Since 2016, Advancing Dispute Resolution has partnered with nonprofit community programs and state associations to increase public awareness of dispute resolution skills and services. This initiative leveraged over $2 Million in donated Google Ad Grants advertising to display targeted messages in response to public search queries on a wide range of conflict contexts. For example, late night searches for noise ordinance information were met with ads linking them to helpful communication tips for neighbors. Individuals seeking divorce attorneys were shown ads promoting free family mediation services. Over 300 targeted ads have connected people to professional problem solvers during their precise moment of need. This report details the background, design, and lessons learned from our multi-state, online Public Awareness Campaign. Read on!
Meet the Public Awareness Campaign (PAC). Get a quick overview of everything PAC does to help develop and deploy resonant messaging for local community dispute resolution centers (CDRCs).
Learn how Google AdWords and the other online resources utilized during PAC have taken messaging to the next level and led more clients to community dispute resolution centers' doors.
Review the top 10 lessons learned from the initial stages of the PAC, including practical applications for both profit and purpose driven service providers wanting to elevate their own messaging strategy.
The resulting data was extensive: nearly a quarter billion annual searches from over 50k unique terms, each of which were manually coded into one of 225 distinct conflict contexts.
Once analyzed, Advancing Dispute Resolution then sought partners for a large-scale PAC to connect those seeking help with those capable to provide targeted assistance.
Google Ad Grants and other online resources freely available to accredited nonprofits were chosen as the primary mechanisms through which PAC messaging and learning would occur.
Advancing Dispute Resolution was retained to oversee the creative and technical services necessary to administer the statewide PAC and to report on its impact.
The objective of highest priority for almost every participating CDRC was simply to raise local awareness of their existence and ability to help those facing harmful, destructive conflicts.
To achieve greater awareness, CDRCs sought to discover which specific messages carried the greatest resonance with each of their various service and stakeholder audiences.
CDRCs then worked to enhance their online and off-line presences by deploying resonant messaging in their websites, printed materials, and in-person interactions.
Select CDRCs were further interested in promoting their trainings and fee-based services to secure financial resources and help achieve greater financial independence.
CDRC websites were configured to track visitor activity using Google Analytics. The resulting data helped measure the impact of ad-generated traffic and engagement differences with organic visitors.
CDRC websites were also configured to capture data within Google's Search Console, a service that provides details on site-relevant organic search queries and website maintenance recommendations.
Google My Business
Google My Business listings were created or claimed for each participating CDRC so they could directly inform how their organizational information should appear on numerous Google-owned properties.
Building on lessons learned from messaging experiments and newly generated data analyses, CDRC websites were adjusted to address technical concerns and improve search engine optimization.
Twelve organizations, including NYSDRA, joined forces in the coordinated New York Dispute Resolution PAC. Based on the participating CDRC's traditional service areas, 34 NY counties were covered in the campaign, a service area representing over 12 million residents. These residents collectively perform searches that fall within the 255 monitored conflict contexts many millions of times over each year, providing ample exposure for PAC organizations and their eclectic messaging, and ample data from which to measure the resonance of those messages. For some organizations and for select services, this messaging extended statewide or even regionally. Campaign partners from Minnesota and Virginia also participated and are represented in the lessons learned detailed throughout.
An extensive catalogue of text ads were developed, including ads customized to specific organizational specialties, as well as those which could concurrently run across a range of accounts.
All components of the PAC, as identified above, were actively managed by Advancing Dispute Resolution, including the development and population of ads across 150 distinct ad groups.
As this broad mix of ads were served, they amassed a valuable dataset containing click-through-rates and site engagement stats, to name a few, all of which were regularly mined for valuable insights.
Based on insights generated from PAC data analyses, participating organizations were provided with customized account and website recommendations designed to further improve messaging.
Ongoing PAC Data
Over 300 context, location, population, and service-specific ads were deployed to determine their relative resonance vis-á-vis one another and existing messaging to help inform future outreach.
Enhancing the many ads are a collection of over 500 ad extensions designed to further viewer engagement, such as annotated site links, callouts, phone numbers, and addresses.
In line with CDRCs' primary objective of raising local awareness, PAC generated more than 150,000 variously targeted ad impressions within the first half of the campaign.
Several thousand local individuals were connected to service providers during their exact moments of need by way of clicks on PAC ads that promoted CDRCs' ability to help.
PAC achieved a campaign-specific message recall rate of 2.1% that persisted for up to three months after viewers initially encountered a CDRC-related online ad.
In addition to ad-generated calls for assistance, Google My Business listings created for or claimed on behalf of PAC participants facilitated more than 5,000 additional client calls.
Google My Business listings facilitated the creation of personalized driving directions to local CDRCs for more than 3,000 individuals preparing for appointments or otherwise seeking assistance.
As part of PAC's monitoring of participating organizations' online assets, over 80 security and other implementation concerns were identified and successfully resolved.
By capitalizing on the ability to refine many bespoke messages, PAC participants were able to create taglines for every target, not just catchall slogans irreflective of service diversity and nuance.
