One of advertising’s greatest challenges is battling public perception that all advertising and marketing is dishonest, corrupt, and downright evil. An even harder challenge is battling this perception in nonprofit marketing. Nonprofits are generally perceived as a societal saving grace in the wake of corporate trickery and greed, so one would think marketing a benevolent nonprofit is easy. Well, not exactly.

All About Branding

Like any other company or organization, marketing for nonprofits relies heavily on how they are branded. Look at The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, The American Heart Association and Susan G. Komen. These are nonprofits who branded their way to the most popular and successful nonprofits in America today. They achieved their success through creative consistency, high-caliber partnerships (think NFL and Breast Cancer Awareness Month), and, well, money. Most nonprofits don’t have the enormous advertising budget to promote themselves like these heavy-hitting organizations. Rather than focus on spend, smaller nonprofits should focus on messaging and strategy.

Brand image is the key to nonprofit marketing success. As wide-ranging and loosely defined as “brand image” is, that’s the whole ballgame. Consumers are far more likely to donate to (or purchase from) a brand that they feel they can trust. Consumer/donor-brand trust can be broken down into five essential aspects that work in unison:

  • Transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Urgency
  • Emotion
  • Connection

Transparency is vital to building brand trust for nonprofits. If a donor is giving their money away, they should be able to clearly identify where their money is going. This can be achieved through a simple website page with a percentage breakdown of exactly how the donor money is allocated.

Nonprofits are naturally perceived as authentic, but there are a few surefire ways in which they can make that authenticity even bolder. Featuring staff on social media so the public can put faces to the organization is a great way to improve authenticity. Staying local is another vital component to remember. People are more likely to donate if they know their money goes back into their community.

Urgency is a key component in any nonprofit’s marketing strategy. People are much more likely to get donate to or get involved with a nonprofit if they feel they are making an impact in the here and now. Nonprofit branding campaigns should always be call-to-action focused. Highlighting a shocking statistic, like one in three women in America die from heart disease, is an effective method of keeping a nonprofit’s cause in the front of consumers’ minds.

All marketers know that taking the hard-hitting emotional route is usually the most effective tactic. It’s doubly true for nonprofit marketing. Storytelling is an important part of any branding strategy, and nonprofits that work directly with causes that affect people’s lives have a unique opportunity to tell really damn good stories.

People who feel personally connected to a product, service, or cause are far more likely to make a purchase or donation, and repeat. Nonprofits should focus their messaging on the people who have been positively affected by the nonprofit’s support. Telling those stories has a better chance of making that personal connection with other people, resulting in more perceived value in where their dollars go and building more consumer-brand trust.

Methods and Measurements

The five essential aspects of nonprofit marketing should provide a general idea of where to focus your advertising efforts. If not, let’s expand on some methods and metrics.


A strong social media presence is a must for nonprofits. Content on social platforms should always stick to cultivating authenticity, urgency, emotion and connection. This is the perfect avenue to feature an organization’s staff, inform about events, tell stories, and definitely educate whenever possible. Producing quality content is key – every post needs to purposefully hit on one of the five aspects. Also, brands that have high social engagement but don’t reciprocate that engagement (i.e. responding to comments and shares) are doing social wrong.


Email marketing is huge and just keeps growing. It’s a proven method of reaching an audience. As always, the content going out in emails has to be the right kind of content. Use email to inform and invite viewers to events. Email is also a great tool to cultivate a sense of urgency by providing some kind of unique offer. Steer clear from things like employee features and other things short content that could be saved for social. Don’t be just another spam email.

Public & Media Relations

Forming connections with the local community and local media are a must for nonprofits. Radio plugs, television spots, daytime news features, billboards, newspaper inserts – you name it, nonprofits should be doing it. People trust their local news/broadcast outlets more than pretty much any other media. Get involved and get talking.


