In our latest episode of Go Beyond Fundraising, we sat down with Bryan Kramer to discuss impactful ways to personalize donor experiences that resonate with your audience. Big tech companies have developed strategies for personalizing their users’ experiences that drive incredible loyalty. Learn how you can do the same for your donors by creating human touchpoints that can deliver the same level of personalization.
Collecting data from constituents while simultaneously building trust will foster relationships over time — think of it like the layers in an onion. Donors will receive the value you offer them, and you will receive their data and trust. Creating these human touchpoints results in relationships where the donor feels motivated to connect with your organization and support your mission.
Fundraisers like you are working to supply your cause with the resources it needs to make the world a better place. But donor expectations and technology seem to keep changing. At Pursuant, we want to bring you conversations that put leaders like you at the top of your fundraising game. Welcome to the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast.
Dubbed the “Zen Master” to digital marketers by Forbes, Bryan Kramer is a renowned business strategist, global keynote speaker, executive trainer and coach, two-time bestselling author, and Forbes contributor. We sat down with Bryan to talk all about how personalization is changing the expectations of today's consumers who also happen to be your donors. We also touched on things like burnout, how to keep your team engaged, and many other topics relevant to the idea of humanizing your nonprofit in order to reach your donors more personally.
Welcome to the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, Bryan.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me here.
Yeah, I was so glad that we were able to get connected and to learn more about some of the work that you do. So, Bryan, if some of our listeners are unfamiliar with who you are and the work you do, and some of your background, would you mind introducing yourself to our listeners?
Sure, I'd be happy to. I am, I guess you could say, I was born and raised a marketer and started a marketing agency with my business partner and wife. We had it for 25 years here in San Jose, California, where I was also born and raised. And we worked with some really nice, incredible clients, and I always like to call them small but mighty because there were huge agencies around the globe, like big massive agencies. We were 30 employees at $30 million, and we worked with Netflix and Mastercard and Cisco and IBM and did some incredible campaigns and won several hundred awards and created nice demand gen and digital marketing.
We went through the gamut of all kinds of different styles of agency that we were throughout the years: social media, influencer, you name it. And it's because you had to stay relevant as any marketer does. And it was really so many life lessons as we did that. And at the same time, I had written a book called There's No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human, which helped to launch a speaking platform that kept me on the road, followed by on-the-road speaking about human-to-human and then followed by Shareology: How to Power the Human Economy.
But between the two of those things and my Ted Talk, it created a lot of me staying on the road and not having as much time for the agency. So that's why we eventually exited the agency and stayed the course with really teaching and educating entrepreneurs, executives, and different areas of business on the ways that businesses could stay relevant and create more business for themselves and not have to do it in a burnout mode to stay relevant. So that's what we're doing now. That's what I'm doing now. And it's really been a lot of fun and a lot of joy to be doing that.
I'm really curious if you mind sharing some more about this idea of staying relevant and avoiding burnout. I know this wasn't on our list of questions, but it's really interesting to me because that's a word that I hear so much in this kind of post-COVID, post-pandemic landscape where I feel like so many people had to literally take work home with them. And now, they're hunting for new careers. And companies are searching for new talent that isn't burned out. And I'm curious if you have any learnings that are worth sharing with our listeners.
Oh my gosh, I could talk for hours on that topic. It's the main reason that I restructured and put in more processes and ideas for ways that our agency could really function without me towards the end in the last couple of years. Because I, at one point, was on the road over 200 days a year, and it wasn't something that was going to last. I knew it, my wife knew it, our family knew it. And one day, my eleven-year-old son, who was just an incredible soul, I guess he knew it too. Because one day when I was home in the middle of all that travel, he pulled me aside and he said, “Dad, I need to talk to you.” And he grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into his bedroom and sat me down and he said, “Dad, you're way overweight. In fact, you're fat.” Which, he's right. I ate my way through every country. The food was so good, and I just had gotten diabetes and I just had put myself through so much, just traveling through x-ray machines and hotel rooms and what you think is the glamorous life of travel is a lot of being glamorous. And so trying to do all of that. And no matter who you are, trying to run a business or being in business, and especially as the pandemic, you're looking back and you're like, oh my God, how was I doing all of that? I totally have empathy for anybody doing that.
And so towards the end, he said, “Dad, you're never home for our games or any of our school functions, and I don't think you're going to get to meet your grandchildren at this rate because you're going to die.” And I was like, “oh my God.” And so it totally left me with a dagger in my heart. I was like, man, that just hit hard. And I was in tears on the plane the next day, going off, unfortunately, to another event to keynote. And I came back from that and I said to my wife, I said, we have to redo everything. I'm not doing this anymore — the way that we're doing it. And we did. We hired mentors and people that were really great at what they did. And we really invested in process and structure and everything and got everything to the point where business took a second seat in the way that we looked at it.
