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Should I Even Bother With Direct Mail Appeals Anymore?

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

It can be easy to be caught up with stories of new technological successes – along with recent press of old technology dying out – and conclude that direct mail should be eliminated from our campaigns, but that would be a mistake.

Perhaps your campaigns have dropped in the percentage of what direct mail has brought in over recent years, from 80% to 70% and now 60% or even half.  While this is certainly a substantial decrease, you still cannot afford to ignore a venue that brings in half of your campaign income!

On the other hand, clearly your donors are responding to other appeals, and additional methods must be added to your development efforts.  Tracking methods and analysis has never been more essential.  Segmentation is also crucial, because various audiences will prefer to be solicited and contacted by different means.  Some people might find being contacted on their cell phones an invasion of privacy, while others view it as the only means of communication, and if you want to reach them, you’d better learn to text and tweet!  (Can you store this detailed type of “do not contact” differentiation in your database?)

Even direct mail itself needs a makeover for most organizations.  If you’re like me, you try to get on as many mailing lists as possible, so that you can review what other companies and nonprofits are mailing, to compare.  I keep the very, very good – and the very, very bad – as examples of what to emulate and what never to do.  Unfortunately, the “what never to do” pile is always larger of the two.  The “ho hum” in-between pile is largest of all and ends up in recycling.

Direct mail can – and should – incorporate a great deal of new technology into its appeals these days.  For example, if the appeal is asking for a donation, add a specific hyperlink in the letter, reply card and on the return envelope, so that you are encouraging online giving.  Make the redirect meaningful and memorable, and either related to the campaign, mission or organization.  (e.g. company.org/donate)  Also be sure it is trackable to the specific appeal – and that it lands on the donation form, instead of requiring several more clicks on the donor’s part to locate it.

If the mailing is more related to a cause or petition, then the organization’s Facebook page or Twitter account should be highlighted more, in order to share or tweet the news being spread via the mailing.  Although the social media site(s) would be featured more prominently in these mailings, no doubt there would be a hyperlink to include as well.  The purpose of the mailing would determine which would be emphasized more.

QR codes are becoming more popular and used by the increasing number of smart phone owners all the time.  Many savvy mailers are adding them to mailings as well.  A QR code can represent a variety of things, including a slogan, photo, video, coupon, hyperlink – it really depends upon the purpose of the campaign.  They can also come in many different colors and designs, including custom designs, with embedded logos, to catch the eye.

Imagine sending direct mail recipients the ability to view your new PSA video with a custom QR code and a direct donation hyperlink, all in one letter, along with an invitation to join your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter!  Now that is a direct mail piece that is keeping up with the times! (Remember to repeat on the reply card and return envelope.)

And if you do send such an appeal in your year-end mailing, will you have the proper tracking tools in place to measure your success(es)?  What can you do between now and then to make that happen?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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