Donated dollar amount is the basic measuring stick for nonprofit effectiveness. Regarding marketing, though, donations don’t always tell the full story. Another reliable metric to nonprofit marketing success is sheer involvement. If social media posts are seeing an uptick in shares, likes, comments, etc. or if email open rates are higher or if a donation comes in as a referral from the local TV station – that’s successful marketing. Money is everything and isn’t everything, all at the same time.

If you’ve been living under a rock these past few years, it may have slipped your notice that video consumption has risen to a digital marketing superpower. Lucky for you, the team here at Gragg Advertising has been keeping up with video’s prophetic rise.

Video has obviously existed since the birth of the internet, but we’re not talking about viral gut-busters or ridiculous song parodies. We’re in a new era of digital marketing – a “video first world.”

To give you a taste of how we’re just now entering a video first world, daily video views on Facebook increased from 1 billion to 8 billion in 20161. A 7 billion views difference. In one year. All the while text posts and still images are declining year over year.

And we can’t forget we’re also in a “mobile-first world,” as mobile has a lot to do with video’s escalation. 98 percent of millennials – the largest mobile consumers – watch videos on smartphones, to no one’s surprise. More interestingly, 75 percent of smartphone viewers watch videos to completion compared to just 25 percent of desktop viewers. And speaking of enamored consumers, YouTube users are twice as likely to pay close attention while watching YouTube compared to TV users while watching TV. Oh, and 68% of YouTube users watch YouTube to help make a purchase decision2.

So, how are marketers using video now that we have the undivided attention of the masses? Let’s take a look.

Video Ubiquity

74% of online traffic in 2017 will be video-based. Blogs, in-site video, Facebook and YouTube will likely be the bulk of the traffic increase. For marketing, branding, and social purposes, it’s mostly Facebook. This top-dog social platform was actually first to fully adopt the video-first movement. Facebook rolled out Facebook Live toward the end of 2016 (with notable excitement and engagement) with aspirations of complete and total video immersion over the next few years.

Social video works. Well, video in general works. Consumers are far more willing to watch a video than they are to read a blog post. They’re way more inclined to make a purchase when pitched with a product video. For broad-stroke purposes any kind of video is better than practically any kind of static blog/image to grab and hold consumers’ attention.

Other video-spawned content like GIFs and text videos are hugely popular, and hugely marketable. You’ve no doubt seen BuzzFeed’s Tasty GIFs or text videos around the web. Short, visually interesting, to-the-point motion graphics; this is an accurate definition of video for modern marketing purposes and for how consumers prefer to consume.

Video is hitting the mark in multiple formats. Video in email results in anywhere from 200-300 percent increase CTR3. Video on landing pages has increased conversion rates up to 80 percent.

We’re also seeing branded content becoming wildly accepted, even popular!

Brand Authenticity

Consumers trust video content. 74% of consumers4 are more likely to buy or sign up for a product or service if they watch a branded social video explaining the product. Simply put, we know that branded video content is far more trusted than practically any other type of content because of how much it is shared. 70% of online users5 say they have shared a brand’s video with a friend, or on their social media channels. Marketers can’t afford to ignore the perceived value of video content.

Branded videos do something better than any other type of content – cultivate authenticity. When brands are firstly honest and genuine, and then relate those values in video format for consumers to actually see and experience…magic happens. Of course, the quality of produced videos is important to consumers. They prefer to be informed, entertained, and moved in that order. Video is hard-hitting branding for now and for the future.



Has anyone seen a referral lately? Referral programs in higher education institutions have withered away in recent years due to concerns in the political environment. Our data shows in 2005, 50 percent of inquiries were from referrals, converting at 18 percent. In 2014, 9 percent of leads were from referrals, converting still at 18 percent. Safe Harbor in 2013 curtailed setting benchmarks for referrals. It’s time to get back to referrals and incorporate compliant strategies into your everyday marketing program. This article covers four elements to a successful referral program:

  • Meeting compliance guidelines
  • Everyday marketing strategies
  • Tips for admissions staff
  • Incentive guidelines

Read the full article, originally featured in Career College Central.

