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 Passion Projects and Cause Marketing Can Power Your Marketing

Cause marketing can tie passion and product together and help you connect with your target audience on an emotional level.

It’s not news that your marketing can’t be all about you. To borrow a pop culture expression, your prospects just aren’t that into you. They’re into what you can do for them.

But once they’ve established that what you can do for them will address the problem they’re trying to solve, your prospects will want to know what kind of company you are and what it’s like to work with you.

Tie Passion and Product Together

A great way to do this is to get behind a cause that ties into your business mission. One of my favorite examples of this is Honda’s support for Project Drive-In, which is an effort to save the remaining drive-in movie theaters in the country.

It’s a fun project, it’s as close to controversy-free as can be imagined, and its automative focus ties in with Honda’s business.

“Sure,” you might be saying. “Easy for Honda. Cars and drive-ins are fun and interesting. Who wouldn’t love that?” That’s a fairly common refrain from those of us in less exciting businesses, particularly in the B2B world. There is, after all, no “Project Fax Machine” to save the last beeping, whirring, thermal-paper spitting wonders of the 1980s.

So anyone marketing copiers may have a little more work to do, but consider the approach of Skody Scot & Company. It’s an accounting firm. Not too sexy, right?

‘Boring’ Industry Doesn’t Have to Mean Boring Marketing

Boring or not, Scody Scot is so passionate about its mission to help non-profits manage their financial reporting — it works exclusively with non-profits — that it provides its services free to any non-profit with annual revenues below $50,000.

Some of those firms are non-profits that are just getting started. Some will grow and eventually become clients. Others are simply small operations that will never grow — and they’ll never provide revenue.

What they do provide, though, is arguably more important: a concrete demonstration of Skody Scot & Company’s commitment to its mission of helping non-profit organizations.

Adding Cause Marketing to Your Marketing Mix

The trick for marketers is to find a cause that you and your team are passionate about, identify how it aligns with your message, and how you can support that cause. It may be a very personal approach, like that taken by Skody Scot, or a much more public effort, like Honda’s.

These kind of passion projects provide the perfect counterpoint to parts of your marketing that attract your target audience with a focus on how you can help them. By also demonstrating how deeply you believe in your work, you can deepen the emotional connection between you and your audience.

And if you really, really, really can’t find a cause to align your business with, it’s not because you’re in a “boring” industry. Chances are, you have a brand and positioning issue to solve before you can tackle you marketing questions.

When Doing Good Is Bad (and Retail Is Better)

Because I work for nonprofits, I figure everyone wants to participate in do-gooding. Predictably, I make contributions to charity on behalf of the recipients for gifts. Call them socially responsible gifts. It makes me feel good to do that. I always presumed it made the recipient feel good, too.

When doing good is bad
When doing good is baa-d

[Editor’s note from Target Marketing: Retailers may be seeing returns right now, but nonprofits — not so much.]

There’s an old adage: “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Because I work for nonprofits, I figure everyone wants to participate in do-gooding. Predictably, I make contributions to charity on behalf of the recipients for gifts. Call them socially responsible gifts. It makes me feel good to do that. I always presumed it made the recipient feel good, too.

A favorite of the Beloved (behavioral expert Otis Fulton) and mine is Heifer International. Last Christmas, we were excited to “give” a relative a sheep that was donated to a needy family in a Chinese village. A gift of diminishing hunger and poverty. Everyone is on board with that, right?

Yeeeeaaaahhh … No.

According to an article in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, givers badly overestimate how much their recipients will appreciate a charitable donation that is made in their name. That squares with my experience. I was excited and expected to get a phone call the moment the gift was received. Instead, I got a cursory “oh yeah, that was nice” when I inquired about if the gift notice showed up.

In one study, gift-givers chose between six gifts to give to a friend or family member. Three were donations to various charities. The other three were run-of-the-mill items: a travel mug, executive-style ballpoint pen and a USB flash drive.

Ninety-eight of the 245 participants in the study (40 percent) chose to give a charitable donation.

Interestingly, the less close a gift-giver was to the intended gift receiver, the more likely they were to give a gift of a charitable contribution.

It turns out that an overwhelming majority of the recipients would have rather received even a “really mundane tangible gift” instead of the charitable donation.

The way the recipient viewed the charitable donation had a lot to do with their relationship to the giver. Close friends didn’t object, and parents reported actually liking receiving the charitable donation from their children. The problems were with spouses and distant friends and relatives who were the most likely to evaluate the charitable contribution negatively.

How can this be explained? Lisa Cavanaugh, one of the study’s authors, said, “Recipients think [the charitable contribution] says more about you than about your commitment to them. One spouse actually said, ‘It showed me he cared about the world but he didn’t care about me.’ ”

One part of the equation is that people may be recognizing a socially responsible gift as an attempt by the gift giver to make themselves look good, like giving a really nice picture of yourself to someone. Typically the person most interested in a really nice picture of yourself is your mom, right?

But we believe the more important reason that giving to a specific nonprofit in another person’s name is less than ideal is that it deprives that person of giving something themselves.

That is problematic for the recipient because I don’t give them control, and I don’t actually allow them to “give.”

First, the recipient didn’t pick the charity — the giver did. Satisfaction is derived from three basic elements: being part of something bigger, showing competence and autonomy. As the giver, I didn’t deliver any of those three here.

Second, there is a well-studied “warm glow” effect from giving. That warm glow isn’t triggered for the recipient in this scenario, although presumably it may be for the giver. The recipient did not get to be socially responsible — the giver did (and I felt GREAT about it!).

So what is there to do?

If I want to give a socially responsible gift, I must give it in a way that allows the recipient choice. As an example, I could use a card from Charity Choice (not a plug — don’t know ‘em), which allows the recipient to choose from hundreds of charities to designate the gift, making the gift from the recipient, instead of from you.

Another way to inspire the warm glow and be socially responsible would be for me to allow the recipient of the gift to select how they will support Heifer International. If I could send the gift with an open end on it, to allow my recipient to pick a cow, or a chicken or a well, that would give us both something positive — the satisfaction derived from giving driven by autonomy and the warm glow effect.

I’m sure you think the Beloved and I are quite calculated about giving, altruism and nonprofits. And we are, for two reasons. First, giving is tricky and we are prone to plan campaigns in ways that bring consequences contrary to our intention. Second, the warm glow of giving cures diseases, educates children, prevents violence and so much more. We like understanding how to light that fire.