And I really believe in working on your business, not in your business, and how to put that for any person, any individual, any human being. And how you process through your workload every day can be done so that you're really minimizing what you're working on so that it's more appropriate to what needs to be done, not what has to be done.
And so we came up with a system that works. And it worked. It worked to the point where our agency didn't need me as much in the day-to-day routine. And then eventually we did exit. And that was a nice way to close out. And so that's what I love doing, is helping companies to be able to do more of that, to be able to expand and scale, but not at the rate where you're working so hard that you have to do it despite what's in front of you and have to be able to lose yourself in the process. It's not what's needed right now. I don't think we have to work harder in order to get to where we're going.
That really resonates with me. And I think it would resonate, as well, with so many of our nonprofit listeners because a lot of the folks do tune in, they're marketers, they're fundraisers, they are nonprofit professionals. And that is an industry that is especially prone to burnout and to people working over and above what they're paid because they're so motivated by the mission that they serve. And it's also an industry where resources can seem especially scarce because they're working off of donations and they're accountable for every penny that they spend. And everything that, especially with nonprofits that are required to file that Form 990 to the IRS, everything they spend is public. It's a realm that is especially prone to that kind of burnout that you're describing.
But I also wanted to double-click on something else you shared about the importance of working on the business instead of in the business. Because that's so often where those breakthroughs and productivity happen, where you're not having to get so burnt out. And so to that end, an opportunity that many people are observing is this idea that big companies like Netflix and Amazon and Spotify and these big tech companies, they've developed this way of delivering personalized experiences to their users that drive incredible loyalty to those services. And we find that kind of personalization is something that's kind of lacking in a lot of the experiences that nonprofits are delivering to their constituents. So I'd love to kind of hear, sort of, your response to that, as well as perhaps some examples of good and bad personalization to paint the picture of what we're talking about.
It's a great point. There are companies big and small doing great work on both sides. And you would think that the small companies are the ones with the leg up because they can be more nimble. That's how I perceive it, and I think that they still do. And I think that nonprofits have that as well. And so I'm going to give them a point for that.
And I think that also when you look at in terms of your question, like you're looking at these companies like Amazon, for instance, I can give you an example there, where Amazon has I think they're the second biggest company on earth, or richest, I guess. And then you look at the personalization side and you go, how can they possibly personalize something so well and know me without being creepy? And then you say, okay, well, not just personalization, but how do they make it human and know me so well?
And there's a great, not just case study, but thing that's floating around. One of my favorite things is this conversation between a customer service agent and a customer that was online having a conversation, chatting on a chat feature, and he got on because he didn't get his product and he said he didn't just say, I haven't received my product, but he was logged in and the thing about that is that Amazon knows who that person is. So the customer would say, like, “tracking shows delivered, but shipment not received.” And the customer is like, “so obviously, I didn't get it,” but the Amazon person knew who that person was, so he knew what that product was that he didn't receive.
So he was tapped in and he said, “Warmest greetings, my name is Thor.” And then the customer said, “Greetings, Thor Can I be Odin?” See, now here's the special thing about that experience is, the thing that didn't arrive at the customer's house is a book on Vahalla, which is a book about Norse history and so he tapped into that. The customer service person tapped into that. And then the customer said, “Thor, my son, agony raises upon my life.” And Amazon customer service says, “This is outrageous. Who dares defy the All-Father Odin? What has occurred to cause this agony?” And finally, the customer said, “I'm afraid the book I ordered, Defeat Our Enemies, has been misplaced. How can we keep Valhalla intact with our second book?”
I won't read the rest of it. But as you can imagine, this not only made the customer's day, but they got the book to them the next day. And it was one of the biggest reasons why Amazon is great at customer service because they can use information and make it so unique to each customer and be able to do it in a way that it really makes each customer feel special. They have given each customer experience and customer support person the ability to do that. And that is not normal.
If you went to any other company of that size, they have a script, they have a set of objectives, they know how to escalate something, how to de-escalate something. They've talked about and gone through all kinds of different trainings for this. But never have they given them the autonomy to be human and say, play with it, have fun, but make sure that they know that they matter, and that changes the game. So if you were to take that and really take this down a level or any other company and play with it, that's what I would do. This just accentuates everything that it means to be human in your business, whether it's in customer support or any other kind of marketing or customer operational level or anything that you're doing. So, that's one of my favorite things to share, that if a big company can do this, any company can do this.