We all know how online dating works, at least conceptually. You, the eligible single, put in all the criteria of what you’re looking for in a potential dating prospect. You can choose physical features: blonde, brunette, red head. You can select a height and weight range. You can even get super granular about it, looking only for those who are Radiohead fans or have a penchant for rock climbing. The core of this is simple: by inputting a set of individual characteristics the dating site uses this data to find your match. The more data you can provide, the more effective the match. Pay-Per-Lead (or PPL, as it’s known in the industry) works in a similar fashion. The difference is that instead of matching people like Tinder or does, we can match universities to potential students or banks to those in need of a loan.

Here’s how it works: by using a network of vendors and affiliate vendors, an ad agency purchases leads on behalf of their clients based upon their needs and/or intended demographic info of a desired prospect. For example, a university could request they only want leads from potential students living in Miami looking to enroll into a medical assisting program within the next three months. The agency would then use its network of vendors to market on behalf of that university, aggregate the data for quality purposes, and then deliver those leads to the client at a pre-established CPL (cost per lead). It’s a simple flowchart of delivery: vendor delivers to ad agency which delivers to client.

The vendor generates. The agency aggregates. The client accepts the inquiry and attempts to convert it into a sale. Gragg Advertising has effectively proven that the PPL model works via its clients in the education sector. However, the PPL model can apply to much more than just universities and their potential students. It can also be used for mortgage, finance, solar, auto loan, and much more. As long as the company has a marketing budget and the ability to work leads, PPL can be utilized in almost any vertical. It’s really a matter of making the numbers work.

So what makes Gragg the best company to run your PPL campaign? The simple answer is that we’ve already done it successfully. PPL has been the cornerstone of our business for over twenty years. Our longevity in the industry as well as our conversion numbers speak for themselves. How we’re able to do this is by working with only established vendors that deliver the highest quality leads. This ensures that anything delivered to our clients is legitimate and has propensity to convert. Everything else, whether that be duplicates or bogus inquiries, are filtered out via our aggregation process.

Finally, Gragg Advertising is completely transparent. As a client, you’ll always know the cost, source, and delivery method of any given inquiry. This information is never shared, and we continually optimize based upon conversion analysis. Essentially, the longer any given client runs a PPL campaign, the more effective we become at finding those perfect matches that have a higher propensity to convert. PPL—much like online dating—is a data and numbers game, and Gragg’s technology puts those numbers in our client’s favor.

Content Marketing

So, advertisers of the world, how do we make content that is worth consumers’ time?

Make it valuable to them is the obvious answer.

For starters, the approach to content strategy should be like all other advertising – get to the consumer in their time of need with something that adds value to their situation, at specific points in their purchase journey. Ah, the elusive purchase journey. Figuring out where the points are that need to be addressed in the customers’ purchase journey takes research – know your funnel, know your customer, create impactful content. But before you can do that, you need to set the stage.  

Now we get to talk about the most unrepresented aspect of content marketing – context. If content is what you say, then context
is the best time and place to start and have the conversation
. Nailing down your content strategy is mostly about context. To find the best time and place to deliver your content, you’ll first need to define the basics of content strategy.

Start with your strategy’s mission statement. Identify your core audience, what you’ll deliver to them, and what they will get out of it. Print it off and slap it on a wall where everyone can see it to forever ensure you’re adhering to your mission statement. Next create the persona(s) of your core audience. You’ve got to know the demographic and personality of the people you’re trying to reach if you’re ever going to produce content tailored to their needs.

Once you know who you’re talking to and why you’re talking to them, decide what kinds of content you’re going to give them. Could be articles, videos, infographics, design pieces, handwritten love letters, pictures of donuts – whatever will best speak to them as they embark on their purchase journey. Equally, if not more important here is where/how you’re going to reach them. Blogs, social media, community forums, email, your own website, etc. Where you’re putting out content will largely depend, AGAIN, on their persona and what their purchase journey looks like.

