The Truth About Direct Mail and Digital Marketing

Direct mail hasn’t died, despite predictions in the mid-2000s that it’d vanish from the landscape thanks to digital marketing’s rapid rise on the scene.

If anything, direct mail has emerged as a stronger force for good.

The Importance of Direct Mail in Your Marketing Mix

It’s true. Nonprofits are seeing more donations made online, but online giving still accounts for less than 10 percent of all charitable giving, says Steve MacLaughlin, vice president of data and analytics at Blackbaud.

The 2015 Response Rate Report by the Direct Marketing Association (now the ANA) also found that direct mail still outperforms digital channels. In its research, direct mail showed a 3.7 percent response rate with a “house list” and 1.0 percent with a “prospect list.” All digital, including social media, email, paid search and display advertising, accounted for a 0.62 percent response rate.

Need hard ROI numbers to support direct mail and digital? Direct mail isn’t as costly as we think, falling in line with digital outlay costs. Cost-per-donor acquisition for direct mail, according to the 2015 Response Rate Report, was $19, compared to mobile and social media at $16-$18, paid search at $21-$30, and email at $11-$15.

From a Planned Giving Perspective

Direct mail still holds sway with those who are more inclined to be thinking about their estates, their families and their charitable wishes (e.g., Baby Boomers). With this group, direct mail tends to read as more personal and meaningful than an email, social media post or other “quick-hit” digital post.

Similarly, think about your own email inbox. It’s probably filled with solicitations to buy this and do that. You click and delete. And while that might be the case with a “junk” piece of direct mail as it hits the trash, the tactile act of actually holding it, looking at it and seeing a story or relevant call-to-action (CTA) driving the donor to your website can be a powerful gift motivator.

Strong visuals, like an infographic, and taglines in a direct mail solicitation also help keep your nonprofit’s message top of mind long after the garbage pitch—unlike an email solicitation that’s quickly deleted without more than a glance.

Come Together, Right Now

What is changing across our marketing landscapes is how we use, or mix, direct mail with digital as part of a total planned giving outreach.

KEY THOUGHT: Refrain from thinking in silos or single lanes of communication. Rather, direct mail and digital efforts are merely pieces to the whole. Every tactic contributes to the whole brand or image of your planned giving marketing campaign. Think direct mail and digital, not direct mail or digital.

“Every planned giving marketing piece, whether direct mail or digital, or more likely both, has got to be of one voice, with consistent messaging and imagery, right down to your choice of fonts and white space,” Stelter’s Creative Director and Director of Marketing Zach Christensen says. “The look, feel and takeaway must be tightly threaded throughout all your marketing to keep your planned giving message intact and build interest.”

Create Direct Mail and Digital That Sing as One

Here are 5 tips to tweak and strengthen your multichannel marketing efforts.

1. Be one voice and visual across all channels. As mentioned above, consistency in look, tone and feel is paramount. It helps prospects and donors remember you over the long term—and when they’re creating their estate plan. Use similar images, white space, words/phrases, among other tactics that we’d be happy to talk through with you.

2. Use one channel to drive action to the other. The most common cross-channel activity occurs when prospects or donors receive a direct mail piece with a moving, and relevant, CTA that drives them online to respond. Make this action easy with prominent social media icons, and a clear, identifiable website address on direct mail. In all social media, link to your website for more detailed information.

An example of how this works: Set up a personal story of an individual or group that your nonprofit has helped, or a donor story introduction as a “teaser” in your direct mail solicitation (maybe a letter appeal).

Direct people to your website or social feeds in direct mail to a video or photos posted online for the full story. Keep the line of action simple and straight-forward to get to the outcome. You’ll lose the prospect if there’s more than one click to get to the story or giving page.

3. Tell them what you want them to do.This is critical. Write strong CTAs that clearly guide them, whether that’s contacting you or visiting your planned giving page.

Examples of strong CTAs include:

  • Invest in the future of [university name]. Help the college carry forward its mission of educating students for lives of leadership and service. To find out how, contact [your name and contact info].
  • Start your legacy today. To learn more about how your gift will make a difference for future generations, please go to [your planned giving landing page].

Need more tips on writing a CTA that works? Check out “How to Write Stronger CTAs: Tips From the Pros” and “Avoid These! 10 Mistakes in Calls to Action.”

4. Reach out regularly. There is no magic number for how often you should reach out in a given calendar year. However, we try to live by the Rule of 7: It takes up to 7 touches before a message sinks in.

On average, most Stelter clients have between 3-8 planned giving engagement pieces going out annually. A few send messages more often; some, less. They all, however, reach out to prospects on a regular and thoughtfully planned basis. In their messaging they share donor giving stories; use planned gift language that’s easy for readers to understand; and demonstrate the impact of donors’ gifts.

5. Test, so you know what’s working, when and with whom. Start small—but at least start somewhere—if you haven’t begun testing your multichannel marketing efforts with planned giving prospects. You can always refine testing metrics as you go and as you learn more about it. A/B testing can help you identify key metrics and determine what’s working.

What’s been your success in merging direct mail with digital? Have you seen an uptick in planned gifts as a result?

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