Engaging Digital Platforms for Nonprofits
with Digital Expert Spencer Brooks
Spencer Brooks is the Founder & Principal of Brooks Digital, an expert digital firm that empowers health nonprofits to improve the lives of patients. He’s helped organizations such as The diaTribe Foundation scale their digital presence from a few thousand annual visitors and subscribers to over 2.5 million visitors and 200,000 subscribers. Spencer’s superpower is helping organizations get their complex, difficult-to-use website under control so they can provide the right information to the right person at the right time.
Spencer’s writing has been featured in publications such as TechSoup and Nonprofit Marketing Guide. He is a sought after speaker on the topics of digital metrics, the patient journey, getting inside the heads of an organization’s website visitors, and converting patients to advocates. Spencer lives in the Portland, Oregon area with his wife and 2 children.
More about Spencer and his work at https://brooks.digital/
Find data mentioned on the interview at https://brooks.digital/nonprofitexchange/
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, it’s Hugh Ballou. Welcome to yet another episode of The Nonprofit Exchange, where we pick the brain of experts. We hear stories from successful leaders, and we learn some good sound business principles that we can install into the organization we run. This is targeted at nonprofit leaders and clergy, but we are learning business principles that are applicable to any enterprise. Providing value generates revenue that we need to operate and fulfill our mission.
Today, we are talking about this scary world of digital (for some people). How do you navigate the digital stratosphere? It’s not so scary after all. I have an expert on the line today, Spencer Brooks. Spencer, tell people a little bit about who you are and your background. Why do you do this digital thing? What is your passion?
Spencer Brooks: Thanks, Hugh. I’m very excited to be here today. A good place to start is my story, which really plays into the work I do in the digital space now and the particular organizations I and my firm work with.
The relevant piece of my story here is I grew up in a family as the oldest of three children; I have a younger brother and a younger sister. Growing up, my brother had some concerning health issues that my parents saw early on, like he didn’t have some of the reflexes you would typically see an infant have. In isolation, none of these things were particularly concerning, but taken in aggregate, it was enough cause for concern for my parents to go see doctors. They couldn’t really find anything at that point. So we just grew up in this normal, relatively speaking, life.
Around the time my brother turned 20, he started to deteriorate physically. He lost the ability to walk, so he ended up getting a disabled card for his car and used a wheelchair to get around. This whole time, my family was trying to figure out what was going on. We went to the Mayo Clinic, and they were struggling to figure out what was happening. They could identify some things in his genes that were different. The important thing was that I was experiencing in my family this angst that we were all collectively going through as my brother would get asked the question, “What’s wrong with you?” He didn’t have an answer for that question.
Around that time, my sister was engaged to be married in her early 20s. She gets diagnosed with cancer. This is a double whammy on our family. I am looking around waiting for the ball to drop on me. Thankfully, my sister recovered from the cancer; she’s cancer-free and happily married now. But I got a good experience on how this journey of health issues can take a serious toll emotionally on a family.
This process sets the stage for the work I was doing at the time. I was running a digital firm where we were doing a lot of website work and email marketing. I noticed a lot of our clients were nonprofits, specifically health organizations. At some point, I realized we are doing our best work- One of our best clients, we helped them get a digital presence to a few million annual visitors and a few hundred thousand email subscribers. I could see on the other side how the people they serve, I have been in their shoes. I can’t fix all the health issues people have. I can’t make it better. But I can use the skillsets that I have to change the narrative of someone who is going through a significant event, to show them compassion. That is what motivates me to do what I do and help the organizations that Brooks Digital serves. What we will talk about today is applicable not to just health organizations, but that is what motivates me. You can reach us at Brooks.Digital.
Hugh: It’s a pleasant-looking site, and I know exactly what you do when you get there. Nonprofits are all guilty of wanting to put too much on our website. When we get there, I’m here, now what? Web-builders tend to talk about hits, which roughly translate to how idiots track success. Back into this website. What do people need to see? How do we track it? Why is that important?
Spencer: There are a few facets to that question. The metrics are at the bottom of a series of events. I like to start toward the top in understanding how your website plays into your organization’s mission. There are thousands of metrics you could track. Hits are like vanity metrics. They make you feel good, but so what? That is the question. You’re not usually there to geta bunch of eyeballs on you. You’re there to have those eyeballs ultimately do something.
