Good news all your ardent fans of a direct mail piece. It’s not dead.
You’d be forgiven for thinking it was as if you read the many blogs and content pieces delivered to our inbox seemingly daily, you will hear that email is king – and prolific studies of the ROI of emails will be quoted at you.
Having not realised Direct Mail was past its expiry date, you will be relieved to note that there’s also a survey behind this news that it’s not dead, so it must be true. The renaissance of direct mail (or DM as we lovingly refer to it) seems to be related to several market trends that are happening right now according to an agency that specialises in <drumroll> direct marketing.
What are these marketing trends?
Well, since you ask:
- We’re all a bit wary of digital – if you’ve tried to get an audience for your Facebook post without boosting your post with cash, you’ll know how much harder it is getting. Ad blockers and algorithms make it harder to get your message out via digital and there’s a lot more email “noise” than there was a few years ago. In amongst this, our survey doesn’t account for the fact that for most non-profits, DM has never really stopped, or gone away as we might like to mark our returned records.
- Letters have regained some love – a letter (that’s not a bill) or something through the post that’s not a bill is a welcome thing indeed. With all the digital noise we live with, it seems that consumers have embraced a resurgence back to the old-school tactile brochure and something to have a bit of a browse through. This is certainly true for audiences of over 30 years old – the younger generation finds a catalogue a bit of a fuddy-duddy novelty it seems.
- And with a click, you’re gone – it’s very easy for a digital customer – or contact – to simply ghost you out – unsubscribe from email or unfollow your social feeds so says this survey. This point is very true. I’d argue that this is ultimate data protection for the customer, so is good for them and we must keep putting their interests at heart. From a brand focus though if you’ve got no other way of making contact, it’s effectively killed your connection. So DM once again becomes a player – especially in the GDPR focused future.
The truth for most non-profits is that DM has always been king.
The appeal cycle remains a constant stalwart of delivering fundraising success. Why? In part, because you’ve got your segmentation down to a fine art, in part because of your demographics (older people like the paper as this survey also quotes). I suspect that the reason DM is so firmly fixed for fundraising is that there is no way you can risk losing out on essential income by shifting a successful model to a more trial-based dynamic approach.
There is no getting away from the fact direct mail is expensive though and while it still delivers ROI, the margin is diminishing as postage costs rise. There’s been a shift towards email in non-profits for e-news, and the odd donate now button but for many it is an adjunct channel for fundraising, rather than the heart of fundraising operations. Considering that email is relatively inexpensive, this is disappointing.
Setting aside the risk element of shifting a successful DM approach to digital multi-channel, why haven’t we made more of a shift to integrating email into our appeals cycle?
For some it is going to be the time that’s a factor – to get the income in that’s needed for operations, it can be a bit of a hamster wheel (newsletter, appeal, social media, event and do it all again).
For most charities though I suspect having the right technology in place is also a factor. Answer this question honestly, with your charities current tech set up, do you feel confident that you could deliver a seamless customer journey?
So here’s one of the challenges. We seem prepared to invest significant funds in the infrastructure around expensive direct mail (mailing costs, printing, mailing house files, data cleaning and segmentation … ), what’s holding us back from email?
The reality is that you can deliver great journeys with even the most basic email tools (MailChimp has good functionality if you pay for their Pro edition starting from £150 per month on top of your mailing costs, Campaign Monitor offers smart automation as part of their basic package so cost depends on your contacts – in most cases it is less than MailChimp though). The challenge here is that you may need to a bit more manual work and (technical term here) playing about to get some of the stages where you want them, but it is perfectly possible to deliver a journey via email.
The theory that you can use these to start is very sound – they deliver and work. They work best when integrated with your CRM solution so you can transfer data back and forth. When your programme is proven to be successful, then the business case for moving to a more robust marketing automation solution or marketing platform becomes more watertight – and the investment in this against say the investment in your direct mail infrastructure a lot more understandable.
To get to that point though, we have to do the time. One commodity we’re all short of.
To prove that email is as successful (or even more successful) than direct mail will take some thinking through for your organisation.
The arguments for email as part of an appeal campaign are strong – cost, relative ease of delivery. What needs the thought is the segmentation approach – which of your constituents are you going to trial for this approach? Of course, customer preference could – and should – come in here.
My low-risk suggestion for trialling email appeals is to look at the segmentation that is trailing off via direct mail, the least successful groups. Or the group you exclude on cost grounds. Narrow out your audience and trial a small segment in a different format.
You do need confidence in your data and in channels and preferences to do this, but that’s kind of a basic given for all approaches in today’s fundraising and marketing world. This shift to multi-channel is something that many charities are needing to build towards rather than being able to deliver straight away. Many large scale commercial organisations struggle with it, and they have the resources to push this, so let’s be kinder to ourselves. Work on data, work on preferences (we’ll have to for GDPR in any case) to get results by ‘baby-steps’.
Keep plugging away at direct mail for fundraising appeals – it still has a key place, but look at where you can diversify the costs and results from shifting to another channel.
My colleague Ian and I spoke about ways to splice and dice our data to start to use it more effectively at the IoF Fundraising Convention in 2016, so you could start by reviewing our slides. Or give us a call to ask about this and how we could deliver something similar for your organisation.