Tag Archives: Digital

Direct mail isn’t dead. But then neither is email.

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 rising costs (postage etc) give us reason to question. There’s been a shift towards email in non-profits for e-news, and most of us have a donate now button (which is also occassionally in the e-newsletter), 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.

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Charity email marketing – making a choice about email tools and approach.

This blog follows on from our previous Email Marketing Matters blog: Do you think about your email marketing?

Email Marketing Matters – Part 2

In our last blog we thought about some of the strategic issues around email, here we’ll address some of the technical questions to consider.

What matters in email tools today?

 There was a good reason we all favoured Mailchimp as a ‘free’ tool – it was easy to use and all the monkey brand stuff was fun. It still is both and is still highly regarded.

But these days, our selection criteria should perhaps be a little more sophisticated than trying to generate monkey rewards.

These are the kinds of questions we should be asking about our email tools.

  • Integrations with third party tools – does your email and CRM connect? Website? Mobile? Social?
  • Data capture – what happens to data you capture via your email tool? Does it sit in a list on your email tool or get transferred automatically to a CRM, or manually moved around?
  • Automation – what can you set to happen automatically? How sophisticated can you get the automation to be?
  • Personalisation – how much content can you personalise easily – not just names, subject lines or copy but can you look at whole content blocks.
  • Quick and intuitive split testing – split testing (A/B splits) can cover a range of things. Typically, subject lines but we should also be looking at areas like content and delivery times.
  • Journey building – can you build multi-stage journeys via email or more than one channel using your email tool? How does this work with automation?

That’s just a few basic things to consider. It’s a different list than “which tool is easy to use” – the good news is that pretty much all the tools that are consistently recommended have good UI – user interface – and provide excellent UX – user experience.

Volume is a vital statistic in email delivery

Email delivery isn’t something we always think about. You just press send and off it goes, right?  Well, not quite.

Most ‘freemium’ email marketing tools rely on a shared server approach – you are not in control of when your emails are sent and where from (in terms of the server as well as location). It’s part of how these services can be offered.

But the volume of messages you send (see Part 1), is a key consideration in whether you should be using these tools or looking to move to your own IP address for sending. Volume means that sometimes your chances of being caught up in spam filters are stronger (it’s a model for spammers obviously – bulk send to get lucky) or of your messages being held up behind other people’s messages and priorities.

Or even the shared IP you are using being spam blocked – with the consequence that even though you are a legitimate sender, the address is blocked and you can’t get your messages through (look at your email report for bounces – how many are server blocks or bounces?).

Delivery is one key reason volume is vital. The only true way to control your message sends, where your data is being sent from and when is by having your own IP address – this is particularly important for high volume senders – and this usually means shifting to an email platform solution.

When do you need to consider shifting to a platform?

I’m not going to lie, a platform solution comes with some costs attached (set up of the platform being one), but it’s a strategic decision. The set-up costs are a one-off fee, thereafter you’ll usually be paying a license fee per user and or by volume – much as you do for freemium models. And in some cases, the running costs are about as much as you use for your freemium tools if you’re using different plan elements (using the Mailchimp example – you can run a professional platform email marketing solution for the same cost as Mailchimp Pro for large volume sends). Does that surprise you? It’s worth investigating and thinking about the tipping points for when to move to a platform.

But our technology decision should not be based only on price – it should be based on strategic fit.

You may also want to think about how that tool will work with your charity email marketing programme:

  • How to improve ROI on lists – which tools are going to give you the best support in terms of improving your return on investment. Which ones will help you learn, grow and develop your email skills and knowledge internally to improve everything from design through to delivery and engaging audiences?
  •  Future proof – making a decision about email is a strategic choice. The results of the decision will take staff time in set up and training. It’s a time investment that is vital, but in the interests of productivity should be limited. The decision about tools should be taken with a view to the future and minimising disruption with the potential need to switch tools again to move forward a few years down the line
  •  Integrate-ability – it’s not just your primary data source (CRM) that you should consider. It’s additional data about audiences that builds the complete picture – from finance through to social media. Your email tool is a valuable part of the full data mix. The tool should also, in an ideal scenario, support your data approach by integrating new channels that you choose to use. When you’re ready to start using SMS and mobile push notifications – how will that integrate with your other digital channels? Is your platform extendable?
  •  List growth and email volume – email will long be the cornerstone of most organisations communications toolkit. Alongside considering other tools that many integrate with the system for an ‘omni-channel’ marketing approach, email volume and list growth will be key driving factors. Costs vary from tool to tool for email volume and contacts, so an eye on where there may be additional costs on number of contacts is key. Email volume costs are likely to decrease the more you send, but any licensing or service access fees may change as you expand your reach.

