What's Hot, What's Not in Direct Mail for 2014
Out with the old, in with the new. In “direct-mail speak,” old means lessons learned. New or “in” trends may actually mean campaigns/techniques/formats/behaviors that have been tested and had great results by others, and now it’s your turn to try them.
Here are some trending behaviors and techniques I carefully observed and heard about throughout 2013. I came up with these two dozen hot and not-so-hot trends by scrutinizing award-winning direct-mail packages; having discussions with printers/writers/fundraisers; learning lots of best practices from conferences in the nonprofit and commercial industries; attending Direct Marketing Association of Washington lunch and learn presentations by direct-mail experts; meeting with my colleagues and our clients; and by looking at, touching and critiquing every piece of direct mail that crossed my desk.
- Building stronger relationships with donors — retention and cultivation!
- Planning for postage savings opportunities. The USPS Mail Incentive Programs for 2014 are still pending USPS and Postal Regulatory Commission approval. Each offer has unique qualifying criteria with most available to First Class, standard and nonprofit mailers. Discounts range, but many offer 2 percent postage savings. Encouraging campaign integration, the proposed Mail and Digital Personalization Promotion incents mailers to connect print with Web and/or mobile experiences. Suggested promotions are scheduled throughout 2014, with details found here.
- Increased versioning/segmentation and personalization beyond RFM — e.g., tailored messages specific to giving groups, interests and preferences. These approaches range from the simple male- vs. female-centric address label design to language announcing once-a-year mailings “as requested” and to special callouts recognizing unique milestones, anniversaries and levels of commitment.
- Faster and more variable printing. Digital printing to support “on-demand” testing and high-quality, four-color ink-jet capabilities are just two ways to support the testing of images and messaging without the cost of plate changes.
- Synchronized media campaigns — using full-service Intelligent Mail Barcode data including delivery trends and in-home dates to trigger well-timed integrated marketing communications: e-mail announcements of pending direct-mail communications, direct-mail follow-ups, phone calls, fulfillment support, website lead cultivation and timely acknowledgments.
- Increased engagement and cultivation strategies — scoring donor engagement/loyalty. Creating opportunities for donors to share their preferences in “their” words — through surveys, petitions, bouncebacks and “their vote.”
- Quality … and quantity — more frequent and personal touches: member/sponsor cards, thank-yous without an ask, handwritten acknowledgment notes, special event and holiday greeting cards, postcard updates.
- Extraordinary storytelling — sharing organizational experiences to inspire action. Engaging the senses and bringing the story to life through the choice of textures, color, images and format.
- Scorecards — providing a measure of success through infographic summaries, special reports and performance benchmarks.
- Mission-focused thank-you gifts — calendars, frame-worthy photos and certificates, notecard sets, notepads, educational booklets, bookmarks, address labels, and honor cards.
- High-dollar formats — special delivery, RSVP-style formats for loyal segments with the emphasis on special recognition and creating opportunities for increased levels of commitment.
- Communication silos.
- Dirty data: incorrect salutations, misspellings, move updates not recorded quickly, bad e-mail addresses.
- Not knowing your donors: not asking for data, not listening and not acting upon/using what you know.
- Not mailing acquisition.
- Infrequent donor communication.
- Asking for money in every communication.
- Impersonal and untimely thank-yous.
- One size fits all — communication that doesn’t fit the level of giving.
- Status quo — not enough testing.
- Not acting on data.
- RFM as the primary driver of segmentation strategy and personalized content.
- Mail dates — silos of communication and no coordination of in-home (inbox) dates.
- One-time gifts — no second-gift strategy.
I leave you with one parting thought to ponder in 2014: If the sky was the limit, budgets were not a concern and postage was cheap again, what would you do for your direct-mail program that you know would move your donors and clients to respond to your call to action? I’d love to know what you think. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will include responses in the next DM Deconstructed.