A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

How to make people care about your boring content: election edition

Election day is one week away. That is a big deal for my clients.

My clients are non-profits and advocacy groups. They work in a variety of issue areas ranging from criminal justice to energy to foreign policy. And each one of them has something to gain or something to lose in this election.

So, it’s an important time to talk about the issues. You want your audience to understand how their vote affects policy and the work you’re doing.

But if your issue area is boring or complicated, how do you get people to care? Let’s look at four tactics:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Find your niche
  3. Tell a story
  4. Be concrete

And, today, we’ll use tax policy as a case study. Because, if there is one thing I find boring and complicated, it’s taxes.


Make it Personal

If you want me to care about tax policy, you have to make it obviously about me.

Will I have more money at the end of the month? Will the schools I send my kids to have better funding? How does your tax policy affect my everyday life?

Once you figure that out, the key is to make it clear/obvious/easy. If I’m on your site reading about your stance on taxes, immediately I should say, “Hey! You’re talking to me!”

This means you need to be specific.

Does this policy affect certain kinds of people? Veterans, parents, students, bike-riders, whatever. Say that!

How will this help my state, my city, my neighborhood? Be specific. Don’t say, “This will help your city.” Say, “This will help Washington, D.C.”

Here are some ways you could make your policy about me:

  • Create a calculator where I enter where I live and how much I make. Tell me how much money your policy will save me each month.
  • Make an interactive map of my city. As I navigate around, show how your tax policy will improve my neighborhood. Have pop-ups for local schools, police stations, and more.


Find Your Niche

So, maybe you can’t make everything relevant to everyone. Maybe your proposed tax policy doesn’t really affect the lives of everyday people. Maybe it’s super wonky.

As Kirsty Hulse once said, “There are pockets of weirdos interested in everything.”

If you have something to say about an issue, someone else in the universe cares about it.

You know who cares about super wonky tax policy? Accountants. And future accountants.

Facebook ads allow you to target by job title. You can also target by college major.

If you’ve got a great piece of content that explains why your tax policy is best, promote it on Facebook to this niche group of people. Typically, Facebook ads have a low cost per click so you don’t need to invest a lot to see results. And you’ll make sure your message is seen by the right people – people who are likely to care and act.

Speaking of great content…


Tell a Story

When I was at MozCon, Kindra Hall explained how stories change our brain chemistry. When someone starts telling you a story, two things happen:

  1. Cortisol increases in your brain. This chemical improves focus and attention. Once the story starts, you pay better attention to it because you want to know what happens next and how it will end.

  2. Oxytocin increases in your brain. This chemical increases empathy and emotion. You can see some of yourself in the main character of the story. You relate to their experiences. This creates an emotional connection, building a relationship.

This means that a story can make taxes less boring.

Here is an example:

Ashley is a single mom with three, wonderful young kids living outside of D.C. She’s working full time in the city at a nonprofit and is doing the best that she can to support her children. But sometimes her best doesn’t seem to be enough.

Her youngest, Michael, is only three. He is growing so fast! Everyday, Ashley is amazed by something new he does or says. But, living paycheck to paycheck, she just can’t afford to buy him new clothes as often as he needs them. Ashley had to swallow her pride and ask her church for donations to get him through the winter.  

And now she’s worried about paying for child care for him. Luckily, her two oldest children, Sarah and Daniel, are in school. But Michael is too young. If Ashley can’t even pay her full utility bills – can only pay enough to keep the lights on – how is she supposed to pay for child care?

Despite all this, Ashley does what she can to keep things normal for her kids. Ashley will tell you, “I do feel a sense of pride that my kids don’t know the struggles I go through.”

You write the ending. How will you tax plan help Ashley and her children?

Will your plan put more money in her pocket so she can afford to buy Michael a new coat?

Will your plan provide more services so that she doesn’t have to pay for child care for Michael?

Many of my clients will tell me that they don’t have a story to tell. But that’s not true – they just don’t know where to look.

If you need to find a story, the easiest thing to do here is to talk to your base. Maybe they’ve been hurt by policies in the past. Maybe their lives would improve under a new policy. Ask them to share.


Be Concrete

Details make a story successful. Knowing Ashley’s name or Michael’s age makes the story real for your reader. Details allow a person to visualize and see parallels between their own experiences.

But even if you’re not telling a story, concrete details are very important.

For example, you tell me that my taxes are going to go up. If you want me to care, I need to know by how much. $10 a year isn’t really a big deal. But $1,000 will make me sit up and pay attention.

When you use exact numbers, you take something complicated and turn it into something simple. Exact numbers work well in infographics, headlines, and on social media.

