Simple Math: Direct Mail + Email = Better Response

The job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

Direct mail is a strong channel by itself for nonprofits, but like I’ve written before, the job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

And knowing this, you have numerous opportunities to parlay multiple channels to create a stronger response. Let’s dive into a combo that’s an easy one: direct mail and email.

Think of it like shortstop and second-base position players: They each have a distinct job on the field, but when a double-play is available, they work as a tight combination and move as a duo.

The reason direct mail and email is a natural pairing is because their jobs and strengths are so different, but they’re united by data and personalization.

Direct mail is great at storytelling and using its leave-in-the-basket physicality to just simply hang around until your donor acts. Email is great for peppering your donor with reminders and moving them through an easy click-to-donation experience. And both of these channels reference the donor’s name and drop their message right into that person’s life space — mailbox or inbox. It’s a personal outreach.

Plus, the data shows this works: All the studies from the ANA (formerly the Data & Marketing Association) reveal that combining digital and direct mail increases response about 20%.

Use the Strengths

Direct mail is strong with storytelling. Use direct mail to tell a longer story via a letter, and drop in some visual assets that linger as a reminder. Most folks don’t want to or have the basket space to keep a letter, but if you have an insert slip, sticker, bookmark or postcard as a visual leave-behind, it lets the user recycle the letter without feeling like they’re going to forget you. They can put the asset on the fridge, keep in the basket, etc. as a lingering reminder to get back to you with that donation.

Emails are strong in visual frequency. Since emails can be designed lots of ways, and with high frequency, reference a direct mail asset in the email. Visually connect the inserts of the direct mail package in the emails. And use snippets from the letter in the shorter form email, telling the story of the letter in multiple touches. Also, you can use the email as a preview for a letter package coming in the mail. If your open rates are 30%, then those folks may be on the lookout for the upcoming letter and be more inclined to open the letter, too.

Judo-Block Weaknesses

One of direct mail’s weaknesses is that postage is a necessary expense and the frequency needs to be paced based on your budget. It’s rare for a business or nonprofit to mail more than once per month to their own customer base, and letter rate postage varies widely (from as low at $0.18 up to $0.42). As you plan the project, ask your mailing services provider for postage prices.

Judo Block: Use different formats for mailing that may be less expensive. Postcard rates — especially for nonprofits — are less than letter rates and could be an alternative. The postcard postage usually runs about $0.24 per piece, and some mailing services co-mingle to get even lower rates (for a full rate sheet, see the USPS calculator).

One of email’s weaknesses is that the donor data is incomplete. To make the subscription process easier and have lower barriers, many nonprofits just have name and email in their opt-in forms. That makes it faster to subscribe, but it doesn’t give you their home address, which limits your ability to do multichannel touches.

Judo Block: Do reverse-append to get a mailing list of your email subscribers. Usually a good partner can get 60% to 80% of your emails matched to a home address. Next to your house file of donors, this is the best mailing list you can get. And since they’ve opted in with their email, appending address data is privacy compliant (including GDPR and the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act).

In the end, you want your direct mail and email to work together to tell your story to your donors and move them along the next-step action. Cross-referencing, using images, pacing the story between the two, are all good ways to get the combo working together.

As you move into your 2020 marketing plan, pair these channels up in new and creative ways, as two players in an integrated double-play.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments.

How Much Is Your Email List Worth?

Every good direct marketer knows the top company asset is the customer database. Almost anyone with marketing experience can turn that data into revenue. I say “almost” because there is still a social media movement trying to prove that direct mail and email marketing is dying. It’s doubtful that anyone in that group could create and execute an effective plan that delivers sales and profitability. But, for the rest of us, the people who understand that customer relationships are about the quality of service, a solid list is money in the bank

Every good direct marketer knows the top company asset is the customer database. Almost anyone with marketing experience can turn that data into revenue. I say “almost” because there is still a social media movement trying to prove that direct mail and email marketing is dying. It’s doubtful that anyone in that group could create and execute an effective plan that delivers sales and profitability. But, for the rest of us, the people who understand that customer relationships are about the quality of service, a solid list is money in the bank.

Direct mailers are very good at creating detailed plans that project sales and profitability down to the penny. When shifts in external factors like weather and politics affect sales, adjustments are made to keep the company operating in the black. Executing a direct marketing campaign requires a significant investment, making careful management necessary to corporate success. Customers and prospects are segmented, monitored and measured every possible way in an effort to increase lifespan and lifetime value.

Email Marketing Is Different
The investment required for email marketing is minimal when compared to direct mail. Returning a profit is so easy that marketers are lulled into complacency. When the revenue to cost ratio is that good, why invest additional resources in making it better? After all, there are always other areas that need more attention.

Email marketing can do so much more than generate revenue and profits. In the right hands, it increases customer loyalty and reduces operating costs. Emails offer the opportunity to create a personal connection that is unavailable in any other marketing channel. They can be used to economically provide high quality service on an individual level. Capitalizing on this requires in-depth analysis that begins with the value of email subscribers.

