Steven Mandurano is head of marketing communications at the National Society of Collegiate Scholars in Washington, DC.
While direct response marketing often doesn’t get the respect it deserves, it can be a dynamic, results-driven way to market to members. Four tips for making it work at your association.
Two years ago, after 13 years advocating for and promoting some great events and member offerings using the traditional Ps (product, price, place, promotion) and Cs (consumer, cost, convenience, communication) of marketing to develop the best messaging, I dove into direct response marketing. What I’ve learned has been life-changing.
While many marketers think they have direct response marketing experience, when I ask them to elaborate, I learn that they equate direct response to more of a literal translation, such as “I communicate ‘directly’ with members to get them to buy the latest book or conference registration.”
Direct response is so much more than a “develop, create, and send strategy.” Rather, direct response marketing, as defined by SmartyAds, is a “sales technique designed to evoke an on-the-spot response and encourage a prospective customer to take action by opting in [to the] advertiser’s offer.”
As direct response guru Dan Kennedy said, “People are most easily and quickly interested in information directly related to what interests them—especially information that promises fascinating secrets, solutions to problems, prevention for dire threats, promises of seductive benefits, or timely ’breaking news.’ This is the breakthrough prescription for magnetic communication.”
As association executives, are we not entrepreneurs trying to always do more with less? That’s why direct response marketing is the perfect way to refocus your membership, corporate sponsorship, and event strategies. Here are four simple truths to influence your next direct response effort:
The copy and sales message matters. Often as marketers, we think we can do it all, which includes writing amazing copy. But the truth is the art of writing direct response copy is often not a skill or function of an association marketing professional. Engage a tested direct response copywriter that has winning examples of his or her success (and this doesn’t have to cost you the proverbial arm and a leg). In addition, throw away the common notion that your consumer has an attention span of a goldfish because it’s simply inaccurate. Our first direct response offer that we send to Gen Z here at the National Society of Collegiate Scholars is two pages of text, and this piece sees a return of more than 3 percent.
Direct mail is not dead. Our demographic—Gen Z—is one of the most challenging and least understood. The direct-mail pieces of our control campaign for new member acquisition (which is our business since the honor society space does not have a recurring membership dues model) deliver a 3 percent greater return, on average, compared to our digital campaigns. According to ANA/DMA’s 2018 Response Rate Report, direct mail continues to deliver [PDF] a return of more than 4.5 percent
To illustrate this further, if you had a membership acquisition digital campaign with a return of 5 percent, and the offer was a $200 renewal, and you also had a direct mail campaign for the same offer with a return of 9.5 percent (+4.5 percent industry average), you could nearly double the revenue of the digital campaign. Create a sequential, multimedia campaign with both tactics and maximize your chances of success. (Of course, this assumption is based on multiple variables, including outside copy writers.)
Assumptions without data are futile. Direct response does not have to make logical sense. That’s why decisions should be made by the data. Questions like, “Why did this size envelope perform better than the other?” or “Why did this email subject line outperform the rest?” cause unnecessary distractions for tactical elements that just “are.” Everything is testable—from layout and colors, to the subject line, to the type and placement of stamps on the offer, to the call-to-action “button” in the email.
“One and done” is one of the riskiest strategies. Each offer should include follow-up and not just a one liner indicating that said email is a reminder from the previous email or direct-mail piece. A multimedia approach, while reviewing the data after each piece is sent, is critical.
Still not sure if direct response is for your association? Conduct a split test; hire a direct response copywriter to write your next sales piece and test it against your existing communications. The proof will forever be in the pudding, or in this case, the data.