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Anatomy of a Control: World Wildlife Foundation

4 Nov

In its 4-year-old control, the World Wildlife Fund cleverly blends involvement devices and premiums with the popular calendar freemium to win over donors

Nothing speaks to a prospective donor or customer like an involvement device. Most people seem to find surveys, quizzes and free gift choices advertised both online and in direct mail irresistible.

Involvement devices work because they make consumers and constituents feel important, as if their choices or opinions matter and will make an impact on the company or organization they’re responding to. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) capitalizes on the involvement technique in its long-standing calendar control mailing.

Sent to prospective and previous members, the 9″ x 12″ package gets recipients involved from the beginning, with an offer to vote for next year’s calendar cover on the front of the outer. On the back of the outer, headline copy and photographs advertise the prospect’s choice between three WWF branded premiums—three lunch totes, two water bottles or a golf umbrella. “The more involvement you give your donor, the better your mailing will do,” says Antoinette Dack, director of membership marketing for the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

WWF has been mailing a calendar control package for more than 17 years, but the current incarnation, with multiple premium choices and a vote for the cover, has been mailing for four years and has improved response.

Both the premium and calendar cover choices operate with sticker involvement devices, which donors can peel and place on the reply form to indicate their preferences. Donors can find the premium stickers attached to the top right-hand side of the two-page letter. Stickers for the 2011 calendar cover image are located on one of the package’s buckslips.

An oversized reply form, perforated to the bottom edge of the letter, has enough room for all the donor’s gift information, plus stickers for the premium and calendar cover choices. WWF began testing the larger reply form about four years ago. “We needed more room for the placement of the stickers … and we tend to notice that the more white space there is and the bigger [donors] can write, the better,” Dack details.

Of the two buckslips enclosed in the mailing, one advertises the three premium choices and offers 10 environmental tips on the back, and a second slip features the stickers to vote for the 2011 calendar cover animal and statistics about how WWF allocates its funds on the reverse. Also enclosed are a BRE and the highlight of the package, a colorful 16-month calendar with the theme of wildlife babies. “We’ve tested various themes over the years, such as families, friends, together in nature and portraits, but our most successful one is the wildlife babies,” Dack says (Archive code #610-171878-0907B).

The first drop was sent in July to both acquisition and house names. There was a second drop sent to acquisitions in early September, and a final drop to remaining house names, including lapsed members, in October. Altogether WWF sent out more than 3 million calendar control packages. Dack says the organization chooses to send its calendar mailings beginning in July, to keep up with market trends. “You want to be in people’s mailboxes at the same time as all of the other nonprofit organizations send their calendars,” she explains. The calendar offers 16 months so members have the opportunity to use it as early as September.

During the rollout, there were several test panels at play. WWF tested a full-bleed image of the baby tiger on the front outer instead of an image of the calendar itself. It also tested sending two calendars to previous members and tested its typical plush stuffed animal premium choices against newer, more eco-friendly alternatives, such as the totes, umbrella and water bottles offered in this package.

In response to the flagging economy, WWF performed an interesting ask string test for previous donors. Dack says most nonprofits try to upgrade donors every year, with ask strings of 1, 1.25, 1.5 and 2 times above their previous gifts, but last spring, WWF began testing ask strings of .75, 1, 1.25 and 1.5. By making the first ask amount lower than last year’s gift, Dack says the average gift has lowered slightly, but response has increased and overall revenue has increased. She repeated the test again this year and got the same great results.

A bookend email campaign adds to the success of the mailing. Email messages featuring similar creative, a letter written from Dack, and images of the free calendar and premium choices were sent to about 40 percent of the direct mail recipients both before and after the calendar package hit. Dack says the email messages raised about $12,000 in gifts, but more importantly, direct mail response increased among those segments who received both mail and email messages.

She thinks the email messages give donors pause when they receive the direct mailing. “When [donors] get the mailing in their mailbox, they hold on to it and think, ‘Oh, I saw something about this,'” Dack illustrates. Sending emails in addition to direct mail, she says, also teaches donors to think multichannel and interact with the organization both in the mail and online.