What you want them to do is contextual to your mission. I like to start thinking about it in terms of moving from your mission and trying to figure out what role your website plays in that. One thing I would encourage people to think about is if your website was a person that you hired to work 24/7, what would its job description be? How would you be evaluating the success of that? This forces you to think about the outcomes you want. Fundraising is a huge one of course. You want people to give money. But of course, every organization has different things they want people to do. Once you have that idea of the job description of your website, you can look at those key outcomes and try to figure out what numbers you can tie to those that you can track. That is a good place to begin when you’re talking about evaluating metrics and things to track.
Hugh: When someone comes to your website, what should they see? There was a term birthed with technology called user-friendly. In my world, it’s specifically about technology. What makes it user-friendly? What do we want people to see when they get there? Is that the same thing, or is it different?
Spencer: They are slightly different in the sense that when I think about a user-friendly website, one point of view is I like to think about reducing friction. I’m sure we have all had the experience of going to a website, and it takes 30 seconds to load, and you don’t know how to get things. You’re trying to accomplish a task, and there is friction in that process. If you’re like me, unless it’s really important, you back away, and you lose someone.
In terms of what they should see first, that depends on what you want them to do in terms of reducing that friction. Like many organizations, if you know that someone new might be hitting your site, you might want to share a brief tidbit about what your organization is. That’s what some organizations miss in the grand scheme of things. You get to their website, and you’re not sure if they are a church or a food bank. Some people will automatically know what you do because they have some history with your organization or something.
After that, if you’ve defined some of the other outcomes that you want them to take on the website, like signing up for your email list, right under that, you can gently nudge someone to sign up for your email list. Then they want to learn more about your organization. So you start to be able to think about what you want people to do and what information they might need to know at different stages of their journey with your organization. You start to be able to craft the site around that person in a way that reduces the friction for the different tasks they might want to perform.
Hugh: In terms of communicating with donors, the phrase comes to mind, “A confused mind says no.” You want people to come and either sign up for your list or be a board member or something. The technology gets in the way because it’s too fancy. What does user-friendly mean?
Spencer: When I say reducing friction, I mean that something that is user-friendly fades into the background. Their focus is not on the technology; it’s on accomplishing the task. Something that is user-friendly means that that person is able to accomplish the task that they came to that website to do without having to think about how they’re going to do that.
Part of that is being clear, and that user-friendliness can come from how you message. A user-friendly site probably doesn’t have 500 pages of copy for someone to read through. How you write is absolutely part of that. It’s not just the design, it’s not just how fast it loads, it’s a combination of these different elements that you put together in order to put someone’s focus on the task they came to complete or you want them to complete and not on how the technology is impeding that goal.
Hugh: I look at my Google Analytics for visitors to my website. How many people spend how much time on what page, how old they are, and what kind of device they are on. I am surprised that even today, 60-65% of our visitors are on laptop computers, not on phones or tablets. That’s not the norm. I understand we are switching more and more to mobile-friendly websites. User-friendly also has to be mobile-friendly. Is that segmented by demographic? Is it mostly millennials and boomers on the computer or millennials on the phone? What is the wisdom from who is looking at your site from what device?
Spencer: That’s a relevant question to ask. There is a fancy word called omnichannel. What that means is there is a false dichotomy there. You and I use both our phones and our computers. Sometimes we use them for different tasks. Hugh, you are correct that right now, over 50% of website traffic is on a phone or tablet. The majority of actual hits on your website are coming from a phone. But if you look at things like donations, when people start to give money, you will see a preference toward desktop. You don’t want to enter your credit card information on a phone; you will sit down at your computer to do that.
If you get into older generations, you will see less mobile usage. Overall, it’s more about what tasks people choose to do on what device. With that, it’s very important to understand your audience and the age range that they are or the data in your Google Analytics or other tools to see what people are using and what they are using for what tasks, research versus giving. When your boots hit the ground, you look at your informational pages on how they look on the phone. When it comes to giving pages, you will optimize those for desktop because you get more traffic that way.
Hugh: There are lots of ways at looking at user-friendly. I recently traded in my iPhone for a 12 Pro. I chose my big-box provider of choice because nobody else had it. I won’t say the name, but their initials are Best Buy. But they didn’t have it. I went to the store an hour away to pick one up. It was a delightful experience, and it downloaded my stuff from the cloud. It was only a few minutes. I bought a lot of extra stuff because I had so much fun.
My provider—whom I won’t say the name of, but their initials are AT&T—were providing an $800 rebate for the phone. I filled the form out online. I do my virtual cards on my phone. I do my webpages. I do my podcast. I am fairly literate for an old guy with technology. But I could not do the simple task on their website. I just gave up. That was a very frustrating experience. Here is a high-tech company that can’t make it an easy experience for anybody who loves technology. I gave them back their phone in person.
