Malleable Musings

June 17, 2009

DM / Email / SM … the same rules apply

Filed under: Emails, Social Media, Trad marketing methods — Brendan @ 10:22 pm

I got a piece of direct mail yesterday that seemed to bring together a lot of different ideas.  My thinking was undoubtedly influenced by the #digitalleap twitterstream, which I dipped in to on Monday. Also, many of the arguments about social media being just another form of communication were fresh in my mind having listened to the excellent Six Pixels of Separation #159 podcast on the train home yesterday evening.

As an aside, personally I find JayJay’s notes about Digital Leap to be a far more detailed and coherent summary of the day than the twitter #hashtag.  To me it doesn’t matter that this is one person’s point of view and she’s espousing it away from where the main online conversation is likely to take place.  Why? Because I trust her point of view and think the permanence, readability and searchability of JayJay’s notes to be superior.  I think that there’s probably a whole blog post just on this topic – but for now that will probably have to wait.

Outside of CAFOD mailer

Outside of CAFOD mailer

Anyway the direct mail piece was from a charity that I’ve given to in the past.  What I loved about it was the language used, how on message it remained and the calls to action that were used.  It got me thinking about how similar this sort of communication is actually to the digital methods that many would say have superseded direct mail.

This is the mailing as I received it.  Immediately it had done all of the right things.

1) Their targeting data was good – and their delivery mechanism was sound. (The piece was delivered and had got in to my hands. I presume I was targeted through the Gift Aid scheme in which you provide your addresses.)

2) I recognised the sender (branding).

3) The subject line attracted me (alongside the crunch that told me there was something other than paper inside the envelope).

4) All of this led me to open the communication (envelope).  If steps 1-3 weren’t in place the mail either wouldn’t have got to me or I would have thrown it straight in to the recycling bin.

Compare this to the cardinal rules of email marketing.  The only significant factor missing is receiving the message at the right time.

This was what was inside of the envelope.

intInside of the envelope

What struck me first of all was the consistency of the message.  On the envelope I’d been warned that I would be asked to tell them what I think and the contents delivered.  This core call to action should sound familiar to the social media fundraising mantra of building influencers and friends and understanding them and their commitment to your cause as a first step.  It’s certainly no new idea, more like fundraising 101 – people give to causes they believe in that are articulated well and to their friends.

Anyway, the entire pack had been carefully designed.  I thought the addition of a Fairtrade teabag and the second line of the headline “Will you tell us over a cup of tea?” was a masterstroke.  Throughout the covering letter and the survey the language used was chatty and informal and the graphics complemented this.

Every opportunity was used to tell the little interesting stories that fit with the brand messages that the charity is waiting to push.  It informed and cross-sold, but at no point did I feel I was being pushed.

I was left in no doubt that the purpose of this mailing was predominantly a listening exercise. The paragraph requesting donations was actually the top paragraph of page 2, and it was a simple understated, “when you’ve completed our survey, would you consider making a donation” backed up by the following line which was underlined, “We really do want to hear your opinions, whether you choose to make a donation or not.”

In the UK, I think this approach fits the university sector well.  It’s actually the approach used by my alma matter, the VC wrote to me saying something about how she wanted the alumni to help keep the university honest.  A clear message that as alumni that we are the probably the most visible aspect of the brand that the university has.

In the institution in which I have worked for the past seven years, I’ve long argued that our alumni base is probably more important to us as influencers than as a cash cow to be milked.  And I also argued that setting up our alumni association from scratch one of the key things we needed to do was to locate and listen to our alumni before anything else.  What’s more we needed to listen harder to our alumni who were distance learning students who had never set foot on the university than might be necessary for more conventional students.

We built the numbers very quickly and did a lot of listening and surveying but we always had a problem with segmentation.  Our surveys were rudimentary and nothing like as elegant as the one I got in this mailing.  When I get a chance I’m going to scan and save it here as it really is an exceptionally well executed.  It will provide a tonne of information that the charity can use highly effectively to both reduce their costs in communicating with me, recruit me as a volunteer and improve their likely return by targeting me with the key messages that matter to me.

However it’s also written in language that encourages and reinforces all of the brand messages so I’d imagine quite a few people will get to the end of the survey and will feel compelled to add a donation.

Thinking about it after a while I realised that there was one extra thing that could have been done, but for me this was the only fault.  This minor thing was to separate the email address from the donation box.  Ideally they should have also used a quite statement about helping them reduce their communication costs / or communicating electronically to save paper.  The reason for this is that some people will take the charity at their word and just fill in the survey, but not realise the savings that the charity can make in dealing with the person electronically.



  1. Thanks for following up on this. Look forward to meeting you soon! 🙂

    Comment by JayJay — June 19, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  2. JayJay – I’m really looking forward to meeting you too.

    Comment by Brendan — June 20, 2009 @ 6:43 am

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