Bagging the Brown Bag
Chicago-based hunger-relief organization America’s Second Harvest wasn’t working with a lagging control when it devised and tested this campaign. Quite the contrary — the organization’s brown lunch-bag appeal was doing “fabulously,” says Terri Shoemaker, senior account director with Merkle/Domain, the Seattle-based direct-marketing consultancy that teamed up with A2H in January 2002. It was generating a strong response and average gift, but it was expensive to mail.
A2H developed what it calls the grocery-voucher package: a 4-inch-by-9-inch outer with a picture of a grocery bag overflowing with fresh bread, vegetables and produce. In addition to the main element — an 8-inch-by-11-inch reply form with three detachable grocery vouchers (the asks) — the mailing includes an 8-inch-by-11-inch, double-sided letter and a BRE.
The message of the mailing, “Your gift multiplies 30 times to prevent food like this from going to waste …” is communicated on the outer.
The brown-bag mailing strongly featured images of children, while the grocery voucher places more emphasis on a broader demographic that includes the working poor and the elderly. When it was first tested against the brown-bag control, the average gift for the grocery-voucher mailing was high but the response rate was lower, Shoemaker says. Encouraged by the strong average gift and lower costs to get it out in the mail, A2H tweaked and tested everything from art, copy, offer and the number of coupons included in the mailing. Over time, the response rate for the grocery-voucher package increased. It performed well against the strong yet expensive brown-bag mailing, and it was mailed as a co-control for most of 2003.
Stuck in the pleasant predicament of having two successful mailings to choose from, A2H “analyzed the donors [it was] getting from both of those [packages to] see which ones on a longer term perform better, give a second gift, remain active, become better donors,” Shoemaker says. “And it turned out the people who were receiving the grocery voucher turned out to be better donors.”
In November 2003, A2H shelved the brown bag and started mailing the grocery voucher.
“That brought down the cost of acquisition, and yet we were getting better-quality donors, if not the same quantity,” she adds.
Good, better, best
The grocery voucher averages between a 0.9 percent and 1 percent response rate and a $22 to $25 average gift amount. But, ever conscious of mail fatigue, A2H began testing what it calls the trucking-voucher mailing against the grocery-voucher mailing in the hopes of netting stronger results as well as “long-term, quality donors,” says Karen Paciero, director of individual philanthropy for A2H.
Also mailed in a 4-inch-by-9-inch outer, the trucking voucher is similar in style to the grocery voucher mailing, with a double-sided, 8-inch-by-11-inch letter; a BRE; and an 8-inch-by-17-inch reply form, made up of five, 3-inch-by-8-inch, detachable truck loading vouchers.
Though the focus and artwork are on the truck rather than groceries, with an illustration of an 18-wheeler on the outer, the message is the same in both mailings — that a gift to A2H is multiplied 30 times.
The vouchers are the primary difference between the two mailings. The grocery-voucher mailing includes three giving vouchers, or asks, for $15, $20 and $50, while the truck voucher mailing has five ($15, $20, $50, $100 and $1,800). Going up to an $1,800 ask from the next highest, $100 voucher, was a risk, Shoemaker says, but one that made sense given that $1,800 is how much it costs to fill an A2H truck with food.
“I think just putting that into the package was a risk because you risk putting a number out there that’s so large that people think, ‘Well, my $20 won’t make a difference to these people so I’ll just give somewhere else,’” Shoemaker says. “But we’ve actually seen the opposite by doing that. That
putting it out there encourages people to give just slightly more, and that’ll make a difference in terms of things like long-term value for the donor.”
The grocery-voucher and trucking-voucher appeals were mailed as co-controls last year. The average gift for the trucking voucher has risen a few dollars each month mailed, Shoemaker says, and it’s now become the new control.
A2H is testing the art on the trucking voucher to see which pulls better response: an illustrated truck or a picture of a real truck. The organization also is developing new packages that are more hunger-themed and more in line with the A2H mission, rather than the logistics of delivering the food, Shoemaker says.
Constant testing and beating already strong mailings has created a coffer of campaigns to which A2H can return when fatigue does set in, she adds.
“What is nice is that the minute we see some fatiguing on [the trucking-voucher mailing] or if that average gift starts to slide or the high-dollar ask does start to spook people, then we’ve got another piece that’s ready to go and still providing great results,” she says. “It’s just nice to have a toolbox of appeals to choose from when we’re planning any acquisition campaign.”