Simple Math: Direct Mail + Email = Better Response

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.

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