WWF mails to about 1 million prospective, current and lapsed members each month. Those who become members are typically around 60 years old, 72 percent are female and most are highly educated. Mailings sent throughout the year, to both house and acquisition names, can range in format from more traditional #10s, to big packages with up-front premiums such as calendars, cards, gift wrap or notepads. This control mailing happens to be the first of the fiscal year and receives an average gift of $23 for house names and $18 for acquisition. Dack says this campaign is WWF’s strongest, due to its high response rate, and she says she’ll definitely be mailing the calendar package next year.

To keep the control strong, Dack plans to continue testing creative and lists. She is considering bumping the double calendar up from a test to a control feature. One thing is certain, that WWF members will be waiting for next year’s calendar, to see if their votes for the cover image won! “I think we give them a great product, with beautiful photos … I think it’s something people wait for in the mail every year,” Dack concludes.

Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Inside Direct Mail.

Mail Order Cause Marketing

18 May

Read for the Cure hits prospects in the heart, with part of its subscription proceeds going to charity

In this tough economy, when consumers are cutting back on everyday niceties like dry cleaning, baby sitters, the beauty salon and gym memberships, a consumer magazine subscription can be a tough sell. But when you combine that offering with a cause, and do so at a very low price point, you may have better luck reaching that prospect’s heart and wallet.

In December, Read for the Cure, a for-profit agency owned and operated by Meredith Corp., mailed its first major rollout, offering prospects more than 100 magazine subscriptions to choose from—all at a flat rate of $10. The best part is, 10 percent of the subscription proceeds are donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leading nonprofit organization working to end breast cancer (Archive code #280-175381-0901).

Other major publishers, like Time Inc. and Hearst, already have branches of their organizations that run agencies, points out Jon Macarthy, consumer marketing director for Meredith. “We did it because we already had extensive ties with Komen foundation—they were the natural partner to go to for this,” he says.

Ironically, despite so many prospects feeling the financial pinch, now can be a good time to reach them. “Particularly in the down economic times, people want a way to give to the causes that they want to, and if there’s a way to do it through purchases that they might make anyway, that just enhances the experience and makes it easier for them,” Macarthy says.

Read for the Cure performed months of testing to arrive at December’s control format, a pink 6˝ x 11˝ package with a two-page letter, lift note, stickers and address labels, four-color insert, sheet of magazine stamps to select titles, fast 100 sweepstakes to win a cookbook premium, reply card, and BRE. “This campaign had a full plate of testing, including versions of the control with and without various key components to determine their value,” Macarthy says. “Each [element] we test with or without, and if it pays for itself in response, we leave it in there,” he adds.

To be sure the package was performing at its best, he also tested different package sizes, outers, letters, which magazines were featured and the offer itself. “Based on testing [pricing], we’ve been able to move up how many magazines someone takes with every order incrementally … Now most people are taking well over two magazines on average,” he shares.

One of the challenges designing the package was finding the right mix between a publishing effort and a fundraising appeal. In some ways, the package uses some of the formulas of a Publisher’s Clearing House mailing, with stickers, stamps and even a sweepstakes. “Certainly, we took some learning that we got from Publisher’s Clearing House because they’ve been at that a long time, and they certainly know what they’re doing,” Macarthy notes. “We use the rose stickers [and address labels], which is very common in fundraising, so we borrowed from that world … and then added to that the kind of ease on the order card and the walking people through that we do on our own direct mail for our own titles. So we’ve been able to kind of mix some of the best practices from a number of areas,” Macarthy comments.

The effort mailed mostly to females who were likely to be both donors and readers from Meredith’s database of subscribers and outside lists. “We made extensive use of our own database because Meredith’s database tends to be heavily driven to women and homeowner women, and this is a cause that rings true for them,” he says.