Active management of PAC accounts included the development of customized ad extensions, the targeting of precise locations, the selection of conflict-relevant terms, and seasonal ad timing.
Beyond population-level messaging, PAC participants targeted defined audiences motivated by a specific conflict experience, possessing select demographics, or even residing in a designated housing complex.
The low cost of experimentation encouraged frequent testing of diverse audience and service messaging to make data-informed determinations about the most resonant fit for each.
Modeled after the categorization structure of conflict-related search terms from the Conflict in America research project, PAC ads were structured to assess the performance of thousands of different messages. For example, the New York Peace Institute (organization) was able to create an ad for their service (theme) of mediation (category) that specializes in family issues (sub-category) related to parent-child conflicts (ad group) that was approached from the teen's perspective (sub-ad group) and employed a humorous tone (style). This approach could then be replicated across NYPI's entire programmatic portfolio to suss out which messages worked best for each service and audience.
Keywords & Phrases
Evict tenant not paying rent
I need help paying rent before I get evicted
Fastest way to evict tenants
Practical ways to delay an eviction
Evict deadbeat renters
Fast help with an eviction by my slumlord
With over 50,000 unique conflict-related keywords and phrases categorized for PAC's use, it became important to distinguish between the many probable audiences and intents implicit within those terms. The keyword "evict" and its variants would rightly be paired with ads promoting housing-related mediation services. The specific messages of those ads, however, could vary considerably depending on whether the probable audience are worried renters rather than frustrated landlords. Micro-managing keywords and phrases in this way helped connect resonant messaging to the right audience.
33,046 Zip Codes
Google's AdWords platform allows for numerous levels of location-based targeting. While some CDRCs chose to promote a specific service specialty across the entire state, region, or even country, most focused their promotional messages to the specific counties represented within their traditional service areas. For CDRCs operating in areas of high population density, select ads were further targeted to specific Zip Codes, such as the targeting of one NYC Zip Code which contained a housing development with the City's highest rate of evictions. Other location-based targeting was also possible, such as Census blocks, college communities, and select neighborhoods.
Being front and center during potential clients' moment of need is critical to message resonance and engagement conversion. But when exactly is that moment. With online advertising data, we can know for certain...at least in the aggregate. The above provides a heatmap of when campaign ads were clicked. Subtle variations can help inform the timing of limited advertising budgets. More refined maps can also be generated that suss out differences between each of the many dozens of conflict contexts targeted as part of the campaign. Each insight is an opportunity refine timing and meet clients at their exact moment of need.
Using AdWords advanced targeting tools, PAC ads were capable of reaching highly specific and relevant audiences, such as, previous donors, attendees of a CDRC's basic mediation training, or even attorneys who had helped represent parents in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) hearings. By focusing on these micro-targeted audiences rather than broader population-level outreach, the resonance of the related messages and the follow-through of their recipients on the included calls-to-action were significantly increased.
Ads with high specificity received the greatest click-through and conversion rates. Too hyper-specific, however, and ads went un-clicked, likely because the audience size simply wasn't there to see them.
Professionals regularly pitch toward promise; the hopefulness and opportunity latent within conflict. Contrary to this practice, plays to the pain were more resonant, likely because they met viewers where they were: heated and hurt.
"Just the facts, Ma'am" is a phrase that never really played, did it? Whose facts? Yours? Mine? The alternative ones? In quick-hit ads, playing more toward promotion than facts seems to work better.
Ads are calls to action. They encourage viewers to click for answers and help. Viewers need that help urgently, and ads should reflect the immediacy of your information and helpfulness.
Ads play to today. They should resonate with what's current, not classical. In the hundreds of tested ad iterations where timeliness was a key variable, trendy ads reliably outperformed more dated references.
Conflict is serious. Advertising toward its resolution should be the same...at least part of the time. Use judgement in determining whether a serious or silly message would work for your target audience.
To ensure the utility and broad applicability of PAC's many lessons learned when shared with CDRCs and other ADR practitioners, they have been abstracted and are presented here as 10 key themes.
These 10 themes are ordered both from broad to narrower importance, and from initial to successively later stages of implementation to help practitioners build a customized action plan.
While the themes presented here originate from PAC's cohort of nonprofit participants, their applicability also extends to practitioners operating in for-profit contexts.
Define Your Market
The days of dispute resolution generalists are beyond bygone. The market increasingly rewards depth over breadth. Are you an arbitrator or a restorative practitioner? A parent-child or personal injury mediator? Someone who organizes community forums or corporate compliance trainings? By trying to be all and more, you misjudge the market and your value. Instead, practitioners today are called to specify their specialty; to hone their skills in vertical stacks rather than sprawling horizontals. Thankfully, the landscape is broad and ever-expanding, and choosing a practice area that compliments both interest and ingenuity is increasingly possible.
Know Thy Market
Knowing one's interests is but the first step. You must also know the interests of your market and how the twain do meet . For example, while the PAC initiative ran ads for nearly every specialty practice area identified above, only those highlighted in orange received substantial interests within the markets PAC ran. Sure, more frequent and higher quality nudges toward those unhighlighted areas may have influenced greater take-up, but the costs—financial and opportunity combined—limit the pursuit of an audience that may ultimately not be real or ready. You learn this through testing and re-testing; feedback and followthrough; gift and grit.