You’ve got all that down. Your strategy is looking good; your context is almost set. Now you need to define – very clearly – the metrics you’ll use to measure your content’s success and failures. Social media likes and shares, comment or review engagement, CTRs on emails, unique visits on sites (sometimes) and many other metrics commonly fall under your KPIs (key performance indicators).

If it isn’t crystal clear why you need all of this – establishing this kind of context before making the “ask” is a must. What’s the ask? The ask is whatever you’re trying to get the consumer to do. It’s usually something like subscribing to a newsletter, sharing content with others on social channels, or straight purchasing a product/service. The ask could also be more intangible like probing consumers to click the like button, comment on the page, or spread the content via word of mouth. The trick to a successful ask is sort of an equation:

Successful Ask = subtlety + genuine commitment to helping customer

It’s usually never a great idea to flat-out ask the consumer of your content to share or directly make a purchase. See, content is a form of creative no matter how you split it. Creative things are best admired, bought and sold without a ton of commercial undertones. Which brings us to the matter of intent.

Content can’t be completely self-serving if it is to be successful. Don’t sell in every content piece you post, and certainly don’t create content just to sell. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk. You’ve got to be committed to actually helping consumers. The main reason is because it’s not authentic and your audience will probably notice.

More importantly, people aren’t interested in your story – they’re interested in their own story. Your job is to post content that:

  1. Helps them tell their story
  2. Adds value to their story
  3. Makes them identify your brand with their story

If you accomplish any of these, you’ve succeeded in creating impactful content. Cheers.


Presented at CSPEN 2016 by Greg Gragg (Gragg Marketing) and Shawn Graybill (IntegriShield).


One of my favorite marketing quotes comes from Duke University behavioral psychology professor (and all around smart guy) Dan Ariely about big data…

“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…”

The phrase directly applies to content marketing. I’m actually surprised content isn’t what he was specifically referring to. Excluding the “nobody really knows how to do it” part, it’s entirely true.

Some companies, brands, and writers are incredible content marketers. Most, though, do it because everyone else claims they are doing it, and claim they see results from it. Some content marketers produce rapid content hoping the sheer amount of content will spread like wildfire and with each small piece new inquiries, leads, and subscribers will pour in. Other content marketers obsess over spending weeks on creating the perfect piece of high-caliber content hoping that it’ll get picked up by trend-setter sites as the new gold standard. Here’s the truth:

People have been preaching about quality over quantity for years. But really, both have their place in content marketing depending on a number of factors like, say, clients, goals, targets, products, and channels. The important thing is that no matter which avenue you go down, quantity or quality, neither should be sacrificed for the other. Thanks to Google’s Panda and Penguin SEO updates in recent months, unhelpful and useless content tends to get filtered out – so start focusing on strategy.

A good example is Hubspot’s six-month quantity vs quality battle. Hubspot found that high-comprehension content at a low volume didn’t work for them as well as low-comprehension content at a higher volume. Hubspot defined “quality” of content in levels of “comprehension,” but the terms are interchangeable. They also found that different types of content worked better to achieve different goals – traffic and leads. GASP! You mean there isn’t one blanket solution to all of content marketing? Well I’ll be…

Disclaimer: in a lot of cases there are a number of reasons to not favor quantity over quality. Tons of forced-produced content typically goes unnoticed, substance usually lacks, readership connection falls, authenticity takes a hit – take your pick. Scarcity (to an extent) tends to create value. Abundance tends to saturate it. Also, content quantity effectiveness has a lot to do with SEO efforts.

Creating content solely for content’s sake ends up being mediocre at best…and at worst is hot garbage that only adds to the engulfed landfill that is digital clutter.

And mediocre content stems from mediocre strategy.

When a company or brand thinks of time as transactional, they start thinking about their content more like a “viral product.” Is your company making cheap knick-knack weak blog posts intended for one-time use for a few leads that week? Or is your brand making a handcrafted item that can’t be refunded but provides timeless (and time-worth) value? If your company is wasting someone’s time with irrelevant content, they’re unlikely to give you a second chance with their time.