In offering a slew of popular titles, the purpose of the mailing was not to renew readers but to open people up to new titles to benefit the participating publishers. So far the results have been very positive. “Our results as far as overall order response are meeting our projections and what we had hoped for to make it a worthwhile venture for both our publishers, for Komen and ourselves,” Macarthy reveals.

He plans to mail the package in June and December and, depending on results, may increase the frequency and volume incrementally. “We’re still working on what we might test going out, but each mailing will have some other tweak or some idea just to keep the package fresh,” he explains.

A big goal for this year is to increase online activity for this campaign at the site where prospects can place subscription orders as well. The URL was featured on some of the mailing segments, but Macarthy hopes to drive even more orders through the site. “We would love to get a bigger presence there and will make some efforts to have the website be more of a destination site in and of itself, independent of the mailings, but the mailings will also continue to tie to the website,” he concludes.

  • An Emotional Letter Loses: In its recent mailing, Read for the Cure tested two letters, one with a very emotional and personal approach and one with a more straightforward sales pitch. According to Jon Macarthy, consumer marketing director for Meredith Corp., the emotional letter lost. The emotional letter grabbed the reader from the beginning with, “Her eyes red from crying …” and detailed a woman’s familiarity with the pain of those suffering from cancer. Meanwhile, the winner began with this pitch: “You can help put an end to breast cancer by indulging in one of your favorite pastimes.” This just proves that every piece of the package needs to be tested.

(Originally published in Inside Direct Mail, April 2009)

Anatomy of a Control Mailing: Long Live Long Copy

15 May

An eight-page letter mails for more than 28 years as part of International Living’s acquisition package

In fiction writing classes, novices are often discouraged from using the second-person point of view. Beginning a story with “You” is something to be left in the hands of the experts, because it is difficult and awkward to do well. So, what are the rules about using the second-person narrative voice to begin a direct mail sales letter?

When William Bonner, owner of Agora Publishing and founder of International Living newsletter—now magazine—sat down 28 years ago to write an acquisition letter for the publication, he elected to begin with a second-person narrative: “You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry and fig trees … amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks.” His letter continues on to describe your seeing the heavenly blue sky, sparkling sea and your maid bringing you breakfast in bed.

To this day, the eight-page letter that Bonner penned at the inception of the publication has remained the cornerstone of the company’s long-standing acquisition control. “That simple letter has evolved little since William wrote it all those years ago. The message still calls to many who wish to retire, reinvent themselves, buy a second home or invest overseas,” says Licinda Mytych, marketing manager in the Baltimore offices of International Living. In fact, the letter is part of what may be one of the longest-running controls still in the mail.

International Living covers travel, lifestyle, real estate, investment and retirement opportunities abroad. The acquisition package mails quarterly and most recently dropped in February and April, each time to a segment of about 90,000 prospects and lapsed subscribers from house lists, other Agora publication lists and core outside names. Within the February and April mailings, Mytych conducted offer and format tests—including an auto renewal offer, outer envelope tweaks and a brochure—but in both drops, the letter remained the staple.

A Time-Tested Letter
Bonner’s letter begins by setting a scene in tropical paradise, and this copy is meant to describe a lifestyle, which the publication promises to bring within reach. “The writer, Bill Bonner, is painting a dream for the reader; he’s bringing them into this dream life, this dream image. You don’t have to stay in your daily-grind life; you can embrace a different opportunity, an alternative reality for yourself, if you just look beyond the shores of the United States,” Mytych explains.

After the copy’s opening scene, which appears in large, bold font, the letter takes a more formal “Dear Reader,” sales approach, touching on every facet of International Living’s editorial, with an occasional mention of a gentle sea breeze or clear ocean view. The letter also details, in real dollar amounts, the cost of living and savings associated with particular locations. “It is crucial to put cost savings and prices in here; it proves to the reader the validity of what we’re saying,” Mytych says. “We update our numbers every quarter, because it’s very important to have the most current data in our package.”

On the eighth page, the letter closes with a description of the subscription benefits, including two editorial premiums—one about retiring in paradise, the second detailing travel discounts. At the bottom of the page, of course, is Bonner’s signature.

