unusual bits to help you connect with the recipient. See if your badge scans can disclose something new, or if your sales team can add color.

What my friend told me about his most memorable email (from Hyatt) was the message thanked him for having stayed at a Hyatt property 75 times and provided the name and location of his first Hyatt stay. He enjoyed the trip down memory lane, and while he admits most of the information was wrong, he still felt a strong connection and fondness for Hyatt because they remembered him.

As with all things marketing, this could turn out poorly for the marketer if recipient’s recollections bring back unpleasant memories, but that’s simply a marketing risk we take every day.

The next time you send out a marketing message, consider if you’re wasting personalization on a simple greeting and see if it’s possible to take it to the next level by including something memorable, important, funny, or, well, personal, that can actually connect with your audience.

Assume Nothing

It’s completely coincidental that the mayor of Las Vegas and I share the exact same name … including our middle initial. But unlike me, that Carolyn G Goodman was elected to office and has a huge following in cyberspace. Unfortunately for her, I acquired the Twitter handle @carolyngoodman before she even discovered Twitter

It’s completely coincidental that the mayor of Las Vegas and I share the exact same name … including our middle initial. But unlike me, that Carolyn G Goodman was elected to office and has a huge following in cyberspace.

Unfortunately for her, I acquired the Twitter handle @carolyngoodman before she even discovered Twitter. And unfortunately for me, Madame Mayors’ followers (journalists, critics, and other LV lovers) tweet and reference Mayor Goodman by referencing my twitter handle regularly.

While I enjoy her spotlight for a nano-second, I always reply to the offending tweeter that they’ve referenced the wrong twitter handle, and they usually apologize and quickly do their homework and issue a correcting tweet.

It serves, however, as a great reminder that when pushing content, sending emails, lasering direct mail packages, etc., etc., you should assume nothing.

  • Don’t assume I know who you are when you call me to follow up on an email introduction or direct mail letter you sent. Over 800 emails a day land in my in-box. I don’t read them all, and if I do, it’s probably because they’re client or employee-related. Start the call by introducing yourself. Quickly state your business purpose and then move into your relationship building techniques. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to remind me about the email or direct mail package you sent me because clearly I didn’t see it/read it/absorb it.
  • Don’t assume I want a follow-up call from a tradeshow booth chat within 24 hours of the event. While you may want to “jump while the iron is hot,” I am overwhelmed with other issues since I’ve been away from my desk for a few days. Give me a few days to settle back into the routine and then call (if indeed I expressed an interest in your product/service and didn’t just stop by to drop off a business card to win the free iPad).
  • Don’t assume I want to be your friend on Facebook just because we do business together. Facebook plays a key role in my personal life, and I post regularly with family updates, photos of my dog and things I’m doing locally with friends. If you’re a business colleague, let’s stick to being friends through LinkedIn. Period.
  • Don’t assume I want to be added to your email/newsletter list just because I met you at a conference/trade show/friend’s party and we exchanged business cards. Spamming is no way to start a relationship.
  • Don’t assume I follow the genderization rules of your software program. While the name Carolyn is most likely female, all too often folks named Pat, Leslie, or Chris are offended by being addressed as “Mr.” in your direct mail letter or email. Just ask a boy named Sue.
  • Don’t assume I have interest in or empathy towards your organization/product/service. Starting an email or letter with factual information about your company is meaningless and more than likely to trigger an instant finger on the delete button or a careless toss in the recycle bin. Lead with a story, a benefit statement, a problem/solution … just don’t start by talking about yourself. To paraphrase the great Bob Hacker, all the reader cares about is, “What’s in it for me?”
  • Finally, don’t assume that I have a problem and I’ve just been waiting for your sales call in order to solve it. Do your homework. Understand my industry. Look for case studies within your organization that solve issues that I’m probably facing, because I’m in the same industry. Don’t start your call by asking me “a little bit about myself and my company.”

Net-net? Stop assuming and start doing your homework before you decide that I’m responsible for the woes of Las Vegas. Because if I am, I should be writing the script for The Hangover, Part 4.

The Real Problem with Facebook Advertising: Extreme Engagement

The real problem for marketers is that unequivocally all-consuming, immersive Facebook experience. The issue isn’t exclusive to Facebook, however. It’s any media placement where the site you choose turns out to be your biggest competitor. In other words, reach doesn’t equal impact.

What do you do when you go on Facebook? You’re probably checking out everyone else’s status updates, getting in some FarmVille playtime, liking or commenting on a post, chatting with a friend, writing a clever update for your own profile, watching a video, or maybe even tracking down an old friend. Facebook is a virtual amusement park with no shortage of options. It’s no wonder we spend an average of seven hours a month on the site.

In the midst of this pandemonium is the lone voice of your sponsored ad, app or brand page. Guess who wins?

The real problem for marketers is that unequivocally all-consuming, immersive Facebook experience. The issue isn’t exclusive to Facebook, however. It’s any media placement where the site you choose turns out to be your biggest competitor. In other words, reach doesn’t equal impact.

Too much focus on reaching the ‘right person’
We’ve all been collectively oohing and aahing over the cool (or creepy) technology that promises to find our target consumer wherever he or she roams. There’s no shortage of companies with proprietary algorithms and models at the ready to help you find her (and, in turn, further ruffle the feathers of the privacy police, but that’s for another post). In this scenario, the Facebooks of the media world will always turn up on top, because that’s where everyone is.

But by only focusing on reaching the “right person,” you’re underestimating the more qualitative and definitely more hairy problems of the “right message” and the “right time.”

It’s a matter of context
Of this marketing trifecta, the least talked about is the right time. Unlike the right person and right message aspects of the equation, this is the one where marketers have the least amount of control. It can turn into your biggest enemy.

The core issue is the inverse correlation between immersiveness of an experience and receptiveness to marketing messages. This finding has been confirmed across all media types, including television, websites and print.

One of the most interesting studies on the topic was related to Super Bowl advertising. The researchers compared ad recall among three groups: those supporting the winning team; those supporting the losing team; and those who didn’t have a favorite team. It turned out that ad recall was highest for those who were neutral and not emotionally involved in the game. It didn’t matter if your team was winning or losing, the fact that you had a team meant you were focused on the game and not the ads. However, those who were less immersed in the game were willing to listen to your pitch.

Sure, you can fish where the fish are, but there are no guarantees they’ll bite. So what’s a marketer to do?

Steer clear of competitors for mind share
Marketers don’t typically think of media placement as a form of competition. The rule of thumb had been the more engaging the site the better, when in fact the reverse is true. It’s counterintuitive, but as the Super Bowl example illustrates, you want your audience involved, but not too involved.

Your audience can be focused on a particular task, so long as the task isn’t all consuming. For example, if they’re quickly checking on the weather or a sports score — these are in-and-out activities — you can be there as they check out. I’ve seen a lot of success with campaigns on these quick-reference sites in the past.

Thinking beyond targeting and messaging
So, there you are with your exquisitely crafted message and flawlessly calculated targeting, but are you taking into account what the consumer is doing, thinking and feeling at that moment?

The problem of immersion isn’t limited to Facebook. It just happens to be the perfect embodiment of extreme engagement. The same issues would hold true for other high-involvement sites and channels such as video, in-game and mobile. Ultimately, this is all about knowing your audience. One man’s diversion is another’s obsession.