We want to bring people to our website. It’s not a website; it’s a virtual experience now. How do they have an experience with us? It’s a different dimension.
We are going to move into digital marketing. We have to prepare the space. All these people come to my website. What is it we want people to do? One of them is donate. You talked about health companies that you work with. They want to engage people. You mentioned the job description for your website. Give me an example of that. What does that look like? What could we model it after?
Spencer: I love that question. I’ll think about a website that I’ve worked on in the health space as an example because it is unique. I think about a website accomplishing three things as part of that job description: awareness, engagement (a fuzzy word), and some sort of conversion. In some ways, the job description would be horrible for a person because you have a PR person, a program person, and a fundraising person all morphed into one. If you ask any person who works at a nonprofit, they will say their job includes all of those things. The accidental techie.
For a health website as an example, one thing is to generate awareness about symptoms, if you are talking about an organization who specializes in a particular disease. Here’s how to manage your health. Here’s information on how to get healthier. Part of that is getting people to the site. Part of that job description would be to keep people on the site, help them visit multiple pages to help them get information they need. Ultimately at the end of that, for a health organization, you might want to get them on your email list so you can send them repeated communications and make an appeal or get them to do some advocacy work or join a support group or find a medical professional near them. That is what I would expect most any nonprofit site to do, and the definition of those will vary depending on the organization. Donations, email subscriptions, more traffic are pretty universal.
Hugh: You’re right. The nonprofit executives expect it to do a bunch of stuff on a low salary and 12-hour days. We wonder why people burn out. There is a lot of demands on us. However, it’s the time to get smart and pick somebody’s brain like you to say, “How do I leverage somebody’s knowledge to gain the goals I want?” Our website is about health as well: healthy leaders and organizations. If you build a healthy culture, that’s because you’re healthy emotionally and are engaging other people as they are able as a leader. We need to know what their abilities are.
As a nonprofit, we have the advantage of free labor because people want to serve, and they want to do something that fulfills their passion. The website is a way to say, “I want to participate. Where do I sign up?” That needs to be blatantly obvious. Philanthropy is time, talent, and money. To be able to engage, we build relationship and have this understanding of what value we’re bringing. How do we work in our unique value proposition? It’s different from everybody else. I’ve read that it’s six seconds before somebody leaves your website if they don’t get something. Is it that fast?
Spencer: It’s probably faster than that. It’s the initial impression of what this site is and whether they like it or not. When it comes to articulating that value proposition, it can’t be a page long and start with your organization’s history. At that point, they care but not about that. I think about one sentence at the top of the page. How can you articulate the elevator pitch? They have to read it in 60 characters or less. It’s that single sentence of what we do. If they want to learn more, include a link to do so, and go in more detail later. It’s about getting them that quick value proposition right away, getting them along to what they came to do.
Once they have engaged by signing up for an email list or attending an event, make sure to reinforce that as part of your communications during your relationship with that person. I believe that for the most part, unless you get a person who’s oddly invested in your organization, no one will spend 5-10 minutes reading every page on your site. They will get little bits of information over time and absorb them. It has to be appropriate to where they are. When they are first visiting the home page, appropriate means short and sweet, then repetitive over time so you can add more context and flavor and nuance and expand upon that value proposition and all the things you couldn’t tell them in that first initial sentence.
Hugh: What we don’t realize is when we meet someone in person, it’s that first impression. If we don’t interrupt that thinking with something they think is important, with a Wow factor, then we want people to lean in. The biggest pivot for me when I first negotiated with somebody to be an agent for me as a speaker, I showed them very proudly my speaker one-sheet. They said, “It looks pretty, but it’s all about you.” That was a humbling moment. It needs to be about them. We want them to know about the work we’re doing, but how do we help them engage from their perspective?
Spencer: I am a huge fan of that question because you’re right. As soon as it becomes about you and what you’ve done, your visitors will mentally check out. It’s a complex question because perhaps unlike the for-profit sector, it’s not as much of this direct, I’m going to give you more money or a better career if you buy this, where it’s focused on tangible goods or money. Sometimes, what you’re “selling” is a feeling you will give them, or they will participate in the work your organization is doing as a partner. It’s a different approach to that.
I would encourage the words of “you” and “yours” and eliminate “I” and “we” from statements. That is a helpful practice because you’re forced to reframe your value proposition around the people who are coming to your site or any communications with people. What are they going to get out of this? How can we express the value of our work in terms of visitors? That’s a great place to start.
