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.

Why Personalization Matters in Direct Mail

Many times, companies shy away from complex personalization because they are worried about getting it wrong. Don’t let your fear stop you. Check out these stats from an InfoTrends 2016 study.

personasBefore we really get started, let’s define what personalization in direct mail is. It’s more than just putting the name and address on the piece.

In 2016, even just adding “Dear name” or just a name is no longer the best way to personalize your direct mail. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to have the name, but you can get so much more creative than that. So don’t just stop there, get more personal with offers, images, landing pages and more. Here are three reasons to get personal:

1. Recipients Like It

With all the technology out now, there’s no reason why you can’t personalize your direct mail, so just do it. Recipients have stated in multiple studies that they pay more attention to mail pieces that are personalized. It makes them feel special.

2. Better Targeting

With personalization, you are better able to target your message to each person. Using the information you have collected in your data base, you can create custom offers that appeal to the right people based on purchase history.

3. Better Response

Since your recipients like it and you can better target them, you are going to get a better response rate with personalization.

Many times companies shy away from complex personalization because they are worried about getting it wrong. Don’t let your fear stop you. Check out these stats from an InfoTrends 2016 study.

Survey Question: Does the customization or personalization of a direct mail piece make you more likely to open/read it? 29.2 percent said “Yes, Much more likely” and 55 percent said “Yes, a little more likely.” With numbers like that, you need to be personalizing.

Personalization in 2016 isn’t hard. There’s great software out there to help control the variable data and ensure that the correct information is on each piece. The key component is what you have in your data base. The more information you have, the better the personalization will be.

Top 3 Ways to Personalize Direct Mail

1. Images: The visual component of your direct mail sets the mood and draws the recipient into your message. Getting the images that will appeal most to each person is very important.

2. Offer: Using the data you have about each person to tailor the offer to their needs is very powerful. The right offer will get the response, the wrong one will not.

3. Copy: The copy is the obvious personalization to the recipient. It uses their name and other information from your data. Use the copy wisely to draw interest. Even though they like personalization, too much copy is a problem and they will not read it.

Are you convinced that personalization is the key to better ROI? I am. If you want to start smaller to take some of the fear out of it, you can do that. Just make sure you don’t get stuck in the mode of just using a name and calling that personalization. Build up your personalization with each mailing by incorporating more data and more complex variables. This gradual build up will give you the confidence to keep getting more personal. What ways have you used personalization?

Surviving Email Errors: It’s About the Perception

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Unfortunately, I also subscribe to the premise that to be considered a professional, you must sound like a professional. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred, and I believe we have become less sensitive to typographical errors and more receptive to text shorthand, even when the type of correspondence calls for something far more formal. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Despite my abhorrence for the misspelled word and my dependence upon editors to ensure I toe the line, my writing is seldom (perhaps never) perfect, and I suffer great angst on the occasions when I find a string of badly ordered letters hidden in plain sight within my writings.

Undaunted, my quest for the perfect content continues, and with good reason: The Web Credibility Project conducted by the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab found that typos are one of the top factors for which a website’s credibility is reduced. If this is true of websites, surely the same can be said about other content we marketers produce, including emails.

According to a University of Michigan and University of Maryland study on grammatical evaluation and social evaluation (opens as a pdf), in general, homophonous grammatical errors (e.g., your/you’re) affected judgment and readability more severely than typographical errors (e.g., teh) or hypercorrections (e.g., invited John and I), but all typos have shown to have a negative impact on how you and your organization is perceived, and how receptive your recipients will be to a message with a typographical error. Typos imply carelessness and irresponsibility, especially when you are creating content on behalf of your clients.

When You Err
Many marketers believe that when a typo makes it through, they should immediately issue a correction or apology, but this is not always the best response. You need to keep the gravity of the error in perspective and resist the urge to panic. Take an objective look at the error and evaluate how egregious the error. If the error is statistical data or other numbers, it’s likely more important to address it than if the error is a typographical error such as teh. Likewise, if the error occurs in your subject line, this alone can adversely affect your open rate, so sending out a second email with a new subject line may be appropriate. On the other hand, sending a second email might well be more than your recipients will tolerate, and the correction email could be marked as spam or elicit an unsubscribe simply because it came so closely on the heels of the first. A balance must be reached.

