Blog Post

#SXSWinteractive: Big Data and the Advocate Journey

While native advertising percolated up in almost every session on digital communications at South by Southwest (SXSW), conversations and discussions about Big Data were even more ubiquitous
April 12, 2016
Boy using computer
Like native advertising, “Big data” is a term that carries meaning with people in marketing and communications, but may leave others scratching their heads.
Big data is a complicated beast. The best way to understand the value of big data is to look at how it intersects with, and improves a user journey (i.e., the online and/or offline path someone goes through to complete an action).
Most B2B and B2C businesses use big data systems to sell a product or service. While product sales are not the goal of non-profits and foundations, a big data system can be just as useful for driving, tracking and increasing advocate engagement.
Establishing a big data system enables organizations like yours to:
  • Deliver personalized communications to supporters through segmentation and dynamic content
  • Adapt messaging and campaign strategy through data-driven decisions
  • Provide performance evaluation — reporting that shows the success of the communications strategy
Using the following customer journey as a guide, let’s look at how a big data system improves each step:
Generate Interest → Engage → Transact → Satisfy → Repeat

Generate Interest

Typically considered part of the “customer acquisition” process, the first step is generating interest from potential advocates, through owned earned, and paid media – including traditional, digital and social, and outreach. You can use the wealth of data available on individuals – such as their interests, affiliations, and demographics – to create targeted, relevant advertising content. This makes your efforts to generate interest more fruitful.
For example, Facebook allows organizations to target advertising to people who have donated to a liberal cause. For an organization that works on liberal issues, this would be particularly effective way to generate interest amongst likeminded people who would be receptive to the messages.


Often, marketers think engagement starts when a customer or advocate responds to a brand. While the first action an individual takes marks a key point in the process, engagement really needs to start much earlier, in the planning phase.
To engage an audience, the content you deliver must provide them with something that helps them become more informed or improves their life. For this reason, a content strategy – which maps out your target audience, considers their values, lifestyles and needs and provides an actionable plan for content development – is an essential planning document.
And here’s where big data helps: During the Generate Interest phase, organizations have collected data that informs their understanding of each advocate – for example, where she encountered your message, which content she responded to (topic and channel) and interest preferences you captured in a signup form.
That data allows organizations to communicate with new advocates based on preferences they’ve already expressed. This increases an advocate’s likelihood of further engagements — and, more importantly, demonstrates to the advocate that the organization values them as a supporter.


A transaction means turning engagement into a “conversion.” In B2C marketing, this might be the point at which someone makes a purchase. In advocacy campaigns, this conversion typically involves an advocate responding to an action alert by, for example, sending a letter to policymakers, signing a petition or donating to a cause.
Your big data and communications system plays its most important role in the transaction phase. If you are unable to deliver a simple, seamless experience for your advocates, conversion rates will be low and many users will abandon the process before completing the action.
A big data communications system allows you to deliver a call to action to the most relevant audience segment and provide a smooth user experience that asks very little of the advocate in terms of effort or technological savvy. Once he clicks to take action in an email, an advocate should land on an action page pre-populated with his information. No logins, no passwords, no hassle. At that point, all the advocate has to do is read the action alert and press send.


The second-most important part of the advocate journey after the transaction is communicating the value of that action to advocates. Your organization should show them specifically what their participation helped accomplish: who it benefited, how it improved the community, how it accomplished the immediate goal and how it ties to the wider cause of your organization. Thank your advocates and drive home the point that their voices matter in community issues.
Your big data system can do this for you automatically, by sending automated, personalized emails or even physical mailings after an advocate has completed a transaction.


The groundwork for repeating the success is laid in all the previous steps as well as in ongoing communications and data management. Teasing an upcoming action on an issue while thanking your advocates for taking action is a good way to get them thinking about what’s coming next and help them feel informed and part of the process.
Throughout continual engagement with supporters, an organization can further refine its communications through a big data system to message advocates based on previous actions and advocate status. The status spectrum may span from simply “active advocates” all the way to “power players,” and your messaging strategy should incorporate that information. For instance, power players may be primed for more communications and for more significant asks on behalf of the organization or issue.
A big data communications system functions to give your supporters information and opportunities to make a difference in the way that’s comfortable to them and on the issues they care about. It also creates an infrastructure for performance reporting that informs all aspects of an organization’s work and outreach efforts. If we know anything about customers, supporters or advocates today, we know that they want information personalized to their interests, and a big data communications system allows you to deliver just that.

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