What does this all mean?

What does all that mean? Well, we challenge the inertia that has set in around charity email marketing, your choice of tools and want you to think about what you’re doing now.

Mailchimp may be ok because other people use it, and it feels sort of free-ish, and is easy to use. But it may not be.

Think about these levels of your email marketing programme to find out if this is a problem for you.

  • Is it ok now? If it’s not what are you doing about it?
  • Is what you’re doing now going to be what you need to be doing in six months, in a year? Think about you programme and plans. If they’re not right when are you going to start thinking about making a switch?
  • What’s your vision for five years’ time and how are your comms tools going to help deliver that?

Next steps:

If you’ve any questions, give us a ring (0203 176 1249).  We can help you identify what the right mix will be for you to meet your future goals and make sure you have the data and information at hand to help you build your grand vision. We can explain what a platform based email solution is and show you how and why they may need to be part of your thinking.


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Whatever your question, we’re happy to help.   You can



Do you think about your email marketing?

Email Marketing Matters – Part 1

We frequently discuss the merits of various ‘freemium’ model email providers with our clients.

Typically, an average client will say their tool of choice is Mailchimp. When asked why the response will either be ‘because we always have’ or ‘it’s free’ or ‘another non-profit recommended it to me’.

I’d like to gently challenge some of these assumptions.

It’s about how you think about your email marketing and a challenge to the assumption by many that it’s free. It’s not.

If you do anything beyond send batch and blast emails – this should be everyone but it’s not – and do anything at volume, it is time to question the email status quo.

What is email volume? 50,000 subscribers are a big list. But 10,000 is also a big list if you mail them every week – that’s just over half a million emails a year you’re sending. And in fact, you are probably mailing more than that as you’ll have some other emails you send out in between email newsletters too – about events, fundraising appeals etc.

If you’ve never done the maths on how many emails you send, it’s an interesting exercise to make you realise the importance of the tool to your organisation. I’ll wager that it is the single most important tool you have in communicating with all your audiences.

It’s a diversion to focus on the tool. Most of the time it matters not whether you use Mailchimp, or Campaign Monitor, or Vertical Response or anything else for that matter.

What we need to pay attention to is what you want to achieve – your strategy, the vision you’re trying to share and the experience you’re trying to give your users – more than which tool you use.

There are several key issues we need to consider. Let’s take some of the strategic considerations first.

Your customer is in complete control

So what is your vision as a charity, and how are you translating this into email?

Do you have a plan or do things just get randomly added to newsletters as you want to communicate them? Don’t be afraid to answer ‘yes’ to that question – it’s very common. But it’s dangerous.

If email is the single most important tool you use to reach your audiences, your customer is in complete control. They may decide not to open your missive, not to click or even to unsubscribe. And if they do that, you’ll never be able to communicate with them again via that means (legally) unless they legitimately re-subscribe.

For membership organisations and fundraisers familiar with attrition rates for membership and donations, try running similar kind of approach across your email list.

What are the unsubscribe triggers – do you have people on your list who are just there and never interact? How can you stop them from leaving? How are you encouraging them to stay – even if it’s passive rather than engaged?  Should you try changing your list approach to nurturing more clicks from different sub-segments?

Customer focused is key

What you give your customers is vital. It needs to be relevant to them, on whichever device they use (and being where we are today, that’s likely more than one place – i.e., social as well as email, mobile rather than desktop). They’re telling you what they want and like by what they click around not just in your emails but also on your website too. Email cannot exist in isolation from your other channels.

So we have the information to create something compelling for an audience.

More often than not we haven’t taken a step back and thought about email as something we’ve been doing for ages and doing with reasonable success – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix It’ being a useful phrase here, as well as the realistic ‘not enough hours in the day’.

But don’t wait for your customers to abandon you.

Strategic rather than operational approach

If email is so vital to getting your message delivered – both via the technical channels and messaging approaches you use – why is it so often ‘managed’ by one of the junior members of your team? It’s great that someone looks after it, and we’ve seen some great email newsletters so we know that charity brand and messaging is being for the most part well looked after. But we’d like to suggest that there’s a gap missing and some strategic focus and attention from the digital/fundraising and communications leadership will mean that the person looking after your email for you can easily make it work harder for you. Make some space to work with your colleagues on how to understand the role of email in your whole mix, where it fits, when and what works best. Pull the person who looks after your email into that conversation and listen – I bet they’ve got loads of suggestions about things to try if they had time, tools and a sense of empowerment and knew it was of strategic interest and importance.

