On Marketing, with Ardee Coolidge

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of interviews with industry professionals across a variety of fields. My first interview is with Ardee Coolidge, the Director of Marketing and Communication for Care Net and co-host of the Marketing Trench Warfare podcast. (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

What does your job look like day to day?

We have a small department of five to six people, two of whom report directly to me: our marketing and communications coordinator, and the person who oversees our resource center, including our online store and e-commerce sales.

In terms of my actual responsibilities, in addition to that supervisor role, I manage all our social media pages and landing pages, our Facebook and Twitter outreach, Facebook advertising and Google Ads. I run a bi-weekly meeting with our development department to ensure that whatever we’re doing for digital fundraising matches what we have going out in direct mail campaigns. I also manage our website and our three blogs and write for those from time to time. I’m responsible for A/B testing and implementing optimization, which includes finding what ad copy or landing page copy works better, what email subject line works better, and documenting that for the organization going forward.

How do you keep marketing from being gimmicky?

I am a firm believer that successful marketing creates value for the consumer, customer or donor. Whatever I’m making, whether it’s an email or an ad, the question I like to ask is, how is this creating value for the person receiving it? Because the reality is, if I create that value, not only am I serving the needs of the client or customer, but I’m actually serving the needs of my organization as well. I believe the best marketing is an embodiment of the Golden Rule, so treat others  the way you want to be treated. That means empathy, trust, and humility, and it means avoiding gimmicky clickbait kind of things, because the things that annoy us annoy them, too. And while those things may yield results that seems enticing on the front end, they’ll quickly wear off and you’ll end up paying more in the long run.

How do you find and pursue leads?

i manage all our Facebook ads, which are our primary way of getting new email addresses. On any given day we’re acquiring between 250-400 new email addresses, 80-90% of which are coming in through Facebook. My goal is to bring in not just high quantity, but highly qualified leads.

What specific techniques do you use to ensure you end up with quality leads, not just quantity?

Create value for your customer or client, and they’re going to return it with trust. We create a lot of free premium content, such as online courses, ebooks, videos, pledges, and surveys. It’s a fascinating part of human psychology, but people want to share their opinion—that’s why Facebook and Twitter are so popular. For example, since we’re in the pro-life space, creating an avenue for someone to sign a pledge gives a person the chance for their voice to be heard, and they will gladly exchange their email address for that.

When you actually take a moment to get to know the opinions of those you’re serving, they’re going to feel valued, because you are valuing them, and they’re going to respond in kind. It all goes back to that question of how can I bring value rather than how can I extract value.

And whether it’s in the non-profit space where you are, or at a tech startup, it’s the exact same principle.

Yes, this happens in the for-profit space all the time. Which is why you have companies giving away things without you even needing to give something in exchange—because they understand this principle of creating value. When you get a low-IQ marketing email that says, “Here’s 55 things on sale this week, buy now,” that doesn’t communicate anything to you. But when you get a high-IQ email, say from Amazon, such as, “Hey Jessica, here’s something we think you might want to buy, based on your habits. Do you want to add it to your cart?” it’s personal and intelligent, tailored to the recipient.

As consumers, it’s kind of creepy, but at the end of the day we like it, because we feel like it knows us. And so in many ways, whether it’s for-profit or non-profit, Netflix and Amazon are shaping consumer expectations and behavior. The days are probably coming, in the next 10-20 years, with bots and AI—machine learning—where it will be completely feasible for your entire web page and everything you see or receive in an email to be completely automated and customized for you based on your persona. And that will be utterly revolutionary in terms of the impact it will have, because it will be simultaneously the most automated we’ve ever been, but also the most personal.

What books or resources would you recommend for someone who wants to dive deeper and learn more?

Made to Stick, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It’s about what makes certain ideas sticky and why certain things and concepts can influence so many people.

Invisible Influence, by Jonah Berger. It’s a whole bunch of studies on human psychology and the brain, and how we’re influenced in many ways every day, both big and small, and most of those are invisible to us.

Finally, last question: what is the biggest mistake you’ve made and how did you grow because of it?

That’s a great question. One of the biggest mistakes has been whenever I’ve gone with whatever I’ve seen other organizations do, and assumed that the best practice is the best practice, rather than testing it first. I’m constantly reminded how awful intuition is, and how typically the people with the most experience in marketing typically have terrible intuition! And so, rather than going by intuition, really learning to go by the data, and being willing to test something, even if you’re pretty sure it’s going to work, or barely sure it’s going to work. Take the time to actually test it and see if there’s a better way.

I enjoyed this interview immensely. Not only because Ardee is my cousin-in-law, but because I was pleased to find that whether it’s communicating ideas for a non-profit or products for a startup, the basic principles of marketing remain the same.