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Cut Through the Clutter

An emotional appeal and call to action make direct mail stand out.

August 2006
Donors in the first quarter of the 20th century saw almost no advertising. Compare that to the 3,000 to 5,000 ad messages they get a day now, and
you quickly realize that to even get your direct mail opened, you need to stand out from the crowd.

That was the message James Doyle of Virginia-based agency BMD
presented at a DMFA luncheon titled “Standing Apart From the Crowd” (NYC, March 29).

Today’s marketing saturation and intrusiveness have resulted in lower prospect-response rates, lower retention rates and higher fundraising costs, Doyle cautions. When a potential donor picks up your direct mail, he gives your organization about three seconds to grab his attention before it goes into the trash.

The good news, Doyle says, is that your donor is willing to give it that shot and can see through the clutter when something is important to him. The key is to be meaningful and to bring out emotion in your messaging. These are the secret weapons in your quest for donors.

Doyle gave six conditions for building a “critical mass of meaningfulness.”
  1. The cause must be relevant.
  2. The cause must seem important in principle.
  3. The cause must seem achievable.
  4. The cause must involve individuals in a way that gives them a sense of empowerment and identity.
  5. The organization must seem trustworthy.
  6. There must be an individual call to action.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, for example, realized that while the average age of its donors had stayed the same over a 10-year period, its new donors had grown up in a different time than the donors it had mailed to 10 years ago. Its package was not really reflecting this change, and it was losing the old donors and not acquiring enough new ones.

NCPSSM realized that its direct-mail messaging needed to be updated in all packages to reflect the new senior market, which grew up with more independence and rebellion than the seniors of 10 year ago. These new seniors idolize James Dean rather than Jimmy Stewart.

NCPSSM changed its messaging in a way that gave the power to the individual to make an impact instead of focusing on the organization’s part in it. Prospects were asked to send a pre-addressed, pre-written letter to their congresspersons and senators, in contrast to the old control, which asked prospects to sign a petition that was returned to the organization and then forwarded to Congress by NCPSSM. It also changed its messaging from saying that “Social Security is being threatened” to “Social Security matters to you and there is something you can do to keep the program as promised.”
 

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