Direct marketing is so darn illogical. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, and common sense seems to be, well, not as common as you might think.
“Going with your gut,” or trusting your intuition, is an easy trap that both experienced veterans and younger “superstars” can fall into. Without long-term testing and accurate analysis, trusting what seems logical can be disastrous. Here are three glaring examples of the kind of logical assumptions that are just plain wrong.
1. Don’t ask first-time donors for a second gift too soon.
That seems reasonable. After all, they just gave you their first gift. Logic tells you that you should thank them well, make them feel good about their decision and don’t scare them away with a second gift request too soon . . .
But the truth is . . . if you don’t get a second gift within 90 days, you probably won’t get a second gift no matter how much you invest over the next several years in educating and cultivating the donor. One study shows that donors who give just one gift during their first year have only a 28% retention rate in the second year. That compares to an astounding 78% second-year retention rate for those who give three gifts during their first year as a donor. The challenge is coming up with the appropriate second-gift ask, and communicating effectively.
Second wrong assumption . . .
2. You alienate donors if you call them to ask for a gift. Everyone knows that we all hate telemarketing. The callers always interrupt your dinner time. And they are so irritating – you just can’t get off the phone . . .
But the truth is . . . phone calls are a good way to get a second gift from first-time donors, not to mention reactivating lapsed donors. Say all you want about invasion of privacy and interrupting that precious, intimate dinner-time conversation, but hearing a sincere voice explain a simple but urgent need moves hearts and minds. Of course, it takes a well-conceived telephone script and a skilled caller. But the genius of this strategy is, you can stop the calls as soon as response dips below a 1:1 ROI. Or at least revise the script. So you can guarantee never to lose money on a telemarketing campaign.
And the third obvious, but wrong assumption is . . .
3. Those hokey direct mail techniques just don’t work anymore. We’ve been underlining important copy, using bold face type to emphasize what’s critical, including matching checks and coupons, featuring handwriting, inserting personalization and pumping out emergency grams and dramatic photo inserts for years. Donors today are too sophisticated for those “tricks of the trade.” They’re just not buying . . .
But the truth is . . . potential donors don’t read every word, no matter how well your copy is written. Therefore, they love to scan and pull the most important information. All these techniques help a reader save time by scanning instead of reading, understanding within a few seconds exactly what the opportunity is and deciding with both their heart and their head if this is something they want to get involved in. Sure, you have to be careful. If everything is emphasized, nothing stands out. Effective communication is both an art and a science. This is where the “art” comes in.
Samuel Butler (1835-1902) said it well:
“Logic is like a sword – those who appeal to it shall perish by it.”
That’s why we must continually test our assumptions. And tests have proven over and over again that these tried-and-true strategies and techniques continue to perform. Sort of like Jamie Moyer, that quintessential major league pitcher who’s turning 50 next year and is still playing professional baseball. We’ve seen him over and over again, lobbing that slow pitch for the Seattle Mariners, the Philadelphia Phillies and now the Denver Rockies. Sure, his technique isn’t flashy or breaking any speed records. Fans aren’t screaming frenetically when he walks up to the mound. But that slow pitch still strikes out the young guys who think their skill and power is ushering in a whole new day for the sport. Logically, they could be right . . . practically, maybe not so much.
Direct marketing is both an art and a science. That’s what makes this vocation so unpredictable, frustrating and totally fascinating.