Hugh: Let’s talk about digital marketing. What is marketing? We have to separate marketing, sales, and PR. What does digital marketing mean?
Spencer: It has a unique meaning for the nonprofit sector. I think it’s getting people from a place of not knowing that your organization exists to a place where your name is now in front of them, and they ideally know what you do and how you help. That is stage one.
Stage two of marketing is pulling people in. You’ll notice I am going back to awareness, engagement, conversion. You’re pulling people in, finding a way to get them to engage with your organization and continue that conversation, that relationship. It would be the digital equivalent of getting someone’s phone number. You walk up to someone for the first time, have a good conversation that is not all you talking about yourself, and you follow up and say, “Hey, I’d love to get coffee with you next week. Can I get your number?” You have a series of follow-up conversations with them. If you’re in the fundraising world, down the line that relationship leads to a polite ask. That is a process that can be mirrored in the digital world.
The role of digital marketing for nonprofits is first to get someone aware and then get them engaged in a way which simply means you have an open avenue of communication with them where they are taking action with your organization, and ultimately you can get them to take a big step. That could be giving money or volunteering or signing up for a program, some of these big outcomes that are closely related to your mission. The role of marketing is getting people who don’t know about your organization all the way to getting them involved in accomplishing your mission and supporting other facets of your organization along the way.
Hugh: Love it. There is lots of options out there, a sea of options. We’re on the ship, and all we see is water. How do we sort out all the ways to be connected without getting overwhelmed?
Spencer: A good framework is a principle. The fact is there is so many options out there that my perspective is I don’t think you can choose all of them. You have to choose a small number of them, simply for the fact that your organization only has so much capacity. If you overextend by getting on every social media platform in existence and doing text messaging and email marketing and crowdfunding, you’re spread so thin digitally, unless you have a very large organization, that you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none.
As a foundational principle to choosing, start by accepting the fact that you only have so much capacity. The digital marketing that you will read online will tell you that you have to do all these things. The reality is any particular tactic that you choose, you have to be able to devote enough time to it to excel at it. Otherwise, there is going to be another organization out there who will specialize in that and get better results.
To the point of choosing, it’s helpful to start with a digital strategy. What I mean by that is a series of goals that you have for your digital presence that are usually tied to your mission. Choose the things, the specific tactics, the channels that closely align with those outcomes.
One of the things I would suggest is called an impact effort matrix. You take all these different ideas for how you can use Instagram or Facebook to accomplish this goal of reaching 100,000 people. Write down the cost that it would take to actually implement that well. Then the business impact it would have. And the ROI. You start to get these things on a matrix. It makes it easier for you to see these are high-cost but low-value. They may be legitimately great for another organization or for the for-profit sector, but not so great for us. You start to see some tactics that get you close to your mission.
If you survey a lot of nonprofits, you will find the tactics are all over the map. The Digital Outlook Report is a good study that outlines what organizations are using what tactics. The general summary of that is different organizations are using different tactics. It matters a lot that you choose ones that you think are appropriate to your capacity, match your mission and your audience, and commit to those in a way where you can excel. Doing that will go a long way to making sure you don’t get confused or overwhelmed in the process.
Hugh: Good advice.
*Sponsored by EZCard*
Let’s see if anybody wants to ask a question. Bob, is it fair to say that technology is not your favorite topic?
Bob Hopkins: I’m at a loss about what to ask because I don’t know if any of it would make any sense.
Hugh: Bob is an author and promoter of philanthropy. He’s created a pretty large presence. In simple terms, Bob, if people go to a website, one of your many areas of expertise is language that donors understand. Having a website that is donor-friendly, why is that important in your world?
Bob: Thank you, Spencer for being here. I appreciate the topic even though it’s not my favorite, but it’s something I need to know more about. I am a professor of speech, and I have my students speak about nonprofit organizations. They pick one and have to go to the website and figure out who, what, when, where, why, and how. They come back and are at a loss because they can’t find any or some of that. When they give their presentations, there is so much lacking because they couldn’t find it.
My website is PhilanthropyKids.org. When you come to Dallas, I will take you to the Dallas Cowboys if you will go to my website sometime and tell me what’s wrong with it.
Spencer: Love it. I might just take you up on that.
Bob: Where are you, Spencer?
Spencer: I’m in the Portland, Oregon area. West coast. I have family in Texas though. I could probably get there without too much trouble. I could make it a two-for-one trip.