How Valuable Are Your Email Subscribers?
There is a direct relationship between the quality of your email marketing program and the value of your subscribers. Programs that build relationships using personalized promotions, education and service create substantially higher value subscribers than pure-play promotional campaigns. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because better investments always yield stronger returns.

The first step in creating high value subscribers is analysis. How do the customers and prospects that participate in your email program differ from the ones who don’t?

Compare purchase history, time from first entry to purchase, times between purchases, average order, lifetime value, lifespan, number of orders in specific time frames and any other valuation information available. Segment customers and prospects as needed so you will be able to consistently evaluate the results. Seasonal, discount, and hit-and-run shoppers significantly skew the results. The information accumulated here is the benchmark that will be used to gauge the effectiveness of new campaigns.

Next, catalog all of the emails sent to each segment over the last two years. Include all available results so new emails can be compared to historical data. If you haven’t been segmenting subscribers, or segmented them a different way, capture the information that is available and move on. Don’t waste resources trying to analyze something that doesn’t have enough data to provide clear results. When finished, you’ll have a good idea of the current value of your email subscribers.

Creating a New Email Marketing Program
The analysis you’ve done tells you what has happened in the past. If you are happy with the results, keep on doing the same things. But, if you want more:

  • Look for gaps in your email marketing campaigns. Do they include personalized emails? Are the transactional emails optimized? Are you sending educational emails that teach subscribers how to use products and services?
  • Are you emailing often enough? Test sending emails more often to a sample of your subscriber list. If response increases without a significant jump in opt outs and spam reports, roll it out. Well targeted emails that provide value to recipients are rarely rejected.
  • Use your email marketing to improve customer relationships. Invest time in understanding your customers’ problems and creating solutions. The more problems you solve, the less likely they will leave. Email is an excellent tool for creating unbreakable bonds because it is effective, efficient and economical.
  • Measure everything on a regular basis. The better your data, the easier it is to improve results. Consistently digging through the data provides insight into how your subscribers behave. The more you know about their tendencies, the easier it becomes to create campaigns that motivate them.

Nurture Your Subscribers to Higher ROI in 2010

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

The inbox is essential in 2010, but it’s also fiercely competitive. Social networks drive their businesses through the inbox, and more and more marketers are sending more and more promotions. Your message must stand out amid this noise.

Sending the same message to everyone is the opposite of nurture — it’s numbing. It has the opposite effect, driving disengagement and dissatisfaction. Too much email in short time periods will not only depress response, it’ll increase complaints (counted by ISPs like Yahoo and Gmail) every time someone clicks the “Report Spam” button. Even a small number of complaints will prevent your messages from reaching subscriber inboxes — all your subscribers, not just those who complained.

It’s painful enough imagining the slow death of your email response rates when subscribers are bored week after week. Even worse, imagine the drop in revenue if all your messages are blocked by Yahoo due to high complaints. Ouch! It’s worth taking the time to nurture instead.

The ideal is to offer subscribers what they need before they realize they need it. Luckily, you can get pretty far even without deep resources. Test a few of the following “baby step” ideas now; then integrate the hardest-working into your ongoing calendar this year. Since not all subscribers have the same value, focus on those with the highest potential.

1. Educate prospects. Many marketers have both prospects and customers on their house lists, each receiving the same promotions. Probably neither are inspired by something watered down for the masses. Never assume prospects know anything about your content, editorial personalities, products or benefits. Consider a series of messages or offers that move prospects through the sales pipeline.

2. Treat customers better. Email is a great way to treat your best customers special. Certainly VIPs are easy to find and celebrate, but also take that same approach down the line. Identify your cusp customers, and invite them to participate at higher levels while showing them the benefit of doing so. Every once in a while, just thank your customers. You’ll be surprised at the response you get.

3. Listen. Let subscribers tell you what they need through their actions. Even if you can’t overlay behavior and demographic data, use the data you have. Customize transactional emails based on purchase. After a click, trigger a context-specific email with content recommendations — which could be sponsored advertorial — or premium services. Replace static landing pages with deeper microsites focused on particular topics to capture more page views or present more detailed offers when prospects are “in market.”

4. Test subject lines. Many campaigns go out without any optimization testing. Yet even simple A/B testing of subject lines can improve response by 5 percent or more.

5. Customize by age. Watch response by vintage (the length of time the subscriber has been on the file), and determine when subscribers go “inactive” — defined as no open, click or conversion/response activity in the past three months.

Quickly send out a “win-back” campaign to those who may be on the verge of going inactive. Don’t wait two years to send a win-back. Once subscribers start ignoring your emails, it’s difficult to re-engage them.

Audit your past 90 days for a “nurture appeal.” Are you blasting or engaging? Broadcasting or customizing? Talking or listening? You’ll likely find a number of points of vulnerability where you’re not optimizing your nurture potential. The payoff is real: Satisfied customers click more, buy more, and engage frequently with advertising and offers.

Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.