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American Red Cross Breathes New Life into its Marketing

For an organization that has been helping those in need for more than 130 years, American Red Cross desperately needed to rethink its marketing strategies. Bogged down by fragmented marketing processes and facing staggering competition, the organization had to find new ways to reach its audience or risk a disaster of its own, says Banafsheh Ghassemi, VP of customer experience and CRM.

“It was time for us to change and evolve our skills within the marketing organization to leverage new digital platforms more effectively and connect with our customers,” Ghassemi says.

However, when it came to seeking inspiration for its marketing makeover, American Red Cross turned away from traditional fundraising techniques and single-channel campaigns. Instead, it looked to innovative and forward-looking players like Amazon. com as the standard-bearers for consumer convenience, user friendliness, and personalization—the triumvirate of a compelling customer experience.

“Nonprofit organizations like the American Red Cross are reacting to the same thing that other marketers are reacting to: customer expectations have changed,” says David Raab, a principal at marketing consultancy Raab Associates. “Customers recognize that we as marketers know more about them than ever before and so they expect to be treated as individuals. And it’s in a marketer’s best interest to do just that.”

Data is the life blood of marketing

The transformation began by infusing technology into the marketing organization.

Indeed, leveraging new digital platforms while better engaging customers required American Red Cross to roll out a number of new technology platforms. For starters, the organization created a data warehouse that consolidates bits and bytes of information scattered across 700 chapters and four lines of service, Ghassemi notes. “Data is the fuel for marketing, so first we had to consolidate our data across all of our lines of business and all of our chapters,” she says.

In fact, Raab says data consolidation is a critical first step to gaining valuable insight into how various departments of an organization are reaching out to consumers in a timely and consistent manner. “The whole idea of a customer-centric approach is to make consistent achievements across all the channels. To do that you have to consolidate all of your data sources so you can see everything that’s happening in these channels and respond appropriately and consistently.”

Next, American Red Cross deployed a workflow management and marketing automation tool that provides an in-depth view of campaign activities, business processes, and operational efficiencies. In the past, Ghassemi says, the organization’s creative process consisted of producing spreadsheets and emailing colleagues for every campaign development.

However, by granting marketers access to immediate status on any process via the marketing automation tool, team members “can actually see campaign activities flow throughout the process, who touched particular aspects of a campaign, who approved them, and what kind of changes were made along the way,” Ghassemi says. “In the end, marketers are not only tracking their work, but also making it more efficient in terms of getting a campaign to market faster.”

Data consolidation and workflow management are excellent tools for creating marketing efficiencies, but American Red Cross still needed to find new strategies for targeting and engaging customers. Currently, the organization is deploying multichannel campaign management and business intelligence tools that will allow for more robust customer segmentation, as well as campaign testing and optimization.

For years the marketing team relied on one vendor for direct mail and another for email marketing—a fragmented approach to multichannel marketing. “In the past we never had any visibility into who touched our campaigns and the creative process,” Ghassemi says. “We had all these pieces but we had to put them together to find out how a campaign would take.”

American Red Cross’s Marketing Journey
Click the image below to enlarge.

However, by turning to campaign management technology, Ghassemi says, the organization now has “a single tool that marketers can use to see what’s happening as soon as an email is delivered, who’s clicking on it, and what a customer is doing with this information.” For example, if a particular piece of direct mail fails to result in a customer transaction, the marketing team can immediately modify the campaign for a better result.

The organization is already seeing improvements from its technology deployments. Ghassemi says data warehouse, marketing automation, and campaign management tools have taken much of the guesswork out of shaping campaigns. “We can now go back and see if we want to do a particular campaign again,” she says. “In the past it was all a guessing game. We just launched a campaign because somebody said we had to.”

Automating and standardizing marketing initiatives has also resulted in process improvements. There once was a time when an employee transferring to a new department or leaving the organization altogether would create huge knowledge gaps and approval delays in a marketing campaign.

“People would leave the organization and you would lose track of what was the last thing that happened to a particular piece of work or campaign,” Ghassemi says. “Now we have full visibility into who touched a campaign last.”

Standardizing processes across various lines of business and chapters has also enabled American Red Cross to get campaigns to market faster and more efficiently.

Pumping insight out of data

That’s not to suggest, however, that the marketing makeover has been without its share of challenges.

Although new technology platforms are enabling the organization to collect and consolidate reams of customer data, figuring out how to make the most of this information is a learning process, Ghassemi points out.

“You can have the best customer database in the world, but staring at that data will not give you a business strategy,” she says. “What you need to do is create a business strategy or a marketing campaign and make sure that your data validates or enables that strategy.”

For example, by carefully collecting data on what’s being said about a local blood drive, the marketing team can determine what other opportunities might exist to engage blood donors.

One way of accomplishing this is by approaching data with specific inquiries rather than simply mining it for obvious answers. “Ideally, you should know what you want to do with your data,” Ghassemi advises. “Marketers need to come up with a set of questions that the data can answer for them.”

Of course, a basic understanding of what it takes to crunch data into actionable intelligence is also a key determinant of marketing campaign success.

“The job of a marketer has changed quite a bit from more of a creative trade to a scientific trade,” Ghassemi says. “You don’t have to be a data jockey and know how to manipulate databases, but you do have to be able to analyze data and figure out what it’s telling you.”

As for American Red Cross, the organization is fast learning that the best way to engage donors and volunteers is by designing a customer experience using relevant data and the right marketing tools.

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