Gragg Advertising Gains New Strategic Partnership in Higher Education

Kansas City, MO – 10/26/2016 – New York Automotive & Diesel Institute (NYADI) appoints Gragg Advertising, a Premier Google Partner, as agency of record. Since 1992 NYADI prepares students to meet the requirements of an ever-changing automotive/heavy duty truck and diesel and collision repair service market. Gragg will provide NYADI a 360-degree, integrated view of all advertising and results through full-service marketing technology.

“It’s always exciting to service a group like NYADI that is committed to academic excellence and we are thrilled to work with them on developing their online presence and local brand awareness,” said Gragg president/COO Darryl Mattox. Gragg specializes in EDU marketing with clientele on over 400 campuses nationwide and online. “Our student recruitment knowledge and over 20 years of direct response marketing will help our clients make smarter marketing decisions and be found in a student’s moment of need.”

From students to campaigns and media channels, Gragg will help NAYDI’s entire marketing landscape come together. As a Gragg client NYADI will have access to proprietary ALPINE Technology; its up-to-the-minute reporting will help optimize ROI and pinpoint where to invest in the brand’s future. And because it’s equipped with more than 80,000 custom validators, NYADI will see only legitimate engagement and response to their brand’s marketing efforts.

“At Gragg we are delivering on the radical idea that marketing can be something people want. There is a huge opportunity for students to engage with brands in the higher education sector and we look forward to working with NYADI,” said Mattox.

Gragg expands agency’s certified online advertising expertise.

Kansas City, MO – 10/21/16 – Google recently recognized a half-dozen more Gragg Advertising employees as AdWords aficionados. Six hard-working employees completed the Google Specialist Challenge, studying, testing, and receiving their Search, Display, Video, Shopping and Mobile Google AdWords Certifications in less than one month.

“We are the proud home to some of Kansas City’s most skilled online advertising professionals,” said Gragg President Darryl Mattox. For over 23 years, the agency has helped brands play a useful role in their customers’ lives. Recognized as a global leader in digital marketing, Gragg continues to analyze and anticipate the evolution of digital marketing plus the immediate and long-term impact it will have on a brand.

As a Premier Google Partner, Gragg holds distinction among only three Premier agencies in the Kansas City area that specialize in both Search and Mobile Advertising. Brands struggling to keep up with the ever-changing trends of digital marketing, and be more impactful with their messaging, rely on the certified expertise at Gragg Advertising.

“It is exciting to see our team proactively continuing their education and enhancing the service value we provide to clients,” said Mattox. This certification is exclusive to members of a Certified Google Partner. To date, Gragg holds individual certifications in each Google AdWords specialty—totaling over 45 including:

  • Search Advertising
  • Mobile Advertising
  • Video Ads
  • Display Advertising
  • Shopping Advertising
  • Google Analytics IQ

“Our team of qualified experts is expanding to help clients grow their business on the web using Google AdWords—and that is something we are honored to share,” said Mattox.

Project Managers wear many hats – collaborators, managers, problem-solvers, facilitators and (sometimes) even interpreters. We translate business needs into action plans for our clients. With responsive design work, search engine optimization, social and traditional media, we put the needs of our client at the heart of our strategy.

Why are Project Managers important?
Companies are focusing on strategic branding and marketing more than ever. In order to ensure the best cost, highest quality and timeliness of projects, we determine the appropriate workflow for each project – efficiently and accurately.

At Gragg, your designated Project Manager will be with you every step of the way throughout a project lifespan – from planning and concepts to production and execution. Our Project Management team works hard to deliver high-quality initiatives that meet or exceed expectations, on time and on budget. As the liaison between internal departments, our responsibility is to keep all projects moving efficiently throughout the process. Project Managers enable the Account Managers to address client facing issues, strategy and planning daily, weekly and monthly; while we identify, analyze, mitigate and monitor projects.