Another example: you say your plan will lower taxes for 45 million people living below the poverty line. 45 million is a big number, but I don’t know what it means. I can’t visualize it. Try saying your plan will lower taxes for 45 million people, which is more than the population of California. Now, 45 million people is a tangible number.

A comparison puts your numbers into context. You not only make your numbers easy to understand, you show why your argument is important.


Wrapping it Up

A lot of policy is boring or complicated. But that doesn’t mean people won’t care about it. Use these four tactics to connect with your audience:

  1. Make it personal
    Show people how this policy will affect them.

  2. Find your niche
    Make sure the right people are seeing your content.

  3. Tell a story
    Grab someone’s attention.

  4. Be concrete
    Use numbers to simplify complicated policy.

Email Marketing Platforms: Which One is For You?

Email is still important.

Of all the marketing tools available to you, it’s got the highest return on investment. According to Salsa, if you spend $1, you’ll get $40 back. And, if you’re a nonprofit, it drives a third of your online fundraising revenue.

Especially for a non-profit, choosing the right email platform is essential. But there are so many to choose from. Where do you start? How do you know which one is good for you?

There are plenty of articles out there that will grade the top platforms. Like this one from PC Mag. Or this one from Top Ten Reviews. They do a great job of breaking down all the features available so you can easily compare.

But I’m going to do something a little different. As someone who deals with this stuff everyday, I’m going to share some of my own real experiences with three popular, but very different, platforms: Mailchimp, NationBuilder and Salesforce Marketing Cloud



Good for: a nonprofit just starting out

Here’s the big thing about MailChimp: your account is free – yes, free – up to 2,000 contacts. For that fact alone, MailChimp is the favorite of any nonprofit on a budget. Once your list grows beyond 2,000, their prices are reasonable and they offer nonprofit discounts.

But it’s not just the price that’s good here.

MailChimp is one of the easiest email platforms to integrate into your website. Integrations are the hardest part of building a website because you’re depending on another company’s code. But many CMS, including WordPress, have an easy, out-of-the-box plugin you can use to integrate Mailchimp. This means you can connect your website to your MailChimp account very quickly and in some cases without a developer.

And MailChimp easily integrates with many other tools. For example, if you’re using Stripe for your donations, MailChimp offers a free tool that lets new donors automatically sign up for your email list. Fair warning, though – some of the integrations, like PayPal, are paid.

MailChimp has some great pre-fab templates with easy, drag-and-drop functionality. Even the most low-tech person on your staff can create a beautiful email. If you want something custom, you can create an effective template with lots of flexibility.

templates.PNGdrag and drop.PNG

And the reporting isn’t too bad. The interface is clear and intuitive with a nice graph showing your open and click rates over time. A plus here – you can filter the graph to specific lists. But a downside – you can’t filter to segments of a specific list. Another plus – industry open rate data is right in the graph so you can see how you stack up. But another downside – you’ll have to do some math to see what your own average open rate is.


Overall, MailChimp is a good, solid, all-around option. But if you want something a little more robust…



Good for: a nonprofit getting most of their donations from their email list

NationBuilder is an “all-in-one.” It doesn’t just do email. It’s a site builder, a donation platform, an event registration system, a CRM, and more.

If you’re using NationBuilder for more than just email, you can get crazy-specific with your targeting. You can filter your users by a number of criteria including what lists they’re on, their gender, whether they clicked a link in a particular email, the average amount they’ve donated in the past, and more.

Think about it. It’s #givingtuesday. You sent out an email early in the morning asking people for donations. The following day, you want to send a reminder email that people can still donate all holiday season. Well, if you sent the reminder email to everyone, you might seem desperate and spammy. However, with NationBuilder you can target only people who did not open your first email and people who have donated in the past. These people want to get your reminder email!


Talk about a good return on investment.

There is a downside to NationBuilder though. Email isn’t their focus. So, from a strictly email perspective, it’s not the best product.

Most of my clients copy and paste their email content from a word document into their email platform. This always has it’s share of headaches, even if you use a “paste from word” function. However, because the WYSIWYG in NationBuilder is so limited, this can be a real headache. Nearly every week, I’ll have a client using NationBuilder call me because they can’t understand why their paragraph is magically in the same font as their heading. If you don’t know HTML, this can be a real pain.


Additionally, the email analytics are the most bare-bones I’ve ever seen. It should be simple to find your average open and click rate for your emails over time. I hope you like spreadsheets, because you’ll be exporting and manually calculating nearly everything.


How much does NationBuilder cost? It depends on the size of your list and what features you want. Assuming you don’t need much beyond email and donations…The low end is $29/month to email 1,000 people. The high end is $539/month to email 35,000 contacts.


Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Good for: a nonprofit with a huge, complicated database

If you have a huge database with hundreds of lists, it can be difficult to keep them organized.

Salesforce is primarily known for being a CRM, or customer relationship management platform. So it makes sense that their email platform, which is a part of their marketing platform, really stands out when it comes to list organization and segmentation.

Say you ran ads sending users to a series of landing pages with email sign-ups. You can create a folder for advertising, and then have a separate list for each of those landing page sign-ups.

And then, you have local branches of your non-profit. You can create a folder for local branches, and then have a separate list for each branch.

But say you want to reach people across different lists. For example, maybe you need to reach everyone in your database who lives in Ohio. Easy. You can filter all your lists for particular profile attributes and save it as a group.

And just like with your lists, you can organize your groups into various folders.

Salesforce email kinda has it all. Great analytics with data visualization. A/B testing. A powerful editor that doesn’t require HTML. And, if you’re using Salesforce for your donations, an easy integration.

salesforce analytics.PNG

email creation.PNG

The downside to Salesforce? It’s not very intuitive. It’s easy to get lost in the admin interface and difficult to figure out how to do what you want. The learning curve with Salesforce is one of the steepest I’ve seen. And also, it’s one of the more expensive platforms out there. Pricing starts at $400 a month.



Learn HTML, already.

The year was 2004. The Red Sox broke the curse. Nickleback was cool. And an awkward high-school sophomore started teaching herself HTML.


When I ask people why they haven’t learned HTML, the most common answer is, “Because it’s too hard.”

Well, the thing is, HTML isn’t hard. It’s like learning a foreign language, but easier. HTML is based in English and you don’t need to know much (maybe 50 commands) to be proficient.

In high school, I could barely pass an Español test. But I picked up HTML easily.

And, I can tell you, taking the time to learn how to customize the background of my LiveJournal (which required HTML) was the smartest thing I ever did.

Because if you work with web content daily, like I do, having even a basic understanding of HTML makes your life much easier.


Why You should Learn HTML

If you’re working with web content, you’re probably using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal. With a CMS, you’re usually able to upload content without knowing a bit of code.


Until you realize there are limits to what you can do.
Or you can’t seem to make the page look the way it’s supposed to.
Or you can’t make your web developer understand what you want.


1. Flexibility

Often, you can’t do everything you want to do with the toolbar in your CMS.

This is a standard-looking toolbar from a Drupal site:

You can do lots. Center the text, make it bold, embed an image.
But what if you need to change your font size to create a subheading?
Can’t do it.

Maybe you have a more advanced toolbar like this one:

You can do more. You can change your font and even insert a table.
But you still can’t do everything. What if you want to embed a video from YouTube?

You have a couple options:

  • Forget about the video.
  • Spend extra time (and money) calling in a developer for help.
  • Click the “source” button and add some HTML.

If you have a very basic understanding of HTML, you can look at the code and recognize where the video should go. Then it’s as simple as copying the code from YouTube and pasting it in. It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds.


2. Troubleshooting

Have you ever tried pasting your content into Drupal or WordPress and it looks…strange?

Maybe there’s a mysterious black box around the content you can’t get rid of.

Without HTML, you’ll spend ages trying to debug this.
With HTML? It’s easy.

Remove <table>, <tr>, and <td> from the beginning and the end.

Most of the time you’re putting content into your CMS, you’re copying it over from a Word document or an email. And this can cause unexpected formatting issues.

I’ve seen red flag icons in the middle of sentences, and sentences that refuse to be the same font size as the rest of the paragraph.

But once you’re pretty comfortable with HTML, you’ll be able to recognize what I call “junk” code – code that shouldn’t be there. Delete the junk and – boom – content managed.


3. Better Communication

In the digital world, most work is done over phone and email. In fact, I’ve never met 80 percent of my clients face-to-face.

When you’re not able to sit side-by-side at a screen and point at what you want changed, it’s important that you and your developer speak the same language.
And your developer speaks HTML.

Say you have a page with lots and lots of text. And you broke the text up with headings and several types of subheadings.

Now you want to make one type of subheading blue.
You try referencing the actual text to explain what you want. “Make the subheading that says ‘Nickleback is awesome’ blue.”
So your developer changes ‘Nickleback is awesome’ to blue. But all other subheadings like that are still the old color.
So you tell your developer, “No, I meant change all the subheadings.”
Your developer changes all the subheadings on the page to blue.
Back and forth, back and forth.

There’s an easier way.

If you looked at the page code, you would see that all the subheadings you want changed, including ‘Nickleback is awesome,’ are labeled as <h4>.
So you tell your developer to make <h4> blue.


Where you can learn HTML

Ready to learn?

There are lots of places where you can learn HTML for free.

My favorite?

The lessons start right at the very beginning and break it down – perfect for beginners.
Each lesson is short – all you need to do is spend a couple minutes here and there to get the hang of it.
And each lesson is interactive – they keep you engaged.

Try out the Introduction to HTML and see what a difference it makes in your content management!

Join our team! Fall Internship at Brick Factory

Do you want an internship that sets you up to succeed in the digital space? Are you looking to leave your next internship with a serious set of skills? Do you want to work with some pretty awesome people? You’ve come to the right place.

The Brick Factory plans and executes world-class digital campaigns for non-profits, trade associations, advocacy groups and brands. We believe in simple solutions, setting clear goals and objectives, and providing great service to our clients. We believe a good website or campaign is never done and the launch of a website is the beginning, not the end.

The Brick Factory interns will be responsible for supporting our Strategists in the conception, implementation and analysis of many digital initiatives. This includes website, social media, email, mobile and other digital marketing efforts that support new business, our products and client campaigns. This position calls for an individual with strong communication skills, analytic skills and creative thinking ability. This position requires a highly resourceful individual who can think on their feet and can focus under pressure.

What you’ll do:

  • Assist in running our clients’ digital programs. This involves an active engagement that is beyond management, ensuring that our projects ship on time, goals are set, tracked and met, and our clients are provided with clear, high level recommendations that help them succeed in the digital space.
  • Work in a small team environment. You’ll wear multiple hats, provide input and solutions, and work on multiple projects at one time.
  • Contribute to our blog. Brick by Brick is our soapbox to spread the thoughts and opinions of The Brick Factory. Once settled, you’ll be expected to develop new post ideas and contribute innovative content regularly.
  • Aid in new business and marketing efforts. At The Brick Factory everyone is involved in selling new work. Our interns have a large role in managing advertising and marketing campaigns. You will also be constantly looking to expand the work in our existing client portfolio while reaching out to new business prospects.
  • Make yourself and the company better. Meaning that you aren’t ever satisfied with the status quo and are constantly looking to improve yourself, the company and our clients.
  • Something you are interested in. We encourage our interns to tackle a self-driven project from conceptualization to launch during their time with us.

What you bring to the table:

  • You’re a fun person to be around.
  • You have a passion for work in the digital industry and are excited to learn new things.
  • You’re a problem solver. You would rather figure out the best solution than be told how to do it.
  • You’re organized. You can manage multiple projects at once and are dedicated to hitting deadlines.
  • You’re detail-oriented and you double check your work. Whether it’s making sure a document has standard formatting or looking through your code for typos, you know a project isn’t done unless it’s done well.
  • You have some experience with HTML, marketing and sales research, and analytics tools. A big plus if you have experience with CSS and JavaScript as well.
  • You have a strong writing background. Your communication skills are exceptional and you have experience creating and editing content for clients.
  • Have used or are willing to learn Adobe products such as InDesign, Dreamweaver and Photoshop.

What you can expect from us:

  • A metro accessible office in downtown Washington, DC.
  • A great work environment, with plenty of opportunity to learn.
  • Training and professional development opportunities.
  • Compensation during the extent of your internship.
  • A fun team of enthusiastic and talented people.
  • Occasional work activities, lunches, and happy hours.
  • Additional random perks and benefits.

The Details:
Dates: September 2015 through December 2015 (can be flexible for the right candidate)
20-25 hours a week in the office

Sound interesting? Take a look around our website, blog, Facebook and Twitter. If you think we’d be a good fit please send a resume and cover letter to analystjobs@thebrickfactory.com.


Email Marketing: 5 Big Mistakes

How many unread emails are in your inbox right now?

I’ve got Groupon, Linkedin, The Boston Globe, my alma mater, Ticketmaster, Rent the Runway, Zipcar, Proflowers, Bluehost, and Seamless. I could go on.

I’ll delete most without opening.
The ones I do open? I skim them. Five seconds, tops. Then I delete.
An email that actually convinces me to open, read, and click is pretty rare.

Well…I’m busy.

I’m not the only one. Your followers are just as likely to trash your email.
Open rates vary by industry, but, on average, it’s about 20 percent.

Even people who do open your emails aren’t reading every word. They’re just as likely to skim as I am.
Users spend only 15 to 20 seconds reading the emails they do open.