An additional one-page introductory letter is enclosed within each package, which persuades the prospect that reading the longer letter will take only 10 minutes—“Ten very productive—and possibly very profitable—minutes.” No matter how long it takes to read Bonner’s letter, the long copy works. “Long copy is actually king; it’s absolutely crucial in the newsletter industry. The bread and butter of our basic core business is copy and delivering a lot of information to our readers on a monthly basis. To get them to subscribe, we give them a lot of information to really sell them on who and what we are, and we do that with a lot of heavy copy to play up those premium reports and the benefits of being a subscriber,” Mytych says.

Testing to Improve a Winner
Constantly monitoring the mail, Mytych does not see many other companies employing the two-envelope approach, which International Living has been using for years. In February, the control mailed using double-outer envelopes, where the first outer was a 10-¼˝ x 4-½˝ kraft carrier, holding the introductory letter and yet another envelope package. The second outer was a white #10 with the teaser copy, “RETIRE OVERSEAS! Enjoy a million-dollar retirement on US $600 a month.” This outer contained the eight-page control letter, a reply form with a one- or two-year subscription offer, and a BRE.

Mytych tests tweaks in each drop and oversees completely new package designs on the sidelines, in hopes of developing a new control. “If you’ve had a package like ours, that has been around for 28 years, it gets a little tired, and you need things to lift response. We’re also working on a new acquisition package. We have a couple outside and internal copywriters working on lead ideas for us right now, and the one that floats to the top, we’re going to put that in the mail,” she says.

In April the control mailed again, this time using only one outer envelope and a different offer. The entire package rode in a smaller #10 kraft outer and consisted of an introductory letter, eight-page letter, added brochure, reply form offering an automated one-year subscription and a BRE.

Mytych says that mailing only one #10 outer in April not only trimmed costs, but may also boost response. “When you go out to direct mail names, you’re often hitting the same names over and over again … and while we try to mail to a lot of different lists, it helps us to have that outer envelope drop off occasionally to have a bit of a lift in response,” she explains. Two years of past tests on the auto renewal at a low rate of $39 showed an increase in conversion rates on the back end, and pushed it to current control status over the $49 one-year and $89 two-year offers.

Incorporating Online Into the Mix
E-mail is a good direct mail testing tool because it is inexpensive, fast and easy to track in real time. “I am a big reporting geek, and I am constantly looking at the numbers weekly and daily. We do direct mail, but we also have this package going out online, as well, so we’re looking at those response rates in addition to direct mail,” Mytych says.

“Right now our testing really involves getting the offer right—getting the best offer that’s going to appeal to the target and to evolve the package—that’s why we do a lot of testing online, especially with our premium,” Mytych relates. She’s currently testing an online offer for multiple premiums with a two-year subscription. If the multiple premiums boost e-mail response, she will test the offer in the mail next time.

Mytych has also tested four-color, glossy, image-driven acquisitions online and in direct mail, with varied results. The image-driven approach worked well online, with a good response and low cost to produce it using HTML. However, the four-color approach has not yet worked in the mail. “We’ve taken the same copy that we have in our letter and we’ve put it into a four-color, glossy magalog and a four-color, glossy digest format, and neither one of those formats can beat the control package,” Mytych shares. She thinks the black-and-white, personal letter is still more effective at painting a picture and making promises to the prospect than an image-heavy mailing.

In addition to online testing for its acquisition package, the publication also has a newly designed website and a free subscription to its Daily Postcard e-mail, which currently has a whopping 373,000 subscribers. “In all of our direct mail pieces, we push to get that opt-in, and we do a lot of pushing for that opt-in on our website, as well,” Mytych says. This successful daily e-mail is another avenue for acquisitions and has opened up an ad revenue stream. Mytych also engages search engine optimization and pay-per-click efforts to encourage further traffic to the site, and hopefully more Daily Postcard and International Living subscribers.

