Direct marketing focus :
Channel surfing
Though targeted multi-channel direct marketing may be more involved than a run-of-the-mill bulk mailshot, the potential of a significantly increased response rate makes it all worthwhile, finds Emily Cubit
Ten years ago, direct marketing in the charity sector simply involved testing a mailpack or insert and subsequently rolling it out over the next couple of years. But as the market has become increasingly competitive and techniques ever more sophisticated, this is no longer enough.

In order to reach prospects and donors more effectively charities are having to make their direct marketing work even harder, thus combining various techniques and looking for more innovative routes to market.

Derek Humphries, director at charity sector consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions, says: “In the past, innovation usually meant a new piece of creative rather than a truly innovative combination of media or practices.” However, if charities are to succeed in ramping up their share of wallet in an increasingly competitive and fragmented market, they need to wise up to more innovative uses of various direct channels.

Shelter, for example, is using SMS as a response mechanism for recruiting donors through a campaign across London Underground stations as part of its ‘More homes now’ activity. The initiative uses moving digital panels installed down the escalators of some tube stations. Matt Goody, head of direct marketing at Shelter, explains: “The campaign shows children living in bad housing and encourages consumers to text to make a donation.

“However, using new channels is all about integration. It needs to be combined with other activity. So when commuters reach the top of the escalators they are greeted by face-to-face fundraisers handing out leaflets. The campaign is a real mix of old and new media,” he says. Shelter then texts back anyone who responds to the campaign to sign them up.

Meanwhile ActionAid recently launched a DRTV drive which offered SMS as a response mechanism for the first time, as well as a traditional telephone number. Spencer Stratford, head of media at Mike Colling & Co, the agency responsible for the campaign, says the challenge lay in discovering whether this would “jeopardise existing response”.

“If the ad simply encouraged existing donors to text rather than phone to make a pledge this could have resulted in a decrease in donations as people are likely to give more when you speak to them over the phone,” he says. “However it did, in fact, deliver incremental response, perhaps engaging with people who would be unwilling to respond by phone.”

In general, consumers do not operate in silos so it is crucial that they are not targeted using just one channel. However, it is imperative to leverage data to better understand donors as there are some who are happy with a single channel relationship, be it with direct mail or email, for example.

“The industry has to understand the range of touch-points available,” says Roger Lawson, strategy and planning director at charity specialist marketing agency Cascaid. The agency is currently working with the National Autistic Society to examine the impact of what it provides.

“While some people prefer email communication as a general rule,” he says, “we have discovered through feedback that in terms of building relationships through newsletters, for example, hard copy tends to work best. If prospects or donors receive a newsletter through the post it is more likely to sit on the coffee table and get read than it is if it’s sent via email.”

Lawson is also keen to highlight the difference between defining the financial value of supporters and the impact of getting people involved in the campaigning side of an organisation.

“We are developing ways of measuring non-financial support by examining the supporter journey and analysing the mix of messages and asks, as well as the combination of media,” he says.

He also believes that campaigning charities such as Friends of the Earth are keen to get supporters on board through campaigning as well as fundraising, and that research
shows that if someone campaigns for a charity their giving is likely to increase.

“As the basic donating environment gets more competitive and donors become increasingly savvy,” Lawson adds, “it is vital to understand the relationships individuals have with charities on other levels.” And this could mean looking at whether they are campaigning for your organisation, as well as studying which communication channels they prefer.


Shelter’s Goody agrees: “We are able to gauge donor preferences from how they respond. For example, most donors who are recruited face-to-face are not direct mail responsive.”

He says Shelter also carries out recruitment activity to lure campaigners. “Some then go on to become donors but some don’t,” he acknowledges. This is often done through face-to-face activity, a channel that was traditionally used primarily for getting people to sign up for direct debit donations. “Adapting the channel for a different focus is all about innovation,” Goody ads.

Cancer Research UK uses a raft of traditional direct marketing techniques including cold mailings, door-drops, inserts and telemarketing, but it is also making use of more innovative strategies, including mixing and matching various activity to boost donations.

Cancer Research UK’s head of direct marketing Emma Gilbert comments: “If, for example, we have fundraising brand ads running on TV then we ramp up our acquisition activity.”

Although the charity’s direct marketing campaigns are judged on their return on investment, Gilbert ensures all activity is flexible by offering recipients the opportunity to give something other than a regular gift. “With telemarketing activity, for example, if people can’t make a regular gift we ask them whether they want to help out with an event or campaign,” she says. “The more they do for the charity the more loyal they become.”

And, as Lawson points out, there are “clear links between volunteering and legacy pledges”. Engaging donors with a charity to boost their lifetime value is essential and with the advance of modern technology there are now even more ways to do this.

Cancer Research UK has a site on MySpace which includes a call to donate. The charity also uses banners, cold emails and affiliate marketing as part of its online marketing strategy. “If donors are recruited via digital mediums we keep talking to them through those channels,” adds Gilbert.

There is currently lots of experimental activity taking place in the new media arena. ActionAid has set up, allowing visitors to set up their own pages to collect donations for an event they are taking part in. It also allows users to share their experiences by writing blogs, uploading photos and chatting in the forums. This is effectively tapping into the growing trend for social networking and using its success to lure potential donors. And people now want to give more than just money; they want to feel involved and engaged with the charities they support.

While it is clearly important to use a variety of channels to reach donors and prospects in a more compelling way, it is also important not to be restrictive. Stratford says donor profiling is important to see who responds to what, as you can then use a TV ad with a variety of different response mechanisms. “By doing this you will maximise your potential pool of donors, as one ad can appeal to those who want to give via text, phone or online, for example.”

However, Humphries warns that while it is possible to follow some simple common sense guidelines – it would be foolish to base a campaign to pensioners exclusively on email and text – you can not be too prescriptive. “You could never devise a set of rules about when to use a Web/email/SMS combination or when to use Web/SMS/email/phone instead,” he argues. “The most important thing is to ensure that each combination is rigorously tested. Many charities have lost the culture of direct marketing testing they had ten or more years ago.”

Ironically then, says Humphries, in order for charities to innovate in direct marketing they need to go back to basics and embrace the culture of testing that has served them so well in the past.

Most experts agree that direct mail is still an extremely effective way of triggering cash donations. However, charities cannot afford to ignore other channels and the opportunities those channels can offer in terms of mixing and matching techniques if they want to ensure they secure donations from consumers across all ages and spectrums.

And with data becoming ever-increasingly sophisticated, direct marketers can now examine an individual’s lifestage, demographic and motivations, rather than simply name, address and transactional information. This means the added value and insight that can be attributed to a direct marketing campaign is enormous. Charities that fail to take advantage of this and adapt their direct techniques do so at their peril. After all, one size no longer fits all.


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