There are more issues to consider – so this blog will continue with a part two shortly.


Can we help? 

Whatever your question, we’re happy to help.   You can

Building Journeys

I spoke at CHASE 2016 (#CHASE2016London if you want to check the twitter action) today, and included a template for starting to build journeys.

For those at the session it’s linked here so you can open it as a PDF.

Journey Toolkit -Build a Journey

More explanation to follow shortly for those of you that weren’t in the audience and are wondering what on earth I’m talking about!

Harnessing the Web 2015

Harnessing the Web – 4 November 2015

Harnessing the Web is an annual MemberWise event.

It’s based on their excellent annual survey – Harnessing the Web Report.

This year we’re delighted to not only be exhibiting at the event, but speaking, too.

We’re featuring in the stream – taking online member journeys and experiences to the next level – and will be doing a very fast paced and practical workshop on building truly personal journeys for members.




Social CRM

Social CRM will never replace traditional fundraising but it will change the way we do it.

Many commentators have predicted the impact of the online social revolution. Business and government embrace the opportunity, yet online fundraising still only amounts to 10% of  voluntary income. What is holding us back? Steve Thomas, our managing director shares his thoughts.

Many commentators (me included) have predicted the impact of the online social revolution. Businesses and governments are embracing the opportunity, yet online fundraising still only amounts to 10% of UK voluntary income. What is holding us back in the non-profit sector where, ironically, our supporters are more engaged and committed to our causes?

At Purple Vision we describe social CRM as “monitoring and engaging in online exchanges and developing these into meaningful relationships”. In other words, just broadcasting tweets or posting appeals on Facebook isn’t social CRM. Ken Burnett’s principles of relationship fundraising – written before the advent of the web – still apply, especially in the online world where integrity is everything.

For social CRM to work, we must be open and patient. It’s a three stage process – Attention – Conversation – Conversion – which doesn’t work if you skip straight to the end where the money comes in!

What’s stopping us doing social CRM?

1. Regarding social as just another channel Social media is so accessible that it is intrinsic to the communication of your entire organisation. Supporters don’t distinguish between service delivery, campaigns or appeals – they are all part of one relationship. This means fundraisers cannot own social media and should be wary of exploiting it without regard for the bigger picture. By contrast, if you build relationships across the whole organisation the fundraising benefits will be significant.

2. Reluctance to become ‘digital first’ Does your CEO blog? Do they do it themselves? In our experience this is the best indicator that your organisation will develop a digital culture. This change has to include senior management and only happens when led from the top. Engaging personally with supporters online builds trust as well as providing the example and permission for everyone else to follow.

3. Disconnected strategies and technologies Social media highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to CRM. If you engage using disconnected tools and separate departmental plans, the impact of your work is seriously reduced. Today, accessible and affordable technologies exist to help join up your relationships and achieve the elusive 360-degree supporter view. However, technology will fail to deliver unless you give equal attention to people and process by embracing digital and social in each departmental plan.

So, how can you do social CRM better? Here are some ideas based on the timeless but vital principles of relationship fundraising:

1. Understand and communicate your case for support • Test messages from the recipient’s perspective. Why should they care? • Use online communities as a research tool – ask open questions • Try online polls or quizzes to test ideas and see which ones work best

2. Identify and empower advocates – they amplify your message • Follow the online “buzz” – use a monitoring tool to track key topics • Set aside 20 minutes every day to respond to online questions and concerns • Encourage opinion formers to speak (tweet, blog etc.) on your agenda

3. People give to people • Personalise e-communications both to and from a real person • A thank you, prompt and personal, matters • Use blogs to connect supporters with the people that deliver your services

4. Don’t forget to ask (politely and repeatedly) • Send e-appeals up to three times, excluding those who already opened • Include a clear call to action – like a button that links to a web form • Share content that colleagues can easily re-use, such as footers, web parts or hashtags

Get the social media edge

Wouldn’t it be great to find out what people are saying about you on social media – and record those comments to your CRM system?  … to automatically create new records on your database for anyone who mentions you on Twitter?  … to open a window on a major donor record and see their latest Facebook or LinkedIn update before you go in to meet them?

All of this, and more, is already possible with Salesforce.  And, given that the Salesforce Foundation will donate 10 free licences to any charity that applies, what’s stopping you?

What we like about Salesforce is their innovative, entrepreneurial culture that drives them to investigate technology trends and incorporate them into their software. They’re totally focused on “social enterprise” and, with a large network of developers, there’s always someone looking to build applications to extend the functionality of the product, whether that is an integration for Mail Chimp or a special version of the software for membership management or fundraising.