28 More Years in the Mail?
Even with the dollar down and the U.S. economy sluggish, the market for international investment remains promising. In fact, the slowdown of the U.S. economy makes International Living’s editorial even more relevant. “It’s the same premise that we had years ago: Your dollar will go farther if you look outside of the United States,” Mytych explains.

The audience for the magazine is currently 53,000 paid subscribers who are mostly male, around 45 years of age and making a comfortable living near $100,000 a year. “The newsletter industry, years ago, used to have a standard reader aged 55 and older, and they were retired. Well, now, especially with International Living, you see a younger person looking at the fact that the U.S. dollar is declining and the fact that maybe they are not so happy with Big Brother looking at their business so much in the United States, and they’re looking to go overseas, maybe to reinvent themselves, start a new business, invest, have a second home, travel or retire,” Mytych shares.

International Living
continues to transition from a black-and-white newsletter into a four-color, glossy magazine complete with advertising space. There are also plans to continue to develop the publication’s online presence and acquisitions, but until a new package or decisive test unseats Bonner’s letter, Mytych plans to keep mailing the package within the same parameters.

“For now, we don’t see it going anywhere. Until we have a new package that we can test against this and have it win, this is the package that we’ll be mailing. I’m really happy and proud that this package seems to be one of the longest-standing controls in the industry,” she concludes.

(Originally published in Inside Direct Mail, July 2008)

Greenpeace Poses a ‘Yes or No’ Question

13 May

At the end of a voucher-heavy control series, this small, image-driven appeal boosts renewals

Just like passing a juvenile note to your crush in grade school that asks, “Do you like me?” from a marketer’s or copywriter’s point of view, asking a prospect point-blank, “Will you subscribe/join/donate—Yes or No?” sounds like a recipe for disaster. But “Will You Renew? Yes or No” is the simple question behind a Greenpeace control that’s been in the mail for more than 10 years and was sent again this past July to prospects.

Yet this copy does not do all of the work on its own. The question is paired with a panel of six opposing images; three pristine images of the environment next to three images of ecological disaster. The copy “Will You Renew?” appears at the top of the reply form, and “Yes or No” is lined up with the good and bad images, respectively, at the bottom.

When Greenpeace puts a yes or no question up against such powerful images, it becomes an effective tactic and lodges in the prospective donor’s mind. “I see a lush forest, a beautiful lake with mountains and a whale tale versus a clear-cut forest, a whale being pulled up on the side of a ship and a bird covered in oil. So without having to read anything, you think, ‘Of course, I am going to renew because this is what I want for my future and my children’s future,’” says Robyn Fuller, manager of direct response with the Washington, D.C.–based environmental organization.

While the impact of the package is huge, it’s delivered in a minimal carrier. The effort travels in a small 4˝ x 7½˝ outer with the teaser copy, “THE CHOICE IS YOURS,” along with “MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL” in a red stamped font. “We always like to have the word ‘renewal’ on the carrier so people know it’s a renewal and not an appeal, and ‘The choice is yours’ ties into the ‘Yes or No’ on the inside form,” Fuller says. Within the package is one narrow 6¼˝ x 13¾˝ page with the copy and images—a reply card perfed to the bottom—and a BRE.

Success Within a Series
Greenpeace’s Yes or No proposition is also successful because it’s positioned as the sixth mailing in a nine-package renewal series sent to previous members. By the time the prospect receives this appeal, she’s received packages one and two in the series, which are #10 letter packages with a membership card showing through the front window.

Then there are renewals three and four, which are more traditional letter packages, followed by the fifth package, which Fuller describes as a “corporate enemies” effort. “We have a package that says, ‘These people don’t want you to renew your support in Greenpeace,’ so it’s the head of Kimberly-Clark, the head of ExxonMobil, different people who we’ve targeted over the years for causing great environmental problems,” Fuller describes.

