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Amid Virus Disruption, Direct Mail Has ‘Optichannel’ Advantages

As the majority of American adults hunker down at home, with all but essential businesses closed or working remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis, AccuList reminds marketers of the unique advantages of targeted direct mail, which takes promotions right into homes, has the highest response rate of any channel, and has the ability via print technology to connect with digital, too.

Direct Mail Can Rise Above the Current Digital Noise

Direct-response agency SeQuel Response notes that since the majority of American have responded to state lockdowns and virus fears by increasing their online shopping, many direct marketers have flooded the digital zone with new e-commerce sites, digital advertising, social media promotions, and e-mail. With online channels increasingly overcrowded, direct mail offers an alternative way to reach consumers in their homes and an opportunity to rise above the noise. The agency provides some good tips for direct mail in the time of COVID: 1) Ensure creative elements and messaging align with consumer sentiments and promote social responsibility and even national pride for positive brand awareness; 2) reconsider mail frequency and timing if warranted for a particular product/service, but make sure not to lose touch with the audience; 3) solidify existing customer relations, with increased focus on retention and brand awareness to help survive on the other side of the crisis; 4) integrate direct mail with digital marketing, a proven way to boost campaign performance and reduce CPA, including print technology, such as QR, AR and VR; and, finally 5) plan for the post-crisis world, recognizing that a campaign takes six weeks from list development to creative production to mail drop, and make sure messaging and brand positioning can evolve post-crisis.

Leverage Mail Strengths With Modeling, Digital Alignment

Given the coronavirus disruption of buying processes, “optichannel” campaigning, meaning supporting a prospect’s or customer’s shopping and buying process using the channel that is best for them, becomes essential for ROI. Direct mail adds special advantages to an optichannel mix, especially when combined with modeling and digital integration, argues a recent Target Marketing magazine article. Among the article’s examples is Galileo Learning, which operates 75 children’s summer camps across parts of California and Illinois. The company used tight response-lift customer modeling to identify higher-response prospects on external lists and then used the resulting savings to create even better creative. As a result, response surpassed expectations by bringing in 155 new campers and $66,000 in new revenue. Another Target Marketing case study is especially relevant for nonprofit fundraisers trying to help the most vulnerable in the current COVID-19 crisis. It comes from Meals on Wheels in the Diablo region of California, whose mailed holiday donor appeal garnered $230,000 in donations and 43% new donors. The charity attributes the 75,000-piece mail campaign’s success to, first, defining more-responsive list segments for existing donors, lapsed donors and prospects via demographics and customer-look-alike modeling, and, second, adding targeted digital advertising (e-mail, social and online display). The added digital effort not only delivered a 600% increase in campaign impressions over the mail-only control, the donors acquired by the “optichannel” campaign gave an average of 169% more than mail-only donors.

COVID-19 Crisis Alters Tactics for Fundraising Success

In a previous post, AccuList joined other experts to stress the importance of nonprofit clients staying the course on fundraising despite the coronavirus crisis altering the social and economic landscape. But fundraising tactics will need to alter to navigate that landscape, of course. Recent fundraising pro articles highlight some smart ways to approach existing and potential donors during the crisis.

Adapt by Expanding Digital Communications & Events

In a recent NonProfit PRO post, for example, C.J. Orr, vice president, and Katie Nichols, senior associate director, of the Orr Group fundraising agency, put together some quick tactic shifts for fundraisers, especially those that had been counting on events to tap donors. First of all, don’t panic and cancel events, they advise, but reschedule or repurpose. If an event can be postponed, a nonprofit may be able to transfer tickets/table buyers to the future event instead of giving or issuing a refund, and can add touchpoints with donors and prospects along the way. Or, the fundraiser can switch to a digital event, perhaps with livestreaming. Indeed, this is an opportunity to go digital in multiple targeted ways, they suggest, starting with more social media ads, paid search ads and SEO efforts aimed at the target audience. For example, now is a good time for a digital forum, such as a virtual “fireside-chat” with a subject matter expert discussing COVID-19 and its impact on the mission and incorporating a fundraising ask. Or the nonprofit can tap top-of-mind concerns and promote itself as a thought leader with an article on the COVID-19 impact posted on social media as well as e-mailed to donors and prospects. Plus, remember that over 80% use smart phones, so that mobile-optimized promotion is essential. And don’t forget old-school, nondigital communications, such as direct mail and phone calls. The authors suggest building out a phone-call list of top funders, with strategic talking points, for example.

