Focus On: Lists: I Don't Want to Hear It!
A chronic non-responder (CNR) is an individual who has been mailed a succession of times and has not gifted your organization. Mailers feel the effects of these non-responders with respect to the expense of postage, handling, list rental and materials. So how long should you continue to mail to these potential donors? Should you suppress these names? Is it worth the special handling? And just how do you figure it all out?
In identifying and scoring a non-responder, you should go back approximately 12 months, or eight to 12 previous mailings. (Notify your service bureau in advance so it can archive enough mailings to create the non-responder file.) This is called a “build.”
Within each build, the non-responders are marked and then scored. To use the build in your future merges, decide whether you want to score the hits to your chronic non-responder output file or drop them. To keep the build updated, all future merges after the initial build should be included to continue to update and score the chronic non-responder file.
The number of times to mail non-responders depends on several criteria. Research has shown that potential donors are most likely to respond the first three to four times they receive your ask. Beyond that, the chances of them responding become increasingly lower. However, you have paid for these names and you want to get your money’s worth.
Now you have accumulated a group of chronic non-responders —names you’ve already paid for and who, at one time or another, reacted to some type of nonprofit marketing effort. At this point, the CNRs could be dropped or test mailed.
Time to test
In your response analysis, note if you have changed the packaging. As we know, people react differently to different stimuli. Perhaps some of these potential donors failed to respond because of the appearance of the envelope.
Or maybe they opened the envelope but felt the “ask ladder” was too aggressive. Still others might have been put off by graphic photos. Who knows for sure? The reasons are as diverse as the personalities of your target audience members.
Here’s where you use your CNRs for tests. Change the envelope, change the ask ladder or leave out the photos; try different packages and sizes. Run the names a couple more times and see what happens. At least you’re getting the most out of the names you bought.
Does this service benefit all nonprofit mailers? Absolutely not! If you’re mailing 20,000 pieces twice a year, then this service is not for you. It’s unlikely that you’ll see a CNR pattern if you’ve reached potential donors only two times in the past year. But if you’re mailing at least 500,000 pieces monthly or quarterly, this service could save you thousands of dollars on each mailing.
If your annual direct mail campaign is budgeted for a certain volume of names, moving prospects to a CNR status will diminish the size of your list. Even though you mail millions of pieces a year, there might be reasons a CNR program would not be beneficial to you.
“One apparent problem is how to replace the dropped CNR names,” says Susan Anstrand, CEO of California direct mail firm Names in the News. “Although testing and regression analysis indicate that often the revenue on the deep CNRs does not warrant mailing, where do you go to replace those names? Many of our larger clients have a limited mailing universe, compared to their cold-mail volume.
“As a result, their core lists get mailed many times during the course of a year, and CNRs are thus a natural by-product,” she adds.
Viewpoints vary as to whether to hold on to those non-responders or rent more lists and replace them.
“The largest costs in mailing are not list costs, but postage and printing,” Anstrand adds.
If you are mailing oversized, glossy, eye-catching pieces, you need to make sure as many of those asks as possible are getting into the right hands. Even if they’re not the most award-winning pieces to leave the mail house, they still cost money, so look carefully at the economics and factor in the cost of replacement names.
“One solution employed by some is to replace the CNR names with inexpensive names, such as lapsed donors,” Anstrand continues. “Often, organizations will include certain segments of their lapsed files in acquisition with good results. However, the deeper the lapsed name, the less well it tends to perform. By modeling the deep-lapsed names to pick out the gems that are more apt to perform, those names can be used to replace the CNR names, and at no additional list cost (just the modeling fee).
“Or the organization could look to a household database that can create a model, readily available, to replace names in a merge on an as-needed basis,” she says. “This would be more expensive but, if effective, could do the trick. The number of CNR hits from one merge to the next can vary greatly, so it’s best to have a large pool of names to replace those lost. If they’re ranked, then the ranks most likely to perform best can be used first, and the deeper ranks only when necessary.
“With some luck, and careful testing, the CNR names may not need to be dropped at all. As mentioned earlier, they are good names, since they’ve been found on active donor [files] or mail-responsive files (again and again). By keeping track of them on an individual basis, and rotating packages, the response rate may be kept at an acceptable level,” she concludes.
So is it worth flagging and tracking chronic non-responders on your mailings? The best advice is to consult your list broker/manager, advertising consultant or service bureau to determine if flagging your CNRs will be to your benefit. Some service bureaus offer free tests along with results analysis, which makes it easy to determine if it’s right for your future direct mail campaigns.
Bob Blackstone is a national account representative, western region, for Triplex, a Donnelley Marketing company, in Novato, Calif. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.