Today I have the pleasure of interviewing David Veksler, the Director of Marketing and Technology for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), a 71 year old non-profit. A few years ago the FEE decided to focus on teaching economic principles to young people. This required a complete website redesign in order to attract a much younger audience with fairly abstract and complex ideas.
David was brought in to rebuild and rebrand the FEE website. However, his responsibilities and successes didn’t stop there. David also designed and automated a customer engagement funnel with marketing automation tools. If that wasn’t enough, he also drove their Alexa site ranking from 160K to under 20K! That’s quite the accomplishment.
Needless to say I was quite excited when David agreed to be interviewed. He has a vast knowledge in both marketing and technology, and I feel David can share insights with us on how we can become better marketers. So without further ado, here’s David.
Hi David, how have you seen the role of technology & marketing change over the last few years?
Traditionally, IT and marketing were very different roles, and I never expected a career in writing software to lead to running social media campaigns and working with designers and photographers.
However, there has been a synthesis in recent years, where building attractive digital properties require understanding your audience, and being an effective marketer requires being good with analytics and vast amounts of data. Additionally, digital marketing has increasingly become more important and more cost effective as a marketing channel. So while larger organizations still have a strict division between these roles, it’s not unlikely for the same person to run both the website and marketing campaigns in a small team like FEE.
So, for example, much of my work in marketing involves automating workflows to show individually tailored messaging based on what we know about you and where you are in the sales funnel. One minute I’m writing a call to action or an email, and the next, I’m in the code, creating automated triggers to show a popup on a page.
Does your strategy for a nonprofit differs to that in the private sector?
I have a blog where I share my strategy as well as my step-by-step process for the way we do marketing at FEE. I think the nonprofit world has a lot to learn from the way that marketing is done in the private sector, especially when it comes to creating a focus on ROI. How do you calculate the return on investment when your goal is to educate young people, get them out of poverty, etc.? It’s not easy, but it’s better than spending resources on projects that feel good, but don’t create real-world change.
OK, can you share with us your marketing strategy?
Our marketing strategy has three elements:
1. Create great content that engages, informs, persuades, and delights users.
2. Distribute our content using the platforms that young people use.
3. Accelerate our audience’s engagement with the liberty movement by promoting events, online courses, and program partners.
FEE is developing a world-class technology and marketing platform based on the practices and tools used by top marketing agencies. For example, using tools such as HubSpot, we are building an automated conversion funnel, which automates personalized messaging workflows. We infer our visitor’s goals based on their behavior, then send them personalized messaging. We can capture visitors who are interested in events but have not applied, and keep them informed about our programs.
What tools do you have in your Toolbelt?
Keeping up with a variety of projects requires a lot of investments in productivity. FEE uses JIRA for our software development and Asana for our marketing process (in addition to a physical KanBan board). We use TeamCity to automate our build process. Amazon Web Services hosts our infrastructure. I have a blog dedicated to documenting our technology process and tools.
What has changed in website design over the years?
It seems like website design paradigms change every few years. Some things feel like fads, like the use of animated GIFs in the 90’s or gradients with web 2.0 in the 2000’s. However, a lot of the design styles are driven by technological progress. One of the big changes in website design is the use of more and bigger graphics, and this is especially true in periodical-like web publications.
The competition for attention online is intense, and one of the ways publishers have responded is by having better graphics – larger, original, and relevant. Furthermore, additional content must be presented in context to the current article in order to encourage the reader to stay. Thus, modern newspapers and magazines are expected to have original, interesting photography of illustrations for every single article. People have larger screens and navigate by scrolling rather than clicking to the next page.
What does this mean for us?
All this means that the size of the typical web page has exploded to several megabytes. Meanwhile, attention spans are going down – people are still very sensitive to the load speeds of a web page, and will navigate away if a page does not load near-instantly. Ideally, editors would upload properly optimized images, but most do not have the time or expertise to properly size images. The result can be that the website grows to enormous sizes, costing us visitors. Additionally, FEE hosts all our digital content in the Amazon cloud, so the data used by our visitors is metered and out of control image sizes can be a big cost of our infrastructure budget.
When were you introduced to JPEGmini?
As an amateur photographer, I first heard about JPEGmini when I was living in China. Internet access to Western sites was very slow, so I needed a way to shrink my photos before uploading them to Flickr, Facebook, etc. JPEGmini allowed me to share my photos much easier.
Later, I implemented JPEGmini Server because my team built a media sharing platform used in China, Russia, and Indonesia. Internet access in these countries can be very slow, and JPEGmini allowed our customers (parents viewing photos of their kids in school) much faster.
Internet access to Western sites was very slow, so I needed a way to shrink my photos before uploading them to Flickr, Facebook, etc. JPEGmini allowed me to share my photos much easier.
Was it hard to implement JPEGmini Server?
The JPEGmini server implementation was very easy in the latest version because it provides a REST API. I wrote a provider for my CMS which optimized images in the background within a few days.
Can you share some numbers with us?
We’ve processed 1.2 million photos and saved 420 GB of data using JPEGmini Server. Monthly bandwidth on FEE.org is 3.6 TB from 85 million requests, the majority of which is graphics. I think JPEGmini optimizes a typical photo about 5x, which translated into over 5-8 terabytes of bandwidth saved per month.
What advice would you give to other website owners?
If you run a graphically intensive website with frequently updated content, you need to have some kind of solution to managing web page size. JPEGmini allows you to optimize large numbers of photos automatically, without any expertise in image editing or optimization.
For today’s marketer, who is perhaps quite young and ambitious, what tips could you share?
The big secret in marketing is that we don’t know what message will resonate with our audience until we try it. Big and complex strategies are doomed to fail.
1. Clearly state the value proposition: Every message should clearly communicate the value our customer will gain from the product we are selling.
2. Present a single, clear call to action: Every message should ask the customer to take an action that moves them further down the conversion funnel. Each marketing communication has to have a large, prominent request to take a single action which will give the customer some sort of value.
3. Make messaging personal: The essence of our communications strategy is to make every message we send feel like it was written just for you by a real human being who cares about your concerns and is eagerly awaiting a reply, then use marketing automation to scale up that personal feel to thousands of people.
4: Focus messages on specific customer personas: Tailor messages to the specific customer profile and offer them a product that we think they are most likely to be interested in.
5: Experiment to identify the best strategy, then automate it: We don’t plan a grand marketing strategy for each product. The fact is, we have no idea what kind of message will resonate with our audience. Define your audience, create a value proposition, then experiment with campaigns until you find something that works
What do you think is coming next?
1: The tools of technical workers keep getting better, and the library of existing frameworks available to solve almost any problem is getting richer. The task of technicians is increasingly to maximize their productivity by efficiently using high-level tools, rather than writing low-level code to implement systems from scratch.
2: As increasing automation replaces rote human labor with machines, work that requires creativity, adaptability, and self-direction is becoming more valuable. Expert systems are augmenting technicians, and deep understanding and expertise is falling in importance relative to broad cross-functional heuristics. Creatives working with high-level design tools, while algorithms work out the technical details will increasingly perform engineering and programming.
I want to thank David for taking time out of his busy schedule and letting us interview him. If you’d like to learn more about the Foundation for Economic Education please visit their website at https://fee.org/. You can also reach out to David on Twitter.