A Premium Symbol
A changing of the guard can be a good time to revamp your direct-mail packages. When Covenant House International brought a new president on board in fall 2003, it needed to change its acquisition packages, which contained a letter signed by the previous president.
The international childcare agency took this opportunity to test a few other ideas in its Spanish-language acqui-sition campaign — namely the premium it was using.
“We came up with five possibilities and mailed them out in roughly equal quantities,” says Joan H. Smyth Dengler, vice president of direct response at Covenant House.
And the winner is ...
The mailings were tested in November 2004 against an updated control. Mailed in a 4.75-inch-by-6.5-inch outer with President Patricia A. Cruise’s name above the return address, the control included a 6-inch-by-9-inch double-sided letter, a 4.25-inch-by-6-inch reply slip, a 3.5-inch-by-7-inch bounce-back on yellow paper, a BRE and a 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch glossy insert on card stock that opens to reveal a silver cross and chain premium.
The two packages that performed best were identical to the prior control except for the premium. The winner garnered a 3.7 percent response in the test to the control’s 2.4 percent and included, instead of the silver cross and chain, a personalized key ring with the recipient’s first name and a picture of an angel.
The key ring package mailed as the control for about a year until it was unseated in fall 2005 by a new test, a mailing sent in a 4.5-inch-by-8.5-inch outer with a 6.5-inch-by-9.75-inch double-sided letter, a BRE and 3.5-inch-by-7.25-inch reply with a taped-on premium — this time a chain with a silver cross inlaid with red and clear jewels. Now the new control, the “red jeweled cross” mailing, as Dengler calls it, nets an average response rate greater than 5 percent.
Reinforcing the cross
The evolution of the jeweled cross mailing really began with the original, plain-cross control mailing — a successful mailing in its own right. Dengler attributes the control being beaten to the power of the first-name personalization on the key ring premium. Personalization, she adds, often provides a lift in response. But in terms of religious imagery, which Dengler says always performs well for the organization, it’s hard to outdo the cross. The jewel-inlaid cross looks elaborate and makes the premium appear more valuable.
“We find the religious imagery is beneficial for us, both in the Spanish-language market and in the general market,” Dengler says. “And since our president is a Catholic nun, it makes sense for her to use that imagery when she talks to people. ... Although we do test away from it, the testing shows that the religious aspect improves results.”
One thing that sets the jeweled cross mailing apart from the other two mailings, aside from the difference in envelope size, is two poly windows on the outer’s face, one showing the mailing address and the other, the cross. Showing prospects the premium inside before they open the envelope is a clear response driver.
The package was mailed to Spanish-speaking commercial and donor lists, which included prospects who had no prior giving history and resided in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. These lists included those from BMG Music Collection, Lillian Vernon catalog Spanish subscribers, subscribers to People en Español, and Spanish-speaking donors from UNICEF and the American Lung Association.
“We find the average gift to be a little bit lower than it is in the general market,” Dengler says. “We’re getting a $13 average gift from Spanish-speaking prospects, and we get about $17 or $18 from the general market. So we just have to pay attention to that as we decide how much we can spend on a package.”
However, Dengler says the Spanish-language response rate is much higher — nearly double — than what the organization nets in the general market, and thus makes up for the slightly lower gift.
Dengler thinks this smaller prospect segment pulls higher response rates because Spanish-speaking prospects receive less direct mail than most other people in the United States.
“We mail about a million pieces in Spanish, and we do about 15 million in English. So we are mailing less, but I think it’s the idea of the mailbox being less cluttered for them,” Dengler adds.
Response justifies costs
Of the three dueling mailings, the key-ring premium mailing was the most elaborate in terms of production, and about 60 percent to 70 percent more expensive than if the organization instead used a sheet of name stickers. But Dengler says the response rate on the key ring and cross premium mailings makes up for the increased production costs.
“We test paper premiums to keep the costs down,” Dengler says. “It’s much cheaper to send out a sheet of name stickers than to send out something like that key ring. But despite the considerably higher cost, the response rate just was overwhelming, so we were able to bring on new donors at a very effective cost.”
According to Dengler, the jeweled cross premium now is mailing in the same, 4.75-inch-by-6.5-inch-sized outer as the original control along with the original elements, including the yellow bounce-back, an element that donors are asked to sign to give hope to Covenant House youths.
“We find that generally lifts response, no matter what we put it into,” Dengler says.
The organization plans to test new premiums and package formats. For example, a closed-face outer vs. a window-box outer that displays the premium, and large mailings vs. small, both of which Dengler says flip-flop in terms of what pulls better response.