A Direct Mail Fundraiser’s Best Friend Just Might Be Digital
Direct mail fundraisers, this blog post is dedicated to you, with what you might consider a novel goal: to encourage you to become champions of your organization’s digital infrastructure. The tendency to think about the offline and online channels as separate sandboxes is inadvisable for many reasons, but today we’d like to focus on a direct-mail-centric reason — one that is costing you revenue.
The truth is, a fully integrated program can yield significant gains for your fundraising. But that’s another column. Today, let’s talk about how to use your digital platform to improve your direct mail performance. Digital platforms can help you uncover the right combination of messages, offers, and creative to make your direct mail more relevant to your donors, which will increase its value and your bottom line. While nothing can completely replace in-mail testing, digital insights can be leveraged in many ways to reduce unnecessary investment in the mail and help your organization move a winning strategy into the market more quickly — which can in turn drive increased revenue.
We all know direct mail testing is essential to understand how to yield the best performance from donors who prefer to give in that channel. But it also takes time and can be very expensive. Further, most organizations have no idea how a test will perform until they pay to put it in the market and read the results on the backend — often after several months of exposure.
From providing messaging direction to narrowing the focus of your testing to winning ideas or components identified in online channels, a robust digital program can serve as a testing laboratory to inform your direct mail creative, which can save you from investing in poor-performing test components. And maybe best of all, it can help you discover likely winners to test in the mail, which could help produce more revenue, sooner.
As your organization crafts or updates its digital roadmap and strategy, take an active role in the process to understand which tools are available to you, and collaborate closely with your colleagues on how best to leverage them to generate the findings you need. Here are some digital opportunities to screen-test direct mail ideas first to improve your return on testing dollars — so you can reinvest more of your budget back into your program.
• Dynamic creative optimization (or DCO). DCO is a digital tool used in display or social media that can provide you with valuable intel about what’s driving response across various donor audiences — intel that can translate directly to direct mail.
Essentially, DCO enables the execution of a structured test-and-learn roadmap in real time, by putting variations of creative elements — from images to offers to messaging approaches — in digital ads, at scale, and then optimizing to the top-performing creative elements in real time. It allows you to see what’s working across audiences and segments, which can inform your direct mail efforts.
For instance, if your DCO program has produced a winning headline, identified the winning image between a sad or a happy photograph, and determined the best call to action, you can then prioritize those elements in combination in direct mail testing, helping you focus your testing plans and optimize your investment.
• Digital testing platforms. Pre-mail testing methodologies such as surveys, predictive modeling, and other techniques can determine which variables are likely to elicit the highest response.Though they’re not “real world” testing, they can produce directional answers very quickly and prevent you from wasting time and money on weaker-performing variables.
• Online focus groups. Though many of us have heard the adage “people say one thing and do another,” this type of qualitative feedback can provide interesting directional insights quickly, which you can use to narrow various in-market testing elements. Brands use multiple online platforms, including their own in-house systems, to gather critical feedback from their audiences and ask them to react to elements in their direct mail creative. This instant feedback can spark ideas to help revise and refine your direct mail creative.
• Social media. Tracking comments on Facebook or Instagram can uncover donor values and preferences you can use to your advantage. Do you see a particular phrase or emotion used frequently? If so, why not test it in your direct mail copy? Additionally, social media can help you find testimonials for direct mail (with permission, naturally). It can also help you test various creative elements, like photography, calls to action, featured stories, etc. Your social media efforts can yield a wealth of information to ignite fundraising messaging ideas based directly on constituent sentiment.
Clearly, digital channels provide value for donors and nonprofit organizations, given the nature of the real-time interaction, but we are challenging you to see beyond that — to advocate for the best digital toolset available. Because the more advanced it is, the more effective you can make your communications. If you’re a direct mail fundraiser, we urge you to become a cheerleader for your digital colleagues. Partner with them to advance their technology and infrastructure needs. Their wins can directly influence your success by helping you improve the value and performance of every touch you send.
Christy McWilliams is vice president of customer strategy at Merkle.