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"Charities are trying to get to a one-to-one communication”

Romain Bertrand, head of marketing at JustGiving, talks to Michael Barnett about the psychology of generosity and how the growth of data is changing the way the organisation communicates with consumers.

Romain Bertrand

Marketing Week (MW): What are the most important trends in data that you currently see, and how are they influencing JustGiving’s marketing?

Romain Bertrand (RB): The data is becoming much richer and more complex. Before, maybe the data was there but it wasn’t necessarily aggregated in a way that you could make sense of it. Now what we are trying to do is to look at the different data we have; whether it is behavioural, looking at how people interact with different charities, or social media information on what people’s friends are doing.

We are trying to find data scientists who are interested in psychology. At the moment we are working with some people at Cambridge University to try and combine softer data with hard metrics, looking at personality and whether we can drive generosity [in donations]. We describe it as a graph of how people give and why they give, made up of all the different motivations and triggers involved.

MW: How does understanding the psychology of generosity help JustGiving?

RB: When you look at how people give, you can build motivational models. People fall into six or seven different categories of motivation. The next layer is the trigger, which is what people actually respond to. Suddenly the motivation is less important because there is peer pressure, or there is something happening in the news or in front of you in the street. It’s quite complex.

MW: Can you give any examples of how people’s motivations to donate to charities can differ?

Just Giving 1

JustGiving says people are happy to opt in to get information

RB: In the UK, we have incorporated social media into everything we have done and it works tremendously well; but in Japan, people are very reluctant to talk about how generous they are and whom they give to. We have two core propositions: the fundraising proposition and then the direct giving proposition, which is people giving more directly to a charity, project or cause. We’ve got both in Japan, but we found in the last two years that donations have been driven by big disasters.

In the UK, we have more individual fundraising, at big events like the Great North Run or the London Marathon, but also the day-to-day fundraising people are doing because someone they knew passed away or they want to organise something in their neighbourhoods to raise money for the local school, for example. That is a model that we would like to replicate as much as possible.

MW: Does working across international markets bring technical challenges for collecting and processing data from different sources?

RB: Yes, two years ago we wouldn’t have been able to do any of that, so we have had to invest a lot in our platform over the past 18 months. We made sure it could handle international currencies, for example, and also that we were able to get data in and out.

We have a developer ecosystem, where third parties can take our APIs [developer platforms] and develop their own applications. We already have over a thousand developers in the past year that have used our APIs to develop their own applications. They can be for a campaign at Christmas, or linked to a game on mobiles; the possibilities are endless.

We have been operating in a small number of international markets for some time. We have been in the US for eight or nine years, more recently in Japan and Holland; so we have Asia, Europe and North America. We get access to very rich data and we can see that there are tremendous differences in how consumers and charities operate. At the same time, it adds to the complexity about how you use the data: there are national privacy laws that are different in different markets.

MW: How is JustGiving’s marketing department adapting the data skills it possesses in response to this growth?

RB: The data is getting much richer and we have now started building the in-house expertise to be able to make sense of that. In marketing, for example, the type of experience we have in customer relationship management has completely been transformed from what we had before.

We are also starting to develop data science teams, which didn’t exist before. We have three data scientists – they are mathematicians, or people who come from that kind of background, and we wouldn’t necessarily have found them in this kind of organisation in the past.

What has changed recently is that we have the talent and resources that weren’t available before to really use that data – to help consumers to find causes and charities and ways to give that are much more personal to them; and to help charities to do a better job of finding the right sponsors, fundraisers and givers that are most relevant to their causes, and to waste less of their marketing budget in doing so.

MW: How is your data strategy changing the way you communicate with consumers?

Just Giving 3

RB: In our consumer base we look at two types of users. One is the fundraiser, who sets up fundraising campaigns, and for us data is a way to help them maximise how much money they can make through their campaigns. We can give them insight into the features that are working best for them, the same way LinkedIn does it – by saying, if you use this feature or add that information to your profile, you will maximise your chances of reaching your goals.

For the consumers who give to charity, we are trying to match people with charities that mean something to them, to come up with communications that are engaging, and for them to find the right ways to donate. That’s a big change. Before it was very much mainstream: charities were trying to blast everybody.

Now, they are trying to get to a one-to-one communication, where they can say this is the personalised set of recommendations for you. We have really high opt-in rates. We don’t see any deterioration over time; actually we are seeing that opt-in rates are improving and people are happy to opt into getting charity communications.

MW: How good do you think charities are at understanding the data behind fundraising in general?

RB: I think they are investing a lot in this area. What we can help them with is the cross-section view we have. What they are seeing [from their own data] is quite one-dimensional, whereas we are looking at how people have a portfolio of causes and interests and how it evolves over time.

