Direct mail is still a fundamental player in today’s multi-channel fundraising world. However, it is important to understand how direct mail is changing – and that this is a good thing for nonprofit fundraising. Traditional direct mail (and by “traditional” I mean “last decade”) has primarily been “a single message to many people,” with small amounts of personalization, usually limited to a personalized salutation and some suggested gifts based on a donor’s previous giving history.
Today’s direct mail is much more dynamic, thanks to the advantages of Variable-Data Printing (VDP) and other digital technologies. You now have the ability to easily and affordably produce “many messages to many people.” This means you can develop copy and content that is relevant to each specific segment and pertinent to each individual constituent.
While gathering more copy and content may create a bit more work in the initial stages of campaign planning, the benefits of this work are well worth the extra effort. In today’s multi-media infused world, it is more important to send highly personalized and relevant communications than ever before – especially if, in addition to your direct mail, you are communicating across other channels such as email, web, mobile and social media. Any worthwhile multi-channel campaign must be well integrated. That means that there is a clear call-to-action in each channel of your campaign, AND the call-to-action is the same (or very similar) across channels.
Your donor/prospect should be able to tell within 5 seconds of experiencing a mailing, email, text message, website, or social media promotion, that it is a part of the same campaign that you have communicated via other media channels. Digital printing technologies allow organizations to produce direct mail campaigns that are both highly personalized and effectively integrated with other media channels.
Here are 4 reasons to consider converting your traditional direct mail package into a dynamic, digitally-produced, highly-personalized, cross-media promotion:
#1 - Change Copy and Images on the Fly
With VDP technology you can change the text, photos, and other full-color graphics on each individual print piece. That means that you can send a very specific message to a unique segment of your donors/prospects, and completely change that message for a different sub-set of your constituents – all within one postal presort. This can be especially helpful when crafting different messages to lapsed donors, low-end active donors, mid-level donors, major donors, and prospective donors. You can essentially change the entire look and feel of the package to be appropriate for each respective segment of your audience, while still creating a single graphics package for production. This is typically done in InDesign with multiple layers corresponding to major art changes for specific segments, and all text variables included in a manner similar to setting up a merge for laser-personalization in Microsoft Word.
#2 - Combine Printing & Mailing into a Single Production Process
With traditional printing you have separate printing and mailing processes. With VDP you can print everything – including the mailing information and barcodes – all in one pass. If you’re doing a letter package you may still have some static elements, such as envelopes, but you can save time and reduce production costs on personalized letters, brochures, newsletters, or any sort of self-mailer. And since the mailing data is being setup at one time along with the artwork for the mailpiece, your overall postage costs can be reduced because you are processing all segments at one time in one production run (i.e., your mailing might qualify for better automation discounts), instead of doing separate batches for each segment. You are also reducing costs by eliminating separate laser-personalization or ink-jet production processes that are typically separate mailshop functions.
#3 - Digital Technology has Improved Tremendously
Not too long ago digital printing was only cost-effective for very small quantities and package sizes. Today’s digital printing presses are capable of printing in much larger formats and therefore can be cost-effective on quantities between 50k – 100k pieces depending on size (some digital presses now have sheet sizes up to 26 inches wide!) and versions. Print quality has also improved so much that many people cannot tell the difference between a letter that has been printed digital vs. offset. Additionally, paper stocks for digital presses have improved along the same lines and some digital presses can now print on card stock up to 14PT. The only disadvantage is that digital presses cannot print PMS colors – the best they can do is a CMYK match (i.e., using 4-color process printing to match a PMS color as closely as possible), and certain types of digital presses are much better at this than others. The bottom line is, if you haven’t taken a look at the cost-savings of VDP within the last 6 months, you may want to check again. (NOTE: Pricing among vendors can vary significantly when it comes to VDP – be sure to compare multiple digital printing providers.)
#4 - VDP Direct Mail Drives Online, Mobile and Social Integration
When someone uses the words “digital” and “fundraising” together in the same sentence, most people start thinking about online fundraising tools (websites, social networks, mobile, banners, e-blasts, etc.). But it is important to remember that so much of online traffic originates from offline communications. This is arguably the most important reason to convert your old, static direct mail into a more dynamic, highly-personalized package. With variable-data printing you have a wider range of cross-media tools to incorporate in your direct mail communications.
Take QR Codes, for example: just last month the U.S. Postal Service gave a 3% postage discount for any direct mail campaign that included a QR code. QR Codes are 2-dimensional, square barcodes that can hold much more information than a traditional barcode. They are scanned using a smartphone with a barcode reader application. They typically take respondents to view a website, a video, share contact information, calendar events, or anything that can be hosted on a website. In a recent article in Deliver magazine, the U.S. Postal Service stated, “Many brands are finding that including a barcode on mail increases the response rate and helps drive customers to take immediate action.”
Many organizations are already using generic QR Codes in their direct mail. But where QR codes can offer greater benefit (especially for non-profit organizations) is when they are personalized to each recipient. Instead of sending a generic QR code that takes all constituents to the same generic website, you can use VDP and Personalized URLs (PURLs) to make unique QR codes for each person. This allows you to track responses down to each individual person so you can learn more about their preferences and behavior in response to your campaign. In other words, you can capture the names and contact information of a much broader range of responders – from the most interested donors to the people who are merely browsing and looking for more information about your campaign.
Direct mail can be used to encourage your constituents to engage with you via new and increasingly emerging media channels. Here is a short list of ideas for how to use direct mail to drive multi-channel responses:
- Print personalized QR Codes that direct constituents to a mobile-optimized landing site
- Promote “Text-to-Give” or “Text-to-Win” campaigns
- Use campaign-specific landing sites with Personalized URLs (PURLs) as the call-to-action
- Promote your organization’s Social Media identities (and offer an incentive to “like” and “follow” you!)
Use Intelligent Mail Barcodes with tracking service that triggers individual emails to your constituents when the mail piece is scanned at the postal facility closest to their home (i.e., the email lets them know to look for your package in their mailbox “today or tomorrow”)
[For organizations with local audiences] Use VDP to print variable maps with turn-by-turn directions from each person’s house to your closest donation center, special event, or local office.
Want to learn more about Multi-Channel Marketing?
Check out our presentation on Integrating Direct Mail and Digital Media for Nonprofits: