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Creative Is The New Targeting

Have you heard that yet?

What does it mean?

Is it the end of “know your audience”?

It wasn’t long ago that, when setting up a paid digital campaign, you would want to define some very specific audience targeting instructions in your ad platform in order to spend your budget on the users most likely to become donors or volunteers. This is why we were always striving to understand our donors and what makes them tick—so that we could continually refine targeting, improve results, and save money.

But that aspect of donor acquisition and lead generation in digital fundraising is quickly coming to an end.

At the beginning of 2024, Google and Meta’s advertiser platforms rolled out and ramped up the ability to outsource audience targeting entirely to them. Essentially, they are saying that as long as you’ve connected your datasets (pixels), tags, and event properties correctly, they will do the rest. And most likely, they’ll do it better than you. 

This feels like a radical act of trust if you’re a digital marketer. It’s a very, very different way of thinking about campaign structure and strategy—to throw audience identification and segmentation out the window entirely.

So, if we let go of the reins on audience targeting, what’s left for us to grasp on to?

The creative! The offers, copy, images, and videos that we provide for ad platforms to mix, match, and deliver on our behalf.

Dynamic creative is a function of tools like Meta Ads Manager and Google Ads that encourages you to upload a diverse inventory of creative assets. The systems will then generate and serve as many variations as possible to gather data on which combination is most likely to generate the desired result, and then optimize it further to achieve that result in a cost-efficient manner. This isn’t a new feature, but it’s getting better all the time, especially for those who know how to make the most of it.

In other words, your job is no longer to find your target audience through an understanding of interests, behaviours, or demographics. Now your job is to generate a LOT of creative assets (images, headlines, copy, landing pages, etc.) that will connect with prospective donors, regardless of any discernible characteristic about them.

And this never ends.

There’s never one “winner” when creative assets compete for conversions. There are winners, plural. The goal is not to get to a place where we can say “x is the best creative”, but instead to get to a place where we can say “x is the best creative for a, y is the best creative for b, z is the best creative for c”, et cetera ad infinitum.

What does all this look like in actual practice?

  1. Create a campaign* with a sales or lead generation objective, measure results through a dataset (pixel), Conversions API, or Google Tag. This step can be tedious, but it’s essential. You can’t skip this step. 

  2. Create several ad groups or sets that have distinctly different creative tactics. For example, Ad Group #1 is emotional storytelling, Ad Group #2 is statistics about the issue, and Ad Group #3 is humour and fun. Budgets should be set at the ad group level while testing.

  3. If an Ad Group pulls away as exceptionally effective, it graduates to using the campaign budget directly, or to a new campaign entirely with its own budget greater than its initial testing budget.

  4. Develop and add more ads and assets to this winning ad group.

  5. Create a new ad set or ad group with a new creative tactic to run against your other ad group tests.

  6. Repeat steps 1-4.

Circling back to that big question of “Have we reached the end of ‘know your audience’?” The answer is an emphatic NO!

“Knowing your audience” is key at every stage in the donor journey after the acquisition, when you’ll need to personalize messaging, segment data, and steward donors. Acquisition is difficult and expensive. Your true advertising return on investment is best evaluated on a multi-year time horizon that considers renewal rates, monthly conversion rates, upgrades and more.

Not sure where to start, or if your charity is even equipped to adopt this new mode of campaigning? Email us. Broccoli has developed a Digital Infrastructure Audit that looks at 100+ core digital fundraising functions. The assessment helps our clients identify gaps and prioritize next steps, and can be combined with support hours where we help fill those gaps and set you up for future success.

*A Note about Planning and Timelines

A present-day reality of the automated targeting options in our ad platforms is that they take time to optimize and reach the advertising equivalent of cruising altitude. In theory, the longer they run, the more efficient the ads will be. So, if this is an approach you want to begin taking, plan for having an “always on” or “evergreen” effort, rather than time-bound campaigns measured in days or weeks. For those shorter campaigns like Giving Tuesday or your year-end appeal, consider boosting organic content to your followers while the acquisition campaign hums along behind the scenes.



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Holly H. Paulin, CFRE and Brock Warner CFRE are the co-founders of Broccoli, and have over 30 years combined experience helping nonprofit fundraisers and charities do more. 

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