Tying this back in with nonprofits. I think nonprofit organizations do an amazing job creating those white glove experiences for donors who give at a higher level, so those major donors, even those folks who are in the pipeline to become major donors. But I think when it comes to creating really personalized, impactful experiences at the broader level, at the annual fund level, it's a struggle because they either don't have the technology to be able to ingest the data they need to be able to truly know who their constituents are, or they don't even know that that's something that they should be seeking to do or have a pathway to do. But at the same time, because they're a smaller organization, there is less red tape theoretically for them to be able to try and test some of these out.
In your experience, what are some obstacles that organizations can run into when it comes to collecting the data that they need to collect to be able to string together who their people are and what might most resonate with them?
Well, obviously it depends on the kind of data that you're collecting. I'm a fan of collecting data along the way and earning trust. And so it's like you want to create a relationship over time. And so one of the things that you want to do is make sure that you're giving a lot of value and that they're gaining more and more relationship over that value over time. And as they see that value escalating, then they're opting in for more because they're seeing that the trust is building more value for them. And as they can create that by giving you more information, it's only giving them more of what they need and it's returning 10x of what they originally came for.
And so you're kind of peeling the onion, going back to the 1/1 of marketing communications, as you peel the layers of the onion and get towards the center of the gooey mushy center of the onion. You don't want to just ask for their phone number and call them right away. You'd ask for just the bare minimum and then work towards the center over time, unless there's something of super high value that you would offer up right from the beginning. It just depends, again, on what it is that you're offering.
However, the data that you're also collecting, really oftentimes it's a matter of how it's being presented and what looks safe and what is giving everyone the level of making sure that people feel like, oh my gosh, this is a place that I would love to connect with and be a part of on some level. There are a lot of places where trust has been burned and so where we have degraded trust at such a fast rate because of the internet. And that's not anything to do with what you or I have done, but the Internet on the whole, or advertisers on the whole, have done that over time. And so it's up to us to raise the bar on trust and create things that show more human touch points that can help them become more trusting in whatever it is that we're displaying.
So one of the things that you can do is just like, walk over to a whiteboard, whether you call it a funnel, or your sequence, or your digital roadmap, or however it is that you're looking at everything that you're doing, write everything up on the board or on your roadmap. Just do it as a collective or as a group, and put everything up there. All your emails or your ads or your chat feature, like anything that you're doing that has any kind of touch point with your potential donor or customer or your board member or whoever it is that's out there, that whatever person that is that you're trying to reach.
Put everything up there and then look at the board and see where are all the human touch points? Because I guarantee that most of the time they're missing a lot of them, that you're trying to over automate or you're trying to overuse a tool or tools to do the hard work or the heavy lifting of what a human can do. And it will never replace a handshake or a hug or a voice from an actual human in reaching out, whether it's a personalized video from someone saying, “Hey, David”, or, “Hey, Linda, this is Bryan, and I just wanted to let you know that we're thinking about you and I wanted to reach out and offer you X, Y or Z. Thanks so much.” With nothing in return.
Doing these little human touch points means the world to people because it lets them know that there really is somebody on the other end versus just an automated tweet or an automated sequence or so on and so forth. So look at everything that you're doing and look in between the lines and say, where are the human touch points? And if you just even raise the bar on one or two things, you're going to make a massive difference.
Yeah, I was thinking about as you were speaking, I was just remembering and kind of reminiscing over some of those human touchpoints that have driven up that customer loyalty between me and brands that brands are companies that I've worked with that have made a big impact on me. Something that occurred to me as well is getting back to this idea of data collection, is that collecting data does not necessarily mean that you're asking for “How many children do you have? Where did you go to school?” And some of this kind of personal information that I think people, on the one hand, people know is already out there, but on the other hand, is something that takes a high degree of trust to give over.
But, things like “Why do you connect with us? Why are you a customer of ours, why are you a donor of ours? What kind of information would you like to learn more about?” And it's asking those value-adding questions that gets you the data that is extremely valuable to the organization that's collecting it. But it's information that most people would freely give away to that organization because it's something they know that is going to add value, frankly.
Well, anything that's going to be progressive learning. And there's a great tool by the name of — I don't know if this is something that you already do. There are some tools out there that are progressive learning, whether you call it quizzes or Typeform or anything that leads you down a road of understanding and curiosity. And with this comes this, or if this comes that, as long as there's value on the other end, as long as they can see clear value and it's relevant to them and they know it's coming to clearly spell out the story for them and what's happening.
The biggest thing that I find is that there's no story arc for the potential person on the other end. The story arc isn't there. So, if we haven't painted a picture for what it is that we want the impact to be on the other end, whatever the progressiveness of our marketing campaign, we're trying to get the data in, we're trying to make a progressive impact, and we're trying to get them to the other end, but we don't know what our eventual impact is. We're always going to end up failing at collecting data or collecting information because the impact isn't there. The impact statement, or the impact of each campaign, should be stated right up front of what it is that we're trying to do and trying to help you do.
