By Carrie Schum
In 2020, the Code for America team launched GetYourRefund—the only online, mobile-friendly application connecting tax filers with low income with free, IRS-certified tax help.
While the online platform was launched pre-pandemic, once the pandemic started the team looked to scale it up quickly in a number of key markets. With the tax filing deadline being moved to July 15 (and October 15 for those who requested an extension), there was now a greater opportunity to reach even more people who greatly needed access to cash through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and stimulus benefits.
To reach these folks, the team needed an effective message that made audiences quickly understand the process and benefits of GetYourRefund—as well as make them feel they could trust the platform.
Using market research that the Code for America team had conducted, and guided by the science of Aspirational Communication, we developed a narrative framework to use in earned, social, and paid media. Our framework spoke to aspirational goals of hardworking families (“Take a step toward financial security for you & your family”) and showcased the functional benefits they would receive by using GetYourRefund: cash and benefits they had earned.
Our messages for social and paid media also focused on urgency (“You might be missing out on up to $3,500 in stimulus checks and tax credits”) and on de-mystifying the process for filing (“Free help filing for these credits. It only takes an hour”).
Our creative content had a playful tone that was designed to reduce the stress and fear the audience has about engaging with the tax system, showcasing the process step-by-step, and were disseminated through a mix of local media outreach, local partners, and robust social media promotion.
In this process, we also identified the kind of images target users, who mostly had low income and didn’t normally file taxes, would be most attracted to in paid ads. While we usually encourage all clients to “put people in the picture” and include images of real-life people, our audience was much more likely to click on ads that featured what they were looking for: the cash and benefits they had earned. Ads with images of government checks were clicked at a higher rate than those using images that depicted hardworking families.
To ensure we were getting our message everywhere, we also identified local spokespeople to generate local news coverage in the key markets. We scored interviews in local TV affiliates, such as NBC Colorado, as well as in hyper-specialized radio stations such as Sirius XM’s Road Dog Trucking Radio— a news talk station geared towards truck drivers. These hyper-specialized and local radio interviews showed the wide appeal of our aspirational narrative. Achieving financial security appealed to a multitude of audiences across news beats.
Our paid, social, and earned media strategies drove significant uptake of Code for America filing support in their target markets of Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California. Overall, GetYourRefund had a very successful first year: the platform helped more than 480,000 Americans navigate tax filing. They put more than $62 million in both tax refunds and stimulus payments in the hands of the lower-income Americans who earned them.
Listen to the Achieve Great Things Podcast to hear how Code for America is changing access to government programs and how they maximized the impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit during the global pandemic.