How the Web Makes Direct Mail Better for Fundraising
On Sunday the cost of sending mail via the USPS goes up (see exactly how much). Certainly for those of us mailing things, this is a bummer, but it doesn't mean we should stop our mailing efforts. It just means we have to be smarter about them.
There’s a lingering misconception that direct mail and the Web are fundamentally at odds. It’s more accurate to say that they complement and influence each other, and can enhance campaign effectiveness when considered as part of a whole. Consider designing your direct mail with the following in mind:
Cross-channel influence is already the norm
Good — you’ve been putting your Web address on every element in a mail package. But go so far as to assume your audience will actually use it, and more: Recipients may visit your Facebook page, watch your videos on YouTube, perhaps even read your fascinating blog. Consider each touchpoint, and craft your mail accordingly, each with a reasonable level of visual consistency. Note, please: reasonable. Avoid including elements you know will suppress response or outstrip ROI, but otherwise use everything relevant — logo, color, type, photo style, structure — to immediately* assure brand recognition across every channel. Your marketing then becomes part of the Web and isn’t just pointing to it.
Old media has already been changed by new media
You needn’t join the wailing that "Google is making us stupid" to realize that reading — still the most effective means of absorbing complex information — has been profoundly altered by the Web’s use of hyperlinked, encapsulated summary exposition.
Several years ago, my agency began testing direct-response letters that included more white space, more “chunked” copy as well as incorporating graphic sidebars to call out important parts of the letter text. In every case, we beat existing controls and soon replaced them. Assuming that our direct-mail audience primarily comprises the well-researched 65+ donor, why is this working?
The answer is that every form of information delivery has changed — and everyone’s design assumptions along with it. Surprisingly, the relative age of the technology doesn’t matter; Apple’s year-old iPad appeals as much to seniors as to younger demographics. Both equally enjoy the ease of use, rapid learning curve and app-based interface.** Therefore, designers can expect the definition of what’s legible to change as a result, and this will affect how we design for print, yet again.
New media learns from old media, too
Good designers identify the virtues and limitations inherent in every medium, and then work to extend the former and overcome the latter. Well-designed direct mail, although deprived of clickable links and dazzling multimedia, retains its own unique advantage in delivering a warm, tactile reality. For now, it still expresses authenticity and tangible intimacy better than the cool surface of a screen.
So it shouldn’t be unexpected that Web designers have been using the Internet’s improving speed and stability to incorporate what they can of print’s qualities. Expect subtlety. There will be increasing emphasis on legibility, reassuring textures and the printed quirks of a writer’s individuality*** — none of which are necessary, unless you realize that donors want not just information, but a person’s voice, telling a story meant wholly for them.
As the Web continues to disrupt old models, dismantling scale economies and rewarding those of personal engagement, marketing effectively across multiple channels means satisfying donors’ demands for more tailored and fully integrated experiences. Understood as a key component for building trust and gaining support, direct mail — when well-designed — also serves to reinforce the brand's essential character at every touchpoint.
* How immediate? How about 50 milliseconds. That’s a blink of a human eye, quite literally.
** Technology makes things possible; design makes things lovable.
*** Such as a fondness for footnotes. Sadly, no one reads footnotes.