Over the last 18 months we have watched and learned as the capabilities of Salesforce for relationship building have developed, and we like what we see. As a sales and marketing system it performs excellently – so well in fact that we’ve adopted it for our own business. We think Salesforce offers integration with social media tools on a level unmatched anywhere else.

But perhaps you’re not ready to throw out your current CRM system just yet, after all you’ve invested enormous time and effort to get it to where it is, and switching databases is a major undertaking. Point taken!  So, instead, we’ve worked out a way to leverage the power of Salesforce for social media without having to go through a total system migration. We’ve developed a concept we’re calling Get the Social Media Edge or GiSME for short.

In this solution we build on our knowledge of nonprofit CRM tools and use Salesforce as an “edge” application.  This means it sits alongside your current system and data passes back and forth, keeping you up to date with the latest social media activity so you can make use of this in your relationship building activities.  All the power, with none of the pain.

To find out more about how to Get the Social Media Edge for your organisation, please contact [email protected].


What to do when people are talking about you, not to you …

This week I had two very different customer experiences, one very good and one very bad. What was really interesting was how I talked about them (you know that a good story spreads, but a bad story spreads faster…), and how they then unfolded – all thanks to my new best friend, twitter.

On Monday I was working from home, in part because things just fell that way, and in part because I was expecting a delivery. One that had been due to arrive the previous Friday, but had failed to show. As a fairly recent convert to twitter (c 3months and loving it) I tweeted my annoyance, mentioned the company, and got a tweet reply saying ‘We will be in touch, thanks’. Wow, I thought, that’s fast, and was happy it was being sorted. But I heard nothing after that, and so went ahead and re-arranged delivery online. Slightly annoying, but all good so far, or so I thought.

Monday arrived, and although I had parcels to take to the Post Office for relatives in Australia (it was last posting day for Christmas) I duly sat and waited. And waited. Whilst I waited my mobile rang, and it was a very bouncy chap calling from Christian Aid, following up my text donation to their mosquito net appeal. He launched into his script, and was furiously thanking me for my support, so much so that I had a hard time trying to butt in. Thank you, I said, but I was called a couple of months back after the original text, and I said then I didn’t want any more calls. He apologised, said it would be noted, and rang off. I was a bit annoyed about being disturbed this way, as I think if I’ve told you how I want to be contacted you should record it and stick to it. And I used to work for Christian Aid, so I know the CRM system can and does record ‘Do not phone’ flags. Indeed I used to import them onto the system. So, guess what I did? Yep, I tweeted. It was a polite tweet, but it did name check Christian Aid, whilst pointing out how important it is to record donor preferences. And then I got back to waiting for my delivery (Post Office now closed, sorry Aus rels, your parcels will be late)… Monday evening came and went. No delivery in sight, so another tweet, and a big complaint email, sent to the company.

Tuesday arrived and all was quiet from the delivery company. But I got a lovely reply from Christian Aid, asking for my details so they could investigate the problem with the lack of call suppression. I was very impressed. Not only is that good customer service, it’s good customer service via a channel that they have to pro-actively listen too. After all, I was talking about them, not to them. But they still heard, knew it was important to resolve, and got in touch. A few direct messages later and the mystery was revealed – a duplicate record for me on the system. As a database person I can understand that – it happens. One record was my full supporter details with name and address, and the other just my name and mobile number. I wouldn’t let the system merge me on that basis  – it could be two different people. The nice folks at Christian Aid explained that, apologised, and set to sorting it. Fantastic. I of course duly name checked them and their great supporter care in a tweet, am likewise thanking them now, and may even use this as a case study for a future seminar. Good stories can go far.

New Picture (2)

The moral of this story I think is that, whatever your business, delivering parcels to customer, or selling your cause to supporters, these days you have to be where the conversations about you are happening. And that’s facebook and twitter as the headline social media arenas. And you can’t just broadcast, you have to listen. And if you hear your name you should reply, in the right circumstances, but ideally you should also record those interactions. If I’m talking about you on twitter then I’m telling people about you – that’s an important piece of information to know. Ideally you should record that on your CRM – but I don’t know many organisations who are. Are you? I wonder if Christian Aid is. I think they just might, they seem to be savvy folks.

As for my delivery, as I arrived home late Tuesday evening I passed a very annoyed delivery man coming out of my block, wheeling away my parcel. I managed to intercept it and all is now sorted. not sure I’ll be taking my business back there again in a hurry though. Sometimes the corporate world can learn from the not for profit one, and this is a case in point.