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Digital Versus Direct Mail

by Kevin Schulman, Founder of two behavioral science agencies, DonorVoice and DVCanvass, and Managing Editor for Agitator blog

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How does a digitally native charity approach direct mail? Differently.

charity: water wanted to test direct mail, but not simply as a stand-alone, fulfillment route. They wanted a brand-building, tactile touchpoint adding to engagement and overall value.

And they didn’t want to treat everyone the same. They wanted personalized matching with behavioral science.

Let’s parse that mouthful out a bit.

Brand-building: If you think your direct mail isn’t building your brand and that isn’t its primary job then you shouldn’t be in the direct mail business. How so? Most people don’t respond to your mail. Does that mean it had no value for the 95% +?

No, it had an impact, making those people more or less likely to give in the future. And, since that’s the majority, the impact on them matters more than the tiny responder group. It builds or destroys donor level equity, which is their future value.

Not in vacuum: What if a mailing has hardly anyone sending back a paper check? Did it bomb? In most cases, the analysis would say “yes”, bombed. But what if you had an extended view that looked at the possible influence of that mail touchpoint on other fulfillment channels, namely digital?

Not everyone is the same. It’s the norm for 99% of sector testing and fundraising to assume everyone is the same. charity: water is not the norm and needed an approach to personalized matching with rigor and evidence behind it.

Here’s the 2x3 experimental design:

Our copy points and stories were tailored to match Personality – Open or Agreeable. Why Personality? It’s mostly innate, fixed and predictive of what we’ll find interesting and relevant. If your copy matches the person’s Personality, they’re more likely to see it, process it, agree with it and act on it.

The QR code test had the code on the outer envelope or the outer and reply form. It was premised on the idea that these are existing CW supporters who, at a bare minimum, are willing to transact online (and may prefer it) and have no need for additional messaging or narrative beyond what a landing page can provide.

There was a holdout group who got the business-as-usual digital marketing but not the mail. And the test groups got what the holdout group got + mail.

The test evaluation period was over a 45-day time period looking at online + offline giving for the respective groups.

And finally, a separate, stand-alone email test was run pitting the one-size fits all control against tailored email copy – one for Open people, the other for those high in Agreeableness.

What’d we find?

This testing, like all testing, had constraints. It also had success and failure. All of it contributes to the knowledge base and idea factory for charity: water. That’s the real value. Inherent in this is getting beyond just format and channel as the lens onto the world. People are different, we can either market and fundraise accordingly or ignore them. Both are choices and charity: water made theirs.

  • There are lots of results to share and we’ll do that at the Multi-Channel Mini-Con but here’s a few nuggets:
  • The mail produced shockingly few paper checks but the 45-day window and match-back showed a winning execution for Open people.
  • The letter beats postcard though postcard did better with Agreeable folks over those high in Openness, which is what theory would suggest.
  • Both email tests won, one statistically so, the other directionally.

Test, test, test. That’s the sector mantra. There ought to be a predicate, think different, then test, test, test. A big part of charity: water success comes from thinking differently, it’s built into their DNA.

What will you take from this?