The best way to turn a good product or service into a great one is to elevate your content.
To share not only what you do, but how and why you do it. To share insider knowledge about your industry, or what fascinates you about your own business. To give customers the tools they need to go even farther with what you do.
In any industry, the organizations who appear to magically attract lifetime customers, and stellar word-of-mouth, are the ones who overpromise and overdeliver.
The way to do that is to (briefly!) take your eye off of profits, and focus everything on your audience’s perspective, challenges, and goals.
You need someone who can understand what your ideal customers really want from you; what they really experience with you; and how to engage and delight them more with each content opportunity, from buttons to blog posts.
They have the potential to be as giddy and passionate as you are about what you do. What can you tell them, and do for them, to help them see how great it is?
What can you change about their experience that makes it feel as great as it deserves to be?
When you have that answer, you go back to the question of profits by continually testing and measuring your results.
The result: an effective, audience-centered, data-driven content strategy.
Or, to put it in more human terms: an ongoing heart-to-heart with your ideal customers.
From Jargon to Conversation
In consulting for a higher ed nonprofit that opposed the closure of Mills College, I read 10 years of audits, 20 years of tax returns, and 30 years of fundraising data to fully understand what was going on.
Then I translated that into simpler messaging, to illustrate where the administration was misleading stakeholders.
This quick comparison of the two schools’ finances is designed to debunk the administration’s fantasy that a rich university is “saving” Mills from certain financial ruin.
In Health Equity
Thanks in part to the efforts of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, health equity for gay people has greatly improved.
This has paid dividends in everything from mental health to overall income.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know that the bi community still faces outcomes as bad as those of the trans community.
I designed the infographics here to bring the GLMA, and the healthcare community overall, up to speed on decades of minority stress research all at once.
These graphics can also be split up and used separately to educate people on a specific topic, such as sexual violence or mental health.
I presented much of the following research at SF BiCon 2020. I then expanded upon it and presented at the 2021 Bisexual Research Conference and the 2021 GLMA Nursing Summit.
Teach Your Brand to Speak
This self-help brand, designed to teach people how to overcome imposter syndrome, sounded like a great idea to everyone who heard about it. The challenge was to avoid the trap of “many fans, no customers.”
I began by drawing up user personas and relatable brand voices, and tested them by approaching 75 target users.
The message architecture:
• casual language and vivid, relatable anecdotes;
• big pictures made up of bite-sized insights;
• optimistic, encouraging, and confident.
In this meme, this brand is definitely “the sisterfriend.”
Thanks to researching and deeply understanding the prospective customer, I was able to hit very high engagement rates from the beginning, both paid and organic.
• Bounce rate of only 23% on the landing page.
• 29% click rate in emails; 50% click-to-open-rate.
•16% reach engagement rate on blog posts (the ratio of users engaged to users reached; 2% is considered high).
Engaging Your Potentially Passionate Users
User experience is, of course, far more than just the short bursts of text guiding them through their customer journey.
COSA, a nonprofit for people affected by compulsive sexual behavior, was struggling on an annual budget of roughly $45,000. Roughly half came from their annual convention, and another quarter each from donations and literature/CD sales. An expensive convention site could destroy the budget for two years.
The membership was simultaneously extremely loyal, and very hard to reach. Email open rates were low, and members rarely engaged with the emails they opened. The general consensus was that the emails were annoying, there were too many of them, and they always seemed to be asking for money.
I trained the Board members and other senior stakeholders on best practices in email communication, strongly encouraging them to center their members.
In particular, regular announcements, like monthly newsletters and annual events, should be framed from the perspective of why they might be interesting to a member.
I developed a new email campaign strategy that dramatically increased the number of emails every month. But now, the majority of the emails contained content members craved. The number of requests for volunteers and donations increased too. But members actually perceived them as decreasing by comparison.
Open rates increased dramatically: they rapidly tripled, and within 18 months, we had exceeded the nonprofit industry average by 50%.
I also project managed a website redesign that focused on increasing accessibility and making the content more user- centric, so that our primary channels would both follow a similar message matrix.
After looking deeply at member feedback and the member experience, my proposals for increasing accessibility in its broadest sense, and therefore increasing engagement, included researching and implementing remote convention attendance; recurring online donations; and mp3 downloads.
Long before the pandemic began, we worked to make as much of COSA available instantly, from home, as possible. This had a significant impact not only on membership growth, but most importantly, on short- and long-term member engagement.
Members with small children, financial struggles, or in remote locations, were suddenly able to participate as fully as those with fewer challenges. Members who would have had to scale back, or stop participating, due to life events, were now able to remain an active part of their community.
COSA’s unique website visitors increased by 50% within the first year. Event attendance, previously static, began to increase annually. And total donations rapidly tripled, with recurring donations making up more than half of that. Total sales nearly doubled.
Over the next five years, the organization’s annual budget nearly tripled, thanks primarily to increased donations and literature purchases. All without spending a penny on traditional marketing.
the stradivarius of UI/UX
Musica Pacifica, a top-tier baroque ensemble, had a hard time tooting their own horn. Talking about themselves seemed like boasting, and their largely older fan base wasn’t engaging with them much online.
I simplified navigation by asking, “what are our target users looking for, and where do they look for it first?” Then, I made the site accessible for customers with vision challenges, especially focusing on alt text and mobile optimization.
The shop page was a particular focus of this redesign. I used plugins to simplify and pre-fill as much information as possible, and to keep customers on the site throughout the checkout process.
Then I added a ton of the details that classical fans crave, like instruments, reviews, samples, and track listings, and created short, detailed descriptions of what made each album special. Restructuring and redesigning their website to better showcase their music resulted in a 7x increase in sales year-over-year.
And crafting intriguing, well-researched content that resonated with their demographic resulted in an average newsletter open rate of 44%, in an industry with a 19% average.
About Dani Aidan Stone
As a teenager, I worked as a community manager for AOL. After college, I worked in UX testing and digital branding for Ask.com.
Because I essentially grew up online, I have experience with every aspect of online spaces, from obscure niche message boards to Facebook ad optimization.
I’ve spent the past 15 years using these passions to help all of you share yours with more people. My focus is on innovative practices, highly tailored to each brand.
What challenges is your business facing? Where do you want to grow? Drop me a line for a free consultation over email.