Bob: Philanthropy Kids needs help. We are getting ready to work with Hugh in a Youth in Philanthropy conference he is going to host. I want to advertise it on this site.
Spencer: Would you like for me to give my initial impressions right now?
Hugh: You heard it right here, folks.
Spencer: One of the things I notice, this is a user experience thing, this is much more tactical, but it’s relevant. As I scroll down the page, I hit a pop-up that says, “Join our inner circle” with a feed to subscribe. That’s great. But it stops my scrolling. The pop-up arrested my attention, and I can’t do anything about it. Rather than wanting to stop and consider subscribing, my thought process is, “I just got interrupted in my task of learning about this organization.” That’s my task right now. The pop-up in that context, especially when it stops my scrolling, impedes that task.
My suggestion for you is not to get rid of it, but perhaps to change it from something that overlays the screen and stops scrolling to something that sits down in the bottom right corner. That’s what I do on the Brooks Digital website. If I am reading an article, and I want people to subscribe as we have biweekly digital insights, and I want everyone to get on the list to learn more, but it comes up on the side so that it doesn’t interfere with the task of reading. When someone is ready, they can choose to close it or sign up.
My other suggestion is I noticed that at the top, there are some good things. You have three boxes of Publications, Education Programs, and Networking, and a quote that says, “You don’t have to be rich or old to be a philanthropist.” What I would suggest is perhaps flipping the order. The first thing I’d want to see when I hit the site is that one-liner quote. That’s a compelling line. But that’s not the first thing I need to know. I need to know your value proposition in that single sentence. I don’t want to see the blue box that has it underneath your navigation first. Then you can hit me with these three boxes about your publications, education programs, and networking.
I’ll give you one last thing to move away with. Under the latest, that’s always great to show people what you’re up to. I notice I have to hover over a series of pictures. There is a grid of photos. I have to hover over them to get some text to see what they’re about. It would help engage people more if there is a photo in addition to some text. If I moved over and it said, “Check out the latest stories of kids doing good in their communities, click here,” instead of having to hover. Those are some quick initial impressions. Hopefully that helps get you thinking on some of these things.
Bob: I really appreciate it. Thank you.
Hugh: We had one of these youth philanthropy conferences last year. The youth who showed up had been a result of Bob’s tutoring and inspiration over the years. It was quite amazing. Having some short videos or stories about some of their stories would be absolutely engaging. Blair, do you have a question?
Blair Collins: I just want to say thanks. Enjoying listening to you. No major comments.
Hugh: Sandy is part of our team and does the posting on social media. Sandy, did this prompt any attention for what we’re doing over here at SynerVision? I’m not as brave as Bob; I’m not going to ask him to review our site in public.
Sandy Birkenmaier: I’d just really like to thank Spencer for his insights today. This is incredible stuff. It makes me think a lot about a lot of websites I’ve been involved with over the years. Thank you so much for being here.
Spencer: You’re welcome. I’m glad it’s helpful. I want to encourage you that there is nothing to be ashamed of. This is hard stuff. You’re competing with big companies like Google and Apple who have a massive amount of resources to invest in creating a great technology experience. Even sometimes big companies don’t quite hit the nail on the head. Those are the companies setting the expectations of people who are coming to visit your site. I don’t think anyone should feel bad if their website isn’t as great as they think of. Even if you are smart and do all the right things, you’re still going to miss things you didn’t realize. Or you may just not have the funding to get that great website you want.
The good news is that technology is great, but it isn’t everything. If you’re doing your best and promoting your mission, people care. They’re willing to stick it out if they’re invested in your mission and are willing to move through any hiccups they encounter along the way.
Hugh: Yes. We can learn from those people who do have a lot of money. When I went to the Apple site on my new iPhone and I looked at the phone, it’s simple and illuminating, one thing at a time. It made me want to buy another one because it is so captivating. It sucked me into the experience of seeing the value of something so simple. We get swallowed up in the technology, and we are afraid of it. How do we as leaders help our stakeholders learn? We don’t need to be doing this alone. If we are going to make it better, we need to surround ourselves with people who are passionate, purpose-driven, and knowledgeable. How do we start that journey with people? We think they’re too busy, but we really never made it available to them in a way they can digest.
Spencer: That’s wonderful. There is going to be a resident accidental techie in your organization. Whomever that is will be thankful you asked that question. Recognizing you need to invest in the digital skills of your staff is a good place to start. I would recommend a digital skills assessment. Depending on the work of your organization, it could be basic tasks like word processing and email. Or if you’re doing social media, maybe someone on your staff has social media skills. Do a staff assessment and determine where someone has a hidden talent that you had no idea about. Where are some areas that we are lacking, perhaps severely? You can target training and skills development across the board. That is one thing I would recommend. Even as part of a regular review process. Maybe toss some digital skills in there and make that part of the feedback you give your people.