But email is very important. For every dollar spent, the average return on investment is about $44. And for nonprofit fundraising campaigns, each usable email can net $12.46 in revenue a year.

You need to send emails.

But how do you keep people from clicking the trash can? How do you get users excited about your emails? How do you get the results you want?


  • Have something to say.
  • Say it quickly.
  • Make it easy.

With that framework in mind, here are the five biggest mistakes I see time and time again, mistakes that cause my cursor to hover over delete:



I just laid down some enticing stats about how your email list helping to generate revenue. But pause for a one second.

Your email list is not an ATM.

Every email in that database of yours belongs to a real person, a real person who is kinda interested in your organization.

You can’t send out email after email asking people to donate or register or whatever. Before someone will take action for you, you need to build your relationship and demonstrate your value.

Take donations…
If I’m going to donate I have to go get my purse, dig through who-knows-what to find my wallet, pull out my card, type in a sixteen-digit number, type in my address…it’s a lot. I have to have some pretty strong feelings for you before I’ll donate.

Instead of just peppering your list with donation pleas, you need to give them what they want. Why did they sign up for your list in the first place? What do you have to say that is relevant to them? What do they care about? Think about what your audience wants and give it to them.

Once you’ve got that going, you can send an email asking users to take action. But keep a good proportion.
For every five emails you send, four should be content your audience cares about.

And speaking of sending…


Sending Too Much

Tuesday and Thursday are still considered the best days to send your email because the open rates tend to be higher. However, everyone got the message. These days are becoming very crowded. It’s worth exploring other days, looking at your data, and seeing what works best for your audience.

Every audience is different.
I’ve got some clients that send an email every single day. I’ve got others that send an email once a month.

How often does your audience want to receive emails from you? How often can you send an email without them becoming annoyed?

It really can depend.
But a good place to start? Once a week.

If you’re seeing tons of unsubscribes and a low open rate, try sending fewer emails.
Interested in sending more emails? If you have the content to support it, try a pilot program sending emails twice a week. After this has been going for a while, check your stats to determine what your audience likes.

But even within a single list you might have some users that want more and some users that want list.
Which is why list segmentation is essential.

You’re going to have users who want emails once a day. Some, once a week. Others, once a month. Many email marketing platforms allow you to have an unsubscribe page where users can select their frequency. When a user is annoyed that you’re blowing up their inbox, instead of unsubscribing entirely they can just select “once a month.” Instead of losing leads, you’re letting them tell you exactly what they want.


Subject line

Should I delete an email or open it?
Often, it depends on the subject line.

In your subject line you’re explaining what you have to say and why it’s relevant to your audience. You’re explaining, immediately, the value of your email and how it’s something the user wants to read.

So first and foremost, your subject line needs to be relevant.

It also needs to be the right length.

A good subject line is short – it gets to the point. It displays well in your user’s mail clients and allows a little bit of a content preview.
I recommend keeping your subject line under 50 characters, including spaces.

Also, keep in mind that your subject lines can be big triggers for automatic spam filters. Using all-caps or special characters (including exclamation points) increases the chance you’ll be marked as spam.


Too much text

Everyone is busy. Most users are going to spend only 15 seconds or so looking at your email.

So, it’s safe to assume your users are not going to read your four paragraphs of text. (And this is especially sad since it took you quite a while to write.)

You need to get to the point right away.
And yes – your email should have just one point.
Say what you need to say, say it briefly, and provide users with links to more info.

Assume your users are skimming. Break up your text to make it easier for them to get the most important information quickly. Headings and bullets are your best friends. Find a way to make your links stand out. Use buttons, video thumbnails, or contrasting colors. If the purpose of your email is to send the user to your website, they should be able to find that link immediately.

I should note that you should be careful about relying solely on images to draw attention. Some programs, like Outlook, block images automatically.


Ignoring Mobile

With mobile, load time is always a concern. If a page takes more than a few seconds to load, a user will give up. This is also true for emails on mobile.

What’s the number one way users are reading their email?
Their iphone.

Today, more email is read on tablets and phones than on computers.

So why are so many people ignoring mobile?

You’ve likely heard about responsive design – how a webpage resizes and realigns content to display well on any device. But fewer people are using responsive design in their emails.

Often, a design that looks great on a computer will be unreadable on a phone. Sometimes the fonts are too small, sometimes the columns are too narrow.

You likely have a responsive template – whether it’s custom or out-of-the-box, most designers are making email templates responsive. But if you’re managing your own content, it’s likely not responsive.

Which means you need to test. And test. And test. Before you send an email, make sure you can read it on mobile.