Seize the Opportunity to Increase & Improve Social Media Efforts

Michael Wasserman, CEO of the stream fundraising platform Tiltify, used another NonProfit PRO post to stress how the current crisis should push fundraisers to boost use of social media as people naturally turn to social platforms to replace the lack of in-person interaction. The potential audience is huge: almost 80% of the population uses social media, with Facebook and YouTube having over 2 billion users per platform. Even newer sites like TikTok boast 500 million, Discord gets 250 million, and Twitch attracts 15 million daily visitors. Note that the Facebook Fundraisers tool has already raised over $2 billion, Wasserman points out, while even newcomer Twitch has raised over $115 million for various charities. So charities that still use elementary fundraising pages with a simple donate button, some text and an image are missing big opportunities to compete for attention in a space that the crisis is making even more crowded. He urges nonprofits to focus more on enticing content, such as video, which can leverage YouTube, the No. 2 search engine in the world with 2 billion registered users. Nonprofits should also consider using social livestreaming events for fundraising. An effort of a few hours can generate more than a campaign of months, he notes, citing the example of a group that raised in a week the amount it costs to run St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a day, which is about $2.7 million. As an example of how to gin up donations, he imagines livestreaming a music celebrity connecting and interacting with fans online, perhaps asking people to donate in order to choose songs or get signed merchandise giveaways.

Social Distancing Doesn’t Stop Creative Outreach to Major Donors

What about the impact of “social distancing” on the traditionally face-to-face connections that engage major donors? Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, president of philanthropic consulting firm Grenzebach, Glier and Associates, offers some tips in a recent piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Start by showing you care and reach out quickly to ask how the donor is faring and discuss how the nonprofit is responding to the crisis. Enlist top executives to communicate with major donors about plans for moving forward, with consideration for the appropriate communication channel; for example, e-mail can quickly provide a direct but formal assurance, while social-media platforms offer a more human touch. Ad hoc “investor calls” may be appropriate for smaller groups of donors. For major donors and prospects, consider developing a specific message with a more in-depth perspective and request for their input. Highlight the nonprofit’s expertise and how gifts support efforts relevant to the COVID-19 crisis. A museum might share national media interviews with staff members, or an academic medical center might point to resources on the university’s coronavirus webpage, for example. And don’t abandon events; get creative with virtual format substitutes, such as a conference call or webinar to let donors stuck at home see a presentation about a gift opportunity. For example, instead of a brunch with a scholarship recipient, donors can have a phone or video call with the student, she points out.

 

Managing Marketing During the Coronavirus Crisis

The global spread of the coronavirus and fear of the virus already have caused significant disruptions in supply chains, corporate profits, economic growth and government policy. No one knows how bad things will get before they get better, but marketers need to be prepared.

Ready for More Online Traffic, Target Carefully and Prep for Delays

Certain industries are more likely to be significantly affected as people shun travel and large gatherings: airlines, cruises, events of all kinds (perhaps even the Tokyo Olympics), business conferences, hospitality, and even retail venues. Supply disruptions also could affect sectors ranging from auto manufacturing to high tech to promotional products. A general slowdown could cut advertising spend initially, but experts believe it is more likely that there will be a reallocation of dollars to cater to quarantined or self-isolating consumers via mail order, digital marketing and e-commerce for product sales; via online entertainment such as video and gaming options; and even via streaming of sports events instead of stadium venues. In a recent blog, AI and data tech company Appier suggested tactics to leverage this rise in online consumption by using online data to identify coronavirus concerns and deliver targeted relevant content and advertising via keyword segmentation, which is especially relevant for health, wellness, medical, and sanitation sectors. Companies can also develop more branded online apps, games, and videos to compete for the expanded online audience. Plus, it will be important to use AI and audience data for contextual targeting and proper placement of advertising (no travel ads in China) to avoid creating a negative brand impression. Because companies may face logistical delays, they need to commit to transparent multichannel communications on product shortages and estimated delivery times, as well as timely response to questions and complaints, advises Appier. At the same time, increased engagement via website, e-mail, social media, push notifications or in-app messaging can bring customers closer and help reduce frustration levels and attrition.

Set the Right Tone With Empathetic Messaging

Appier also stressed that marketers need to set the right messaging tone for an anxious audience, avoiding the hard sell in favor of customer and community support. In a PR Week interview, Priyanka Bajpai, regional head, Southeast Asia, SPAG Group, promoted the company’s 3E approach to messaging during the crisis: Empathy to show cautious optimism and trust in the future ability to work together and find solutions; Engagement of internal and external stakeholders to inspire confidence; and Education using multiple channels to outline the criticality of the situation and steps taken by the brand to support stakeholders. Brands may also want to highlight nonprofit support efforts to address the pandemic. Prince Zhang, CEO, Greater China, Ketchum, advised PR Week: “If you are a big enterprise that makes donations to fight coronavirus, you should make a precise external announcement with key information around the exact amount of donations, the recipient organizations, the purpose of donations, logistics etc. Brands should avoid any marketing around the donations.”

Create a PR Communications Plan Before Things Get Critical

In a recent Business2Community post, William Comcowich, interim CEO of customized media monitoring and analytics firm Glean.info, advised developing a PR Communications Action Plan just in case the crisis deepens and lengthens. Under the plan, a company would 1) stay informed and ready to act by continuously monitoring the media and regularly engaging with stakeholders; 2) emphasize employee safety, including travel plans and remote or telecommuting options; 3) boost corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities by contributing to relevant social causes (such as the Red Cross working in China); and 4) supply reliable information to staff and customers and also counter misinformation.