Once you have an understanding of the folks who are maybe higher-tech or who have more capacity, I like the tech champion model. Whenever I do trainings, I look around the room. Inevitably three of four people are staring at me like, “I’m trying to keep my eyes open. When is this going to be done?” They are getting the information, but this isn’t their thing. That’s okay. But one person out of the four is engaged. They get it. They’re usually ahead of me. That is the person I want as the tech champion in the organization because that person is going to help train the other three people who maybe aren’t so into this.
I find that once a leadership gets invested in digital skills, if there is not a strategy in place to disseminate that throughout the organization, it falls back on the leader to do all the training and pushing. You only have so much capacity. That’s hard. So identifying those people who are passionate about technology and making them champions is a great way of multiplying yourself, which is a huge goal as a leader.
Hugh: We multi-task through delegation. But it really requires the clarity of the outcome. We as leaders define the vision. This is the arrival point. We’re not very good at that sometimes. Then quantifying the results we want to see so people know what is expected of them.
For people reviewing this in the future, they can’t see that in the background Spencer has a drum set. Looks like you have some acoustic stuff on the wall to tamper the sound a bit.
Spencer: I do. It gets echoey in here as you can imagine. We have some foam on the walls to make sure my wife and kids aren’t more annoyed at me than they should be.
Hugh: Drummers are unique in the world of music. We won’t go to the music jokes. I don’t want to get any serious boos on this show.
Technology requires a lot of knowledge, but it also requires a lot of awareness of what we’re doing. It’s like leading. If we want to participate in a group, we need to pay attention to what’s going on in the group. A lot of things about digital marketing change over time. Spencer runs Brooks Digital with a team of sophisticated techies. What’s one thing a person could do as a leader to make sure they have the success they want in their digital presence? What’s one thing they could do that they could celebrate that might bring in some energy?
Spencer: A good place to start because it will give you a good idea of some wins you have as an organization and some areas you can improve upon is to benchmark your digital presence. A number of resources are available to allow you to compare how your organization is doing against your peers. One is M+R Benchmarks. It has digital stats so you can say, “We are doing really well.” In 2019, health organizations or the nonprofit sector, their email lists shrank. If your email list grew 1% last year, that is a cause for celebration. You might have thought your list only grew 1% so you aren’t doing well. If you benchmark and look at your stats, you will realize you’re not alone.
On the flip side, you can also see where the organization is falling down a little bit. I recommend looking at where possible your issue space specifically. Health organizations do have some unique benchmarks that are different from the nonprofit sector as a whole. I took the liberty of going through and outlining 10 of those points. For sectors, even within specific issue spaces, benchmarks are different. I would highly encourage anyone who wants to benchmark to find data specific to your issue space so you will have a better idea of how well you’re doing, giving you some stuff to celebrate and some stuff to work on.
Hugh: Here is a loaded question. How do you get people to open your emails? Open rates are just terrible.
Spencer: It’s all in the subject line. That’s a quick and easy answer to that.
Hugh: Not easy.
Spencer: Simple, not easy. The subject line is the killer. You can write subject lines that get people to open your emails that have nothing to do with the content of your email. You will get a high open rate that way, but no one will do anything.
My recommendation is A) realize that it’s the subject line and B) if your email marketing software supports A/B testing, try testing different subject lines and see what generates more opens. Over time, if you do that, you will start to get an idea of what the audience cares about. Do they like short subject lines? Do they like you to use certain words or topics? That’s a data-driven way to approach it. That’s what I advocate. I would keep subject lines shorter than you think, and test them. When you test them, make sure to keep everything else the same so you get good data. Those are two simple tips to help with open rates. You’re right that they’re falling. Email is a behemoth in this space that isn’t going away anytime soon.
Hugh: What do you want to leave people with?
Spencer: I would say to have compassion for yourself if you are feeling this is something you’re not doing well on or don’t know about. The secret is that no one knows what they’re doing. Well, some people do. But you think you don’t know what you’re doing and everyone else does. We are all still figuring this out. If you are in a leadership position, you are smart and talented and deserve to be there. Technology is just one piece of that.
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Hugh: Spencer Brooks at Brooks.Digital. Thank you for sharing your wisdom today.
Spencer: You’re welcome.