The Yes or No mailer falls in at No. 6 and is trailed by three more notices, including a straight invoice, a package with an address label freemium and a final notice, Fuller says. Compared to the other packages in the series, the Yes or No effort stands out as unique. “This one is more touchy-feely with the images of what we’re doing to save the planet versus the problems we have with it. It’s a very different feel than just a membership card with a straight invoice,” Fuller says. She even hopes recipients are moved to put this on their refrigerators or up in their cubicles at work.

Green Mailing Practices
Greenpeace’s environmental mission extends into its direct marketing. To cut down on wasted materials, Fuller says the organization employs extensive data hygiene. Greenpeace logs donor responses as quickly as possible to limit repeat mail between each of the renewal mailings.

To keep the mailing lists clean, Fuller not only employs the National Change of Address (NCOA) system, but she also uses a Proprietary Change of Address solution—a source developed by leading compilers of consumer data, which contains changed address information that the U.S. Postal Service’s NCOA alone does not cover. Fuller says these address verification efforts are especially helpful in eliminating waste. “We really make sure to keep all of our records as clean as possible so that we’re not wasting paper and sending out extra pieces of mail that we do not need to send out,” she affirms.

The format itself is pared down and printed on the highest recycled paper content that the organization can obtain, which helps save precious paper and production resources, and supports Greenpeace’s mission. “In the end, the less paper we can use, the better we feel. If we could just send out little invoices with a send-and-return envelope—and it worked, and we could bring the same amount of money in—we would,” Fuller jokes. “But you know you have to change up your format to make it look like a different package throughout the series, and you never know why people are responding. What’s triggering them to renew? Why doesn’t everybody just renew off of a first renewal notice that’s a membership card?” she asks.

Also, unlike many other nonprofit organizations, Greenpeace does not send premium-based mailings. “For fundraising, we do not have premiums … people give to us because they’re committed to what we’re doing. They’re not giving for the stuffed animal,” Fuller remarks.

Results and Future Campaigns
Each year, the Yes or No package performs at about a 3 percent response rate, and it is keeping up with that level this time around. Fuller says the bulk of the response comes from efforts one and two, which include a member card. “The first one gets about a 16 percent to 18 percent response rate, and the second one gets about a 10 percent response rate,” she says. Fuller believes that inserting a membership card creates a long tail for response. “A lot of people will hold on to that member card, and in their heads they know they joined in July so they’re not going to renew until July … even though they received all the other mailings,” she says.

Average gifts also are highest among the first effort and taper off throughout the series, sometimes spiking at the end or in online donations. “Our average gift goes up and down just by a few dollars per notice,” she says. The first notice usually pulls a $48 to $52 average gift, and that declines to about $42 or $43 by the sixth notice, with around a $45 average gift for the final notice. Greenpeace enriches its direct mail renewal series with telemarketing and e-mail campaigns.

The sixth mailing falls in the middle of the telemarketing program, which helps its response, and a small portion of donations come in via e-mail. After the direct mail hits, Fuller says she sees huge spikes in web hits and captures a small margin of online donations. Including an area on the mail reply card for donors to fill in their e-mail addresses gives Greenpeace the opportunity to send out even more e-mail solicitations in the future, especially because Fuller reveals that e-mail donors give about $5 to $8 more than mail donors.

To stay modern and fresh, Greenpeace is undergoing a slight branding and logo update. “We are testing a slightly new green … our logo’s the same, it’s just a slight change in color, just refreshing or modernizing it a bit,” Fuller explains. Fuller says that laser personalization makes testing fairly easy, but she’s not sure she will run extensive tests next year. “A couple of years ago, we did a lot of testing to the series; I mean in practically every package we did tests … This year, really, we haven’t tested as much,” Fuller says.

She may continue to test ask amounts, such as highest previous contribution versus most recent contribution. “Sometimes that works, especially later in the notices as people say, ‘I can’t afford to give $100 anymore. I’ve just been giving $25,’ and then you ask them based on that more recent $25,” she describes. One thing is for certain: This control will remain a major part of the series for many years to come. “After all, it has held up for close to 10 years!” Fuller exclaims.

(originally published in Inside Direct Mail, November 2008).