Skip to main content

Five principles of effective marketing at FEE

Let's talk about five principles that help the marketing team at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) communicate more effectively with our customers.

1. Clearly state the value proposition

Every message should clearly communicate the value our customer will gain from the product we are selling.

Let's break that down:

Although FEE is a non-profit organization, we consider everything we do to be a product which can be sold to a customer just as much as multinational behemoths like Apple and McDonald’s

Every marketing conversation begins with a discussion of our audience:
  • Who are they?  What do they care about?
  • What do we have that they will value?
For example, when we segmented the market for FEEcon (our big conference this summer), we:
  • Split our customers into three groups: college students, young professionals, and older supporters of FEE.  
  • Brainstormed the values that each group gets from attending FEEcon.  From these values we identified 4-5 value propositions for each group.
Here are the first two value propositions for FEE donors:
  • Personally witness how your investment in educating the next generation transforms their lives
  • Interact with the leaders of dozens of partner organizations and major philanthropists across the freedom movement
And for students:
  • Real skills for professional success and solid theoretical education
  • Networking opportunities: Engage with successful entrepreneurs and student leaders
These value propositions inform all the messaging that we create for this product, whether the medium is an article, email, or Facebook ad.

Consider this ad for students:

And this ad for young professionals:

And here is an ad for donors:

2. Present a single, clear call to action

The motto of FEE's marketing process is "Always Be Closing." Everything we do as marketers is designed to move our customer further toward closing the deal. Every message we make, be it a landing page, email, SMS, facebook ad, flier, whatever, asks the customer to take an action that moves them further down the conversion funnel. Each marketing communication has to have a large, prominent request to take a single action which will give the customer some sort of value.

This doesn't mean that every marketing message has to ask for a deep commitment. We have a conversion funnel for each customer person which consists of a series of small messages. If we want students to apply for a three day seminar, we first ask for their email so we can send them a free book or guide. The goal of each communication is to deepen awareness of our products and lower the barriers they have to the next step.

3. Make messaging personal 

The essence of our communications strategy is to make every message we send feel like it was written just for you by a real human being who cares about your concerns and is eagerly awaiting a reply, then use marketing automation to scale up that personal feel to thousands of people.

There are a few ways we do this:
A. Every email comes from a real human being. We don't use any noreply@, support@ or sales@ emails. This includes transactional emails such as payments, registrations, reminders, etc.
B. Emails use a first person informal tone. We never say "we." Messages take the tone of "I would really appreciate if you could do x."
C. We sign all emails with our name just as we do with our personal mail.
D. We use plain text format whenever possible, especially if we expect a reply. When we use CRM tools to target messages, we export the names into Gmail or send a plain text message whenever we can. Marketing messages sent in plain text from Gmail avoid both the the junk mail and the "Promotions" folder.
E. We make messages short and to the point. Because we can speak directly to the recipients values, we can offer something that we know they'll care about and don't have to waste space addressing everyone.
F. We talk like a normal conversion. We experiment with short, informal, lower-case subject lines such as "quick question:" or "you're missing out."

Marketing email from our CRM tool sent via Gmail

4:  Focus messages on specific customer personas

It's easy to say that every message should push the customer down the sales funnel. The hard part is to track who each customer is, and where they are in their journey.

At FEE, we use HubSpot to split our users into a lifecycle stage funnel (lead, subscriber, opportunity, customer) and a customer persona (college student, parent, interested donor, casual reader, etc).  HubSpot tracks every visitor's web and email interactions, and dozens of workflows use specific triggers, e.g., visiting the donate page recently, to classify people into personas based on recent behavior.

This allows us to tailor messages to the specific customer profile and offer them a product that we think they are most likely to be interested in. This minimizes our unsubscribe rates and keeps followers interested in our content.

Additionally, we make heavy use of retargeting for our advertising. We show Facebook and Twitter ads based on specific pages people visit.  If you've visited recently, you'll start seeing more FEEcon ads in your Facebook feed until you register, which will switch you from our "promotion" (please register) to the "nurture" campaign (please share this with your friends). If you're not on our daily email list, you'll see a lead form in your feed, otherwise you might see donor messaging if you're a heavy user of the site.

partial snapshot of personas and lifecycle

5: Experiment to identify the best strategy, then automate it

We don't plan a grand marketing strategy for each product.  The fact is, we have no idea what kind of message will resonate with our audience. Our marketing strategy is basically this:

A. Define audience
B. Define value proposition
C. Experiment with campaigns based on A and B at a small scale until we find something that works
D. Scale up C.

We build workflows which capture the most effective strategies and automate them for each customer journey. We use HubSpot to build one or more workflow for each product which contain a series of calls to action, triggers, messages and rules. First we capture leads with a CTA on a website or ad, then we enroll customers in a workflow and nurture them until they convert (buy the product, register for an event, donate to us). This enrolls them in a new workflow which is designed to deepen their commitment and cross-sell other products, starting the process over again.


Popular posts from this blog

How FEE uses Facebook audience sharing to maximize engagement

As social media has become the primary way for young people to discover brands and ideas, the effectiveness of traditional television/print/radio has fallen. Reaching people interested in your ideas on social media is hard -- there are so many competing brands vying for their attention. Remarketing (aka retargeting) to audiences known to have an interest or relationship with you is one of the most effective ways to reach people who are most likely to engage with your brand.
While FEE's marketing has historically been focused on personal referrals and “organic” growth, in 2016, we decided to focus on reaching new audiences and developing new marketing channels. Key to our plan is reaching new audiences on social media, using some tricks used by top ad agencies that are new to the nonprofit world. Typically, when organizations run ad campaigns - whether web, print, or radio - they target broad demographics. What FEE has been doing with great success is targeting individual peopl…

How and why I hire freelancers via UpWork

The other day I mentioned on LinkedIn that I was looking for a freelancer web developer. A USA-based agency messaged me to express interest. Their rate — $150/hour. This a common rate for an experienced US-based web developer. The project I need help with has a budget of about $1000 per month, so this rate would give me under six hours of work, once rounding and communications overhead (or project manager) is factored in. I ended up going to and hiring two developers: one from Ukraine for $20/hour, and one from India for $10 per hour. The Indian developer will do close to 100 hours of work for the same cost. So that’s the basic case for sourcing your own freelancers. The details are considerably more complicated: sometimes a $150/hour developer is a better value than a $10/hour one: a good programmer can be far more productive than an average one, and a bad one will just waste your time and money. The trouble is that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you may end up payi…