Peggy Dyer: Centralizing marketing to personalize the message

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Peggy Dyer, Chief marketing officer, American Red Cross

Peggy Dyer,
Chief marketing officer, American Red Cross

When Peggy Dyer joined the American Red Cross in 2009, there wasn’t even a marketing department. Instead, the function was embedded inside communications and the responsibilities were distributed across more than 700 chapters nationwide. Dyer’s primary goals have been to consolidate the department, personalize fundraising efforts and build a culture of transparency at the venerable non-profit. She speaks about the roles that data, technology and testing have played during her tenure—and how learning to partner with other organizations can be the key to success.

You have an impressive history at Quaker Oats, Gatorade, Citibank and Allstate, among other stops in the private sector. When you took the Red Cross CMO job as an outsider, how did you consolidate marketing across hundreds of chapters?

Our CEO, Gail McGovern, did a great job paving the way before I got here. When she first came to the organization, she held a meeting and reviewed everybody’s marketing plans. The purpose was really for folks to see just how fragmented and uncoordinated their efforts were. And it was a major realization for everyone, because no one knew what anyone else was doing. So although part of this change was about them losing control, they’re seeing that through increased scale and significantly increased joint investment, we’ll get a much greater return together than what we could have separately.

How does cooperating help them?

There’s significant power in the data that we are able to gather. Instead of having a one-size-fits-all Web site, it’s really going to be personalized. The homepage is going away and instead there will be individualized pages based on your IP address, what we know about you and what you may have searched for before. That way, we can provide the information that’s most relevant to you. Seeing these capabilities, the attitude in the chapters has really changed from “I don’t want it” to “How quickly can we get it?

How important is it to iterate when launching a new approach?

Well, even with the new Web site, it won’t be 100 percent where we want it to be at launch. We’re doing lots and lots of testing to make it better. I’m a big believer in both A/B testing and multivariate testing, so if you make a financial donation, we can decide what information we provide to you dynamically. If we know that you’re really interested in international issues we would give you that content and we can see if that triggers a larger donation. Also we know what your past donation was, so we might increase the suggested amount. For example, if you gave $100 last time, maybe the system would pre-populate $120 in the suggested donation box.

Can you give an example of how testing something changed your approach?

Sure. Two weeks before the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, we did our first test with mobile and it was an abysmal failure. We raised less than $1,000. But we learned lessons from it and during the disaster we raised $32 million from our text program, $10 at a time.

What did you do differently the second time?

The biggest thing was to make a good user experience that’s simple with not a lot to click through.

So personalization, testing and a good user experience are all important. Anything else?

For us a customer could be someone giving us money or those who want to make contributions to the Red Cross in their time or even with their blood. Transparency is really important to them. So the CEO and our senior management team have a shared vision, which is to make our operations transparent and also to make it easy for customers to do business with us.

All of these issues lean heavily on technology. What’s your relationship with your CIO?

We joke that we have to be best friends. Seriously, marketing absolutely has to work in partnership with IT. I’ll give an example. As I mentioned, data is a huge asset for the Red Cross and so a number of the business heads, including myself and the CIO, agreed that we need someone to be the data champion for the enterprise. As we were talking about this role with the CEO, we started to discuss where the position should report. Our CIO was the first to say that it shouldn’t be an IT position; it should reside in the business unit as a way for us to articulate what our data needs are and how data will be used. I thought that was pretty enlightened of our CIO. So the new position will be within marketing.

How do you measure return on investment—not just for a new hire like that, but more broadly for this greater emphasis on data?

We definitely look at the business case and the ROI for any major investment. That’s actually fairly easy to do because we’re starting from scratch—and we’re also getting business improvements and cost savings from consolidating. Our bigger challenge is measuring the effectiveness of our marketing programs and modeling the incremental effect that our efforts deliver. Good data is critical, so that’s why getting the infrastructure in place is so important. It will allow us to become much smarter and more thoughtful about making the right marketing investments.

Do you use analytics to understand the data you’re collecting?

We have a social media monitoring system through a very generous donation, which we’ve used during disasters. It has become a very early indicator about public interest in a particular disaster or event. We generate heat maps to see when events or issues are starting to become more active on social media. Then we combine that with information we gather from people who come to the site. Together, that information tells us when we need to raise money for a particular event.

Can you share an instance where social media has helped your mission?

With the Haiti earthquake in January of 2010, we instituted our mobile text-to-give program within 24 hours of the disaster and we had 2.3 million re-tweets in a couple of days. That really helped propel interest. That kind of information really helps us get into proactive fundraising mode. Also, we reached out to the National Football League and were able to get public service announcements broadcast during the playoffs and we saw great consumer interest and willingness to donate to the Red Cross during that time.

You seem to get a lot of help from the private sector. How important is that for a non-profit?

Partnerships are absolutely critical because we can’t do this alone. And fortunately, we’re in a unique position because lots of companies want to help. As an example, we’re about to make some big investments in data warehousing technologies and we visited Silicon Valley to find out what we should do. We spoke to people at many of the big tech companies and to some venture capitalists, explaining what our issues were. The final word from the engineers we spoke to was that we should not try to reinvent the wheel by creating some custom software. Instead, they said, “Take what’s already been developed and see how you can adjust it yourself to follow industry-wide best practices.

What are the keys to making a partnership happen?

It’s almost second nature for us. I wanted to put together a marketing university to train my employees and so I just called whomever I thought was the very best company and asked how we could use what they’ve already done to help the Red Cross. And people have been really, really receptive. If I were in a for-profit organization I would take a similar approach. It doesn’t hurt to ask and to learn from others. You don’t have to be in a non-profit to do those kinds of things. You can do it just by picking up the phone and reaching out to folks.

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