Success in Digital Acquisition

29th March by Jo Hastie

Published on


This month we talk to George Milne, Planning Director with AAW Audience and Mark Housden at CBM, the overseas disability charity, about the success of a recent digital acquisition campaign with a phenomenal ROI.

Mark and George identify what factors were key to making this campaign a success, bringing in new supporters and raising funds from social media to help people living around the world in poverty with a disability.

Mark Housden

Mark Housden is Head of Marketing with a wide remit at CBM (Christian Blind Mission), covering fundraising, stewardship and acquisition, as well as innovation and testing of new activities.

CBM and AAW Audience have worked together for a number of years on traditional acquisition channels but the challenge of diminishing returns was looming. To eliminate this risk and widen their acquisition mix, AAW Audience suggested testing digital.

Starting off small

CBM started out by running some small-scale internal campaigns, before testing digital ads as part of their DRTV campaign in Christmas 2019 in partnership with AAW Audience. The results were really encouraging, recruiting one-off donors with a good Cost Per Acquisition (CPA). Then back in March, they reacted quickly putting their learnings to the test and together launched an emergency Covid-19 digital appeal. Again, the results were really promising and kept improving.

When lockdown hit, forcing people to spend more and more time online, Mark states “We definitely saw digital as one of the channels that we wanted to push a lot further and saw some opportunities there as a good way to reach people”.

For their latest campaign, CBM turned to AAW Audience to help create a five-week series of 12 digital adverts as part of a broader UK Aid Match campaign benefiting from match funding by the UK government. The digital element of the acquisition campaign ran alongside direct mail, inserts and press ads, to help raise money and awareness for people in some of the world's poorest places with sight loss.

Mark states that “One of the good things about working with AAW Audience is that they can be involved as little or as much as required. For this integrated campaign we already had key messages and case studies alongside a great new in-house digital fundraiser, so we built the adverts ourselves to AAW Audience’s final concepts and they managed the campaign, alongside our digital media agency.”

The campaign, which primarily took place on Facebook, raised a staggering £24,000 with an ROI of around 1:3. As Mark states “To get a positive ROI from acquisitions has been amazing for us. It was something that we weren't really expecting and that's before the match funding”.

As well as social, CBM also ran a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign over the Christmas period; the charity was the highest rated pay per click on Google, featuring well above some of the more traditional Christmas campaigns. As a result of the success with PPC, they have now moved to an Always On approach – meaning they are now always focused on consistent audience engagement.

The secrets of digital acquisition success

So, what led to such positive results? Both George and Mark have similar answers around regular testing and refining. AAW Audience’s partnership with CBM over the last 18 months has enabled them to track and gradually optimise their digital programme, developing different creatives and building up a better audience.

For this campaign, different messages around helping a child go to school, helping people to see their loved ones, or helping prevent social isolation in a world without sight were trialled – the latter performing particularly strongly. George states “We had laid the groundwork for images around isolation through earlier testing of the stark image of an adult alone on a hospital ward during the Covid-19 appeal, moving away from the traditional image of a child facing the camera used previously”. Later adverts closer to Christmas featured a religious message (a large part of CBM’s target audience is Christian) as well as trialling positive messaging around thanking those who had already donated. Testing also took place around advert formats and the use of short video clips vs static photos.

Facebook CBM ad

Target audiences were also refined on Facebook. As George explains “the platform enables you to target people who are similar to those who have already made a donation to your charity and retarget those who have gone on to your website and not made a donation – but you can’t take advantage of that unless you have tested adverts previously.”

AAW Audience’s digital media agency was able to set up tracking to monitor conversion rates and the subsequent number and value of donations, allowing CBM and AAW Audience to monitor the performance of specific creatives and audiences and as Mark states “to really drill down into was working and what wasn’t, and react quickly to that”.

The campaign’s success can also be attributed to the work that CBM had put in to support the donor journey and experience: a new donation page went live just before the campaign, making it easier and quicker to donate. The new page messaging also significantly increased the amount of people opting-in to receive emails from the charity which are now automatically loaded onto a supporter database for future contact.

Advice for other charities

We asked both George and Mark what advice they would have for other charities looking at digital acquisition. Here they identify three key things:

  1. Digital Focus. Mark recommends that charities be bold in focusing on digital: “We’ve been doing smaller scale testing for a number of years, but we knew the UK Aid Match campaign was our opportunity to get our message out and that we had to really make that leap and invest in digital. The big thing is to understand the new audience you want to target and be willing to test lots of different concepts and messages that you might not normally try.”
  2. Confirm Budgets. Mark also recommends that you have a budget planned beforehand: “We were in a fortunate position to be able to increase budget during the campaign when we saw the positive ROI, but we also learned that increasing the budget whilst live means you go back to the learning phase… but overall, we’re delighted at how the campaign went”.
  3. Be Realistic. George concludes “CBM is a great case study on how to build your digital acquisition programme – investing in a channel to make it a success, optimising elements and repeated testing and don’t expect amazing results straightway – your investment will eventually pay off.”