If you find that you’ve made a mistake in your email, take a deep breath and:

  1. Assess the damage. Evaluate the impact of the mistake. Ask yourself questions such as: How many emails were sent? How does the open and click-thru rate compare with other emails of the same type? Was the typo offensive? Will the typo cause a negative perception of our brand? Will the typo cause your customer harm or lead to misinformation? If the typo is a pricing error or incorrect date, it may have a far-reaching impact on your company, in which case a correction is mandatory.
  2. Choose an appropriate response. Once your assessment is complete, work with your colleagues and management to draft an appropriate response, one in step with the gravity of the error. If you do decide that sending a second email is called for, follow these tips:
    • Act quickly. In many cases, a speedy follow up will be seen before the original email.
    • Be upfront. Write a subject line and preheader text that gets directly to the point: You are making a correction.
    • Apologize, without excuses. Take ownership of the error, be frank, and say you’re sorry. Don’t belabor the point with excuses that may well come off insincere or seem as though you want to blame everyone but yourself. Use words such as “correction,” “oops,” or “we apologize,” so your recipients immediately know why they are receiving a second email so soon.
    • Improve the offer. If the typo is concerning an offer on which you cannot deliver, offer them something better.
    • Mind your brand. Be brand consistent, but self-deprecation or humor can be a good approach.
    • Reach out socially. Use your social networks to further acknowledge the error (especially effective with humor) and offer ways your constituents can reach you with questions or support needs.
    • Vet programmatic solutions. In some cases, and depending upon which email automation solution you use, hyperlink errors can be fixed programmatically. While you cannot change the text of the email once sent, be sure to speak with the support team to glean options for fixing the underlying link. If the typo is in the form of an incorrect image, you may well be able to swap the image so that any unopened emails will display the correct image. If the email has been opened but is later opened again, the new image should appear there as well. In this case, a correction will only need to be sent to those recipients who opened the email before you corrected the error.
  3. Monitor analytics. Once assessed and addressed, your email software should be able to provide you with ample analytics about how things went. Keep a close eye on the open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates—these are the best places to discern the level of damage done.

We all make mistakes in our content, but it’s important that we learn from them and learn to avoid them. Here is a collection of tips that may help you avoid the need for an apology altogether:

  • Write your email content in Word and use autocorrect, spell check and grammar check. It won’t be perfect, so don’t depend on it solely, but it can highlight possible areas that need a closer look.
  • Printed emails are usually easier to proofread and pass around for others to review.
  • Read the text aloud, preferably to an audience.
  • Have a child read the text aloud to you. Children are more likely to read exactly what they see since they are typically unfamiliar with the content.
  • Read the text backward, from end to beginning.
  • Send draft emails to a select group on whom you can rely to read the content carefully and thoroughly.
  • Reread and proofread each time you make changes. Many typos are injected after content has passed through proofreading and while you are making on-the-fly and last-minute changes. Resend your draft email to your test group after all last-minute changes have been completed.

It’s one thing to make the occasional error, but quite another to consistently send emails with errors. Each error will erode your customers’ confidence and thus, damage your reputation and this can be a lasting impression. When asked of their perception of companies who send emails with errors, people use words such as “careless,” “rushed,” “inattentive to detail,” “incompetent,” “uneducated,” and “stupid.”

Your email typos might find their way to the inbox of a charitable person who is willing to overlook your error, or to someone simply too busy to notice, but odds are a customer, colleague or [gasp] your boss will notice and will assume that you are careless or uncaring—neither of which is ideal for your continued employment.

If you are sending SMS messages or posting to your social media, you’ll find that these mediums offer a bit more forgiveness, and what might seem like an apology-worthy error in email is a simple snafu socially or in text messaging. Though the formats are forgiving, there is still a call for professionalism, so resist with all your might the urge to use text shorthand in any type of business message, regardless of the vehicle.

Your content sets the recipients’ expectation, establishes you as an authority, and validates your knowledge of the industry. Typos can change this perception in a heartbeat, especially when repeated. Take the time to ensure your content is error-free and you will continue to foster a positive relationship with your recipients—and look brilliant in the process.

As a matter of record, my worst typo was a caption for the photo of a three-star general’s wife, where I noted that she was a “lonely lady rather than the “lovely lady” the client described. What’s yours?