"Conflict is opportunity," proclaims dispute resolution practitioners. To the public which they seek to serve, however, conflict is not opportunity at all. At best, conflict is seen as an unseemly condition to be cautiously avoided; at worst, a hopeless, untangleable crisis full of distress and dread. More broadly, conflict itself may not even be "conflict" for many experiencing its throws. Indeed, in market surveys, a solid third of respondents reported currently experiencing and conflicts at all. They reported plenty of ongoing arguments, fights, and frustrations, but no conflict, per se. Our definitions are not shared, our conflict is not theirs, and the opportunity is not obvious.
Don't Staid Still
The dispute resolution field is well-acquainted with high-conflict, post-dispute, formalized, multi-party, professionally referred, late-stage, long-term cases that meet our self-defined thresholds. Those are the bread and butter of florescently-lit staid conference rooms; of cramped day-of-trial courthouse closets. Where real growth exists, however, is in the new, not the known. Are not our skills as equally suited to low-conflict, pre-dispute disagreements? Cannot we serve self-referred single parties? Is there no value in early-stage, short-term conflicts? And ought we not attend to parties when they ask for help, rather than when we tell them its needed? Isn't it time for a resolution refresh?
Go to the Heat
Conflict challenges our better angels. It also charges our keyboards with an electric negativity. Seeking help through a search bar reveals our truth in those situations: desperate, mean, hurtful, vengeful. We go to the natural: the negative. To be effectively resonant, conflict professionals must acknowledge this natural truth, not obscure it behind neutral walls or words. To be helpful, professionals must go to the heat. Incorporate the reality, the negativity of prospective clients' momentary truths through the text we use to connect. Encourage movement therefrom, sure. But meet them where they are, not where you want them to end up.
The cheapest and most effective way to discover (potential) clients interests is to listen to their stories, understand their conflicts, and design your services responsively.
One of the most accessible, centralized mediums to discover (potential) clients' conflict needs are the preferred social media platforms of your targeted client base.
Google My Business
Google My Business provides free business listing on Google Maps and Google Search in your local community to help expand online visibility and more easily connect clients to your services.
Google Domains allow you to find a domain, get custom emails, and create a website, all with 24/7 support and a robust online community available to help get your idea onto the internet.
Google Sites is a free tool allowing anyone to create simple, responsive websites without the need for coding, manual updates, or ongoing security concerns.
Google AdWords is an essential service for nonprofits. It is the service beyond all others that allows programs to target outreach to those in need during their exact moments of need.
Google Analytics gives you the tools to better understand the comings and goings of visitors to your website. You can use those insights to improve site content, flow, and targeting.
You want to be found and Google wants to help. Through Google Search Console, you can claim ownership of your site, learn search terms that drive traffic, and track your site's search performance.
Legalese is a losing proposition in advertising. Yet, many mediator websites contain the all-too-common mountainous walls of text; terms and conditions detailing their credentials, process, and theory. Surprise! Nobody reads those. Conflict professionals need to break through those walls, distilling their message to exactly what's needed: quick content that captures attention and converts interest into action. If they're not piqued by the third sentence, a fourth may not help. If they're not sold by the third paragraph, a fourth is just wasted digital enk. Be concise, captivating, (un)common.
Speaking of walls of text, break that mountain up! Only in the rarest of occasions should a promotional site contain everything (or close thereto) on a single page. If you offer multiple specialty areas, create a separate page for each. If you are targeting multiple audiences, craft a unique message—and page—for each. Organize your concise content into quickly accessible pages that contain your message, a call to action, and a way to immediately connect their interest to your inbox. If you must package it together, consider accordion menus, intra-page navigational links, or other techniques du jour to maximize accessibility and facilitate actionable conversions.
Get Ship Done
The perfect page doesn't exist. Rid yourself of the burden of needing to design or word one. But don't relinquish your attention once it's published. Use your analytics suite to regularly check-in on site performance, explore how visitors engage your site, discover ways to ease the conversion process. Click over to competitors' sites and learn from them what works and what doesn't. The same goes for ad messaging. Not every message will hit its target and not all on-target messages will work for every audience or service. Explore a range of options and see what works best when, with whom, for what service, and to what effect. Constantly pivot, and Get, Ship, Done!
Don't be afraid of mistakes. We all make them, and only the most cricital among us will find them truly unforgivable. (Those folks are likely not going to be the most fulfilling clients anyway.) In advertising, as with websites, (as with life,) keep things fresh. Be creative and try new messages and mediums. If your slogan is a Great-Uncle Milton quip, or your website looks like one of the very first sites published to that newfangled internet thingy, your audience will make some not so flattering assumptions about your relevance to their very timely needs. Be professional, sure. But not at the expense of everything personal or pleasurable. Be brave. Fall down, then get back up. Enjoy the ride. Have fun. Stay young!