For instance, mine is, I believe that being human is your competitive advantage and we can create blah, blah blah, blah, blah. So if we were to start, whether it's a video or a progressive data collection or I wouldn't call it that, but start whatever campaign with that inside of our program and say that to the person, like, we believe this. And it's like almost like you're walking up the mountain and you are Gandalf. And you're saying to everyone, and you put your staff in the mountain and you go, “Hey, follow me.” And “this is what we believe, and we believe that we can take this and we can do this together.” And you stake your claim and you make your impact statement, then everyone knows what you believe and they know why they're going to follow you into this place and they're going to give you the information and follow your progressive information that they're now going to give you over the course of time. That makes such a stronger impact than a form to fill out.
For sure. Wrapping up with our final question. We've spoken about data and about organizations collecting data, and it seems like kind of carrying into the future of what's happening, specifically in the realm of digital ad delivery. Platforms like Google and Apple, these behemoth organizations seem like they're making strides towards walling off their information to make it harder to get at. Which means advertising is likely going to be less tailored to people's interests, which means that people who are wanting to deliver digital campaigns to folks are going to have to take some steps before those walls start to go up. So what can organizations do today to prepare for that? To progressively collect some of this information we've been speaking about in a responsible and value-adding way without being creepy?
Yeah, well, if you're looking at advertising specifically, I do think that there are going to be tools, and are tools, that will allow you to do personalization based on actions versus individuals. So I don't think that what we're speaking towards is like what just happened with iOS 14 and how that had a major effect on everyone. And I think we were talking about this just a little bit before we got on the podcast interview here where it's going to degrade the personalization it has already of what's happening around the overall digital advertising landscape. And it's gotten to the point now where there are tools that will allow you to do still re-targeting do it well, where if you're just doing it directly on Google and Facebook, for instance, it won't work. But if you do it with these tools, then it will work just fine. So there will always be a way that we'll be able to do retargeting and it just will, as you said, stop being creepy because it's not about the person anymore. It's about the actions of the group to its users. So we'll know demographic and then, you know, actions by localization and other demographic stuff.
But yeah, it's not going to be down to the individual of what is it that they did specifically. So then what do we do at that point? Then it's a matter of like, do we know getting kind of in the trenches here, but we won't have our advertising up and running within 24 hours. It's going to take 3 to 5 days to see it working. And so patience becomes a virtue at that point to see our advertising up and running.
At the same time, I'd also say that there are ways that we can create a lot of integration with one-to-one conversations and what I mean by that is I think people underutilize the inner circle of what everyone has access to, and especially with the nonprofit area. In the years that I've had an experience in nonprofit, it's so a) can burn you out, but at the same time doing it right, you can really organize yourself to getting on places like LinkedIn and really connect at a deeper level with people now, even better than you could five years ago or two years ago and have some really rich, deep conversations without advertising and have a lot more fun with it and create a lot more rich relationships and have success with that, I think beyond what advertising can do.
So as things become more and push ourselves more beyond advertising, there's going to be a lot of one-to-one and human-to-human conversations that will happen out of all of this. And that'll be kind of exciting and put us back into writing thank-you notes and doing things that we should have been doing all along.
Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And I think that there's definitely some value in ads becoming not quite as personalized as they were. I can think off the top of my head of some ads that were delivered to me that I actually kind of found offensive because I could tell that they were making some assumptions about me based on a few demographic data points that I was like, you can't just assume that I'd be interested in this service because I meet XYZ criteria. And so I think it offers an opportunity to do what you said of, like no, you actually have to put in the work and not just rely so much on third-party data of getting to know who your constituents are and why they engage with you and offering them value along the way, giving them the opportunity to earn that trust and to form that relationship.
Anyway, thank you so much, Brian, for joining us today. Do you have any new books in the works?
Oh, I'm just at the very beginning stages, so nothing to report. It's going to take me a good year before I get there. Each book takes me about a year, so it's really at the beginning stages, but other than that, I'm always working on content and putting content out on my site at bryankramer.com.
And we can watch your Ted Talk there as well.
Everything I do is on my site, and I've got a newsletter there as well that I do weekly, and I have a podcast there as well and would love to have everyone join in. Yeah, thank you so, so much.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for your time today and I look forward to sharing this conversation with our listeners.
Appreciate it. Thank you.
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To learn more about our guest speaker, connect with Bryan Kramer and check out his book, There Is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human: H2H. For more episodes like this one, check out Go Beyond Fundraising podcast for more episodes.