Our process at Gragg Advertising:

Client Client Engagement Team Project Management Strategy, Analytics, Creative, External Vendors, Developers, Media

As we launch new campaigns, Project Managers and the Client Engagement team meet with our clients to confirm strategy and creative direction. We confirm the approach behind each initiative and provide detailed information and guidance to ensure our clients receive the highest value for their project from start to finish. Our goal is to make sure you always feel like you are in-the-know about the status of your campaign. As Project Managers, we work to keep lines of communication open at all times to ensure we have all the details to report back to you through emails, meetings and status reports.

We know communication is important, which is why we have weekly status updates followed by documented action items to report on our discussion. Items covered in these weekly calls include, but are not limited to, deliverable progress, items for attention and priorities for the following week. Throughout the lifecycle of your campaign, our project management team is here to identify, analyze, mitigate and monitor all details of the project from beginning to end.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) estimates there are nearly 8 million federal and private student loan borrowers in default, representing more than $110 billion in owed balances. Millions more are falling behind and struggling to repay their loans. These borrowers may need additional support from servicers to understand and access their repayment options and avoid default. In the last year, student loan debt collection has recently caught the attention of the CFPB, similar to an issue in which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is focusing. This impacts the For-Profit education market due to a large percentage of the past student population being in, or at risk of, default.

Toward the end of 2015, the CFPB released a report outlining widespread servicing failures reported by both federal and private student loan borrowers. Consumers describe companies using a wide range of sloppy, patchwork practices that can create obstacles to repayment, raise costs, cause distress, and contribute to driving struggling borrowers to default. The Bureau has made it a priority to take action against companies that are engaging in illegal servicing practices. The Bureau also intends to explore potential industry-wide rules to increase borrower protections. This work builds on an interagency framework for market-wide reform released in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“With one out of four student loan borrowers struggling to repay their loans or already in default, cleaning up the servicing market is critical,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “(The) report underscores the need for market-wide student loan servicing reforms to halt harmful practices and boost assistance for distressed borrowers.”

In May, the CFPB launched a public inquiry into student loan servicing practices that may make paying back loans a stressful or harmful process for borrowers. The CFPB also sought input on potential solutions to improve service for student loan borrowers in repayment. In response to the public inquiry, the Bureau received over 30,000 public comments.

Recommendations for Reform:

  • Create consistent, industry-wide standards for the entire servicing market
  • Hold servicers accountable
  • Provide access to clear, timely information
  • Improve publicly available data

The CFPB’s focus on student loan servicing, should see consent orders or contested enforcement actions. To date, the CFPB has brought multiple enforcement action concerning student loan servicing, and has flagged student loan servicing issues in its Supervisory Highlights publication. The agency has identified student loan servicing as one of its priorities over the next two years. With actions already levied against four companies, 2016 is looking like the year of student loan servicing enforcement at the CFPB.

Student loan borrowers can get advice on student loan repayment options by using the CFPB’s Repay Student Debt tool. This interactive resource offers a step-by-step guide to navigate borrowers through their repayment options, especially when facing default. The new version of this tool, launched last year, provides borrowers with sample instructions to send to their student loan servicer to protect themselves against payment processing problems and auto-defaults. It also has information about how to request a lower monthly payment when experiencing financial distress. Student loan borrowers experiencing problems related to repaying student loans or debt collection can also submit a complaint to the CFPB.

In our opinion, this is good news for the For-Profit sector as these actions could push loan processors to educate the borrowers as to their repayment options to stay out of default. With the ultimate goal of assisting the consumer in understanding their options before they default and being able to “side step” additional fees and costs associated with their debt, this is seen as a positive step in government intervention.

If you’d like to discuss further how the regulatory spotlight on loan processors may impact your school, please email me at

This article was written with excerpts from CFPB news releases in 2015 and 2016 as well as and “NerdWallet”.