What to Use When: Letters, Postcards, Catalogs, Folded Newsletters
I’m sure most folks have read Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat In The Hat.” In the early part of the book, The Cat is on a rubber ball, balancing a cake, a rake, a fish, a book, a tea cup and more.
In the nonprofit marketing world, that might feel familiar. You and your small team are responsible for balancing many different channels of marketing, all while balancing precariously on a rolling object. The challenge is not just creating the plan that engages your donor base, but also balancing the jobs of the different channels.
I’ve written about the job of direct mail before. Now, let’s dig deeper into the specific jobs of different kinds of direct mail.
So often, a client will ask, “Does a letter perform better than a postcard?” And usually my response is the cliché “It depends.” Because until we know what job the direct mail is doing, we can’t recommend a blanket type of direct mail. So here’s an arguable listing of how to use different kinds of direct mail for different jobs.
Tell a Detailed Story That Has a Real Arc — Use a Letter
One of the most famous direct marketing pieces of all time is The Wall Street Journal letter, purportedly driving $2 billion in subscriptions from 1975 to 2003. Written by Martin Conroy, it tells the story of two college graduates who end up working for the same company and meet again at a reunion 25 years later. One returns as a middle manager… the other as the company’s president.
What a hook, right? Of course, what made the difference is a subscription to the WSJ.
This is a pretty long letter, but it’s worth it: It tells a compelling story that engages the reader, so they’re curious about if their subscription to the WSJ will result in their own C-level promotion. And the subscriptions sales proved its value.
For your nonprofit, few mailing formats are as compelling as a well-written letter. If you think people don’t read longer format messages, it’s because the longer format is boring and not engaging. People read interesting content, period.
Take the time in the letter for your mission, your story, the greater good, the personal good and the emotional and moral transformational journey you’re taking your hero donor on. If you plan the story arc right, your letter can be as captivating and impossible to put down as a good short story or article.
Hint: Hire a really good copywriter if you need to. It’s worth the investment.
Showcase a Transformation or Promote an Event – Use a Postcard
Postcards are visual media, where the image-message combination should pack a punch and have “stopping power.” If you have a gala, fundraising event, ride or the like, a postcard is the ideal media.
The postcard format works best when showing that end transformation of what the donor’s giving actually delivers. The postcard can physically show what that emotional and moral transformation looks like. What does changing the world for the better actually look like? That’s your image.
Also, take advantage of a great hero shot. It’s a medium that begs to have an image that takes up most of the card — like a billboard you hold in your hand. Try to avoid a complicated montage of images or icons. And make sure the image is really high quality. Nothing smells cheap like a fuzzy, badly cropped or poor quality image. A bad image makes your nonprofit look dusty.
When designing the card, remember that it’s a two-sided, physical piece and that the addressable side is what is probably going to be seen first. So the backside headline is probably going to be the first line of copy the reader sees. Make it count. The challenge — and opportunity — of the postcard layout is writing tight, snappy copy that tells your story succinctly in a handful of words.
It’s a lot harder to write shorter copy rather than longer copy, so refine the copy to make it read like an engaging newspaper or Facebook feed headline. The job of the headline and image is to get the reader to pause… and then look at the entire piece.
Listing Numerous Stats, Missions or Milestones — Use Catalogs or Newsletters
Right in between the letter and the postcard is a variety of formats that can visually tell your story, while being large enough to merit more helpful information.
Catalogs should be a minimum of eight pages to feel right and probably range up to 24 to 36 pages based on your content. It has to be in multiples of four because they’re usually printed as “signatures”, which are four pages. If you have merchandise, a catalog is a fantastic format. Also, they don’t have to be 8.5 x 11. There are lots of “slim jim” or square catalog formats that are smaller-sized and interesting.
Folded newsletters are a charming format. These beauties fold down to 4.25” x 6” or 6” x 8.5” and can be tabbed and mailed. When the reader opens them up, they expose a newspaper-like spread that can detail out events, milestones, statistics, infographics, columns of text, images — you name it.
It’s a creative and respectful format because it tells your donor you’re serious about their engagement, and you’ve got some flair. This can be a really fun and engaging format, taking advantage of the physical nature of the mail piece to connect with your audience.
So before you begin a mailing campaign, don’t start with the format. Start with the job it's supposed to do, the story you want to tell and your approximate spend. Then, explore the hundreds of different, interesting and engaging options available in the world of direct mail.
As always, I welcome your comments.