We also look at helping charities across multiple media channels: probably about 40 per cent of all our traffic is mobile, which is above average for the industry standard. We think if you combine social media on mobile it is already creeping above 50 per cent.

That view of new trends is really helpful for them because they haven’t necessarily invested as much in digital channels as we have. We help them understand what the future might bring. We share a lot of consumer insight, market trends and infographics.

MW: How does JustGiving fit in with other fundraising activities such as street fundraising?

RB: What we are trying to do is to make more channels to consumers available to charities: some people don’t like ‘chuggers’ and giving to people in the street, and don’t trust them. But I don’t think we are in competition with them. Our business model is based on the charities doing well, and growing the overall generosity of people in this country and internationally [as charities pay JustGiving a fee]. We collaborate with charities, we don’t see it as competition.

There are two values that I am interested in. One is our long-term approach, which has always been the case: we have always tried to reinvest our profits to research and develop new technologies and make them available to charities. The other is collaboration, working with charities and other parties that we are trying to bring into this marketplace. For example, we have realised that companies can play a big role in making people more generous.

Last year we launched a product for companies to have a free page where they can incentivise each other to set up fundraising pages, organise events and so on. We are trying to add more and more people to the party.

MW: Do you think consumers understand JustGiving’s business model, and that it is not a charity?

Just Giving 2

Direct giving is not as popular in the UK as individual fundraising, JustGiving finds

RB: We are doing our best across all our communications to make sure that we are as explicit as possible about what we do. We constantly test whether people understand the business model. There are always going to be some people who don’t get it, but I think we are getting better at it. We had a refresh of the website last year, where we tried to improve the transparency around the business model and our fees [5 per cent of Gift Aid]. We came up with more interactive ways to explain, such as videos.

MW: How does your data strategy differentiate you from competitors such as Virgin Money Giving and BT MyDonate?

RB: It is a huge differentiator. The access to data and innovation are really the pillars of what we do. I don’t think our competitors are necessarily thinking about things in the same way. What we have seen so far is them replicating what we invented – sometimes doing it better, I’m sure – but we are trying to keep investing so that we stay ahead. We are not seeing them catch up any time soon.

They came in with aggressive ambitions and there were statements when they started about trying to get rid of JustGiving, but many years later we still have a large majority of the market and we are still growing at a very fast pace, which is great – it means the total market is growing and there are different propositions on the market. It keeps us on our toes.

Romain Bertrand on charities’ data marketing

“What we have seen so far is [our competitors] replicating what we invented – sometimes doing it better, I’m sure – but we are trying to keep investing so that we stay ahead.

They came in with very aggressive ambitions and there were a lot of statements when they started about trying to get rid of JustGiving, but many years later we still have a large majority of the market.”

Romain Bertrand’s data challenges

1. One of the biggest risks of data is the volume of it. How do you start making sense of it? There is no other way than to deal with it in little chunks, and doing a lot of testing and learning. We invest more and more in the things that are paying back.

2. All the channels in the marketing mix are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the value of what they deliver. That’s inevitable. The data we have now pushes us to demonstrate our return on investment like we couldn’t do before, therefore our above-the-line priority is to be more accountable.

3. There is a lot of talk about data privacy. As long as you use the data in a way that is in the interests of the consumer and you make sure you add value to their experience, the consumer is ready to engage and give you access to the information to communicate with them.

Romain Bertrand on…

…Science and creativity

There is so much demand for experienced data scientists. We are trying to have a mix of young talent coming through – people who are maybe fresh graduates – working with more experienced people. Because we are building capability we have to use both in-house and external people.

If you want to be a successful marketer today, you have to work both sides of the brain. You have to have a quantitative approach while not forgetting that you are still dealing with people, so the qualitative element is still very important – being able to talk to users. We still do as much user research and as many focus groups as we used to in the past.

The temptation, when you have so much data, is to stop thinking about the people who are interacting with your products and just to mine the data to make conclusions quickly. We are trying to find people who are very data-driven but still have a creative side and a humanitarian side. That’s very difficult.

CV Romain Bertrand

March 2011-present Head of marketing, JustGiving

August 2008-January 2011 Head of acquisition and partnerships, Photobox

April 2008-August 2008 Senior marketing manager, T-Mobile International

July 2005-January 2008 Head of product marketing and other roles, Skype

March 2005-June 2005 Product manager, Amazon.com

April 1999-February 2005 Co-founder, Homeport

March 1997-April 1999 Brand manager, L’Oreal Ukraine

Readers' comments (1)

  • This is a really interesting article. I work in data analysis and insight, but have always had an interested in the human side, taking Psychology as a degree. I completely agree with what has been said here, and would love to be in the position where I could work to bring both these elements together. Keep up the good work!

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