Just Because You Always Have Doesn’t Mean You
by/Dec 10, 2023/in, , , , ,
Indeed, direct mail continues to persist. Typically, the barrage of flyers, unaddressed envelopes, and papers swiftly finds its way into the recycling bin. Personally, I’ve never been a fervent supporter of direct mail. However, the fact that a prominent non-profit still utilizes this method leads me to ponder its efficacy.
I vividly recall my time on a board when I inquired about the rationale behind our continued use of direct mail to reach people’s homes. The response I received was a rather nonchalant, ‘It kind of works.’
“IT KIND OF WORKS?!?’ I pondered. Like “kind of being pregnant?”
Nearly a decade ago, the organization I volunteered with diligently tracked responses to direct mail solicitations, and the results were underwhelming—less than a 5% response rate. Despite this, they remained steadfast in their commitment to this approach.
I couldn’t help but speculate that, after factoring in the expenses associated with these mailouts, the organization was barely breaking even. What troubled me even more was the potential damage to our brand. Soliciting donations via one of the oldest marketing methods in the book left people with the impression that we were out of touch and clinging to the past. Brand sentiment, after all, isn’t something that can be equated solely through financial metrics.
As the saying goes, no one was ever fired for doing what we did last year, but plenty of people think they’ll be fired if they try something new and it fails. We need to stop this type of thinking.
As the world adapts and changes faster and faster, you MUST try new tactics to communicate with your audience or else one day you’re going to wake up and realize you no longer have an audience to communicate with.
What are you doing to attract new customers? What are you doing to get your current customers to tell their friends about you? (and no, they won’t talk about what you’re doing if it’s been done before). What are you doing to experiment how your customers want to be talked to?
During my tenure on the UofR alumni board, I vividly recall scrutinizing the tokens we bestowed upon graduates as they triumphantly exited the convocation stage. To our surprise, we had gone all out and opted for custom pins—yes, you read that correctly, ‘custom UofR Alumni Association PINS!’ Not even the UofR logo, the Alumni Association logo, as if anyone on stage had any affiliation with our organization.
There’s an undeniable irony in presenting individuals in their early twenties with something so removed from their post-graduation needs that it borders on comical. It’s almost as if we were unintentionally sending a message to disconnect.
To add a final fatal twist to the saga, the only other gesture we extended to these fresh graduates ready to tackle the world was an email soliciting a donation for the ostensibly ‘worthy’ cause of the UofR alumni organization. (insert eye-roll here)
How many university students graduate burdened with debt? Who among them is rushing to make a donation to their alma mater immediately after convocation? It seemed like a rather poorly timed request of an audience that had just left the building.
Reflecting on my childhood, I recall a family living on my street, and their son owned a striking red Honda Prelude. What caught my eye every time I walked past that car was the prominent University of Saskatchewan Huskies sticker adorning the back. It was a badge of pride, weathered and well-worn.
In stark contrast, I’ve yet to spot anyone proudly donning the UofR pin handed out to graduates.
Clayton Christensen was right, if you want to innovate, you’re going to have a dilemma. Most people I don’t think want the dilemma so they pick the easy way out. By not innovating you’ve chosen to sustain, and in any growing market, those who sustain will always be beaten eventually by those who innovate.
Change is a daunting prospect. Maintaining the status quo is undoubtedly easier. After all, no one has ever been shown the door for sticking with ‘business as usual.’ But does anyone truly face dire consequences for attempting something new and witnessing it blow up in their face? This author believes it’s far less common than we might assume, and rarely do new ideas “blow up in your face”, that’s your brain playing “worse case Ontario” with you.
The lesson here is simple: Engage with your audience, or better yet, listen to them. Pose questions, observe their behaviors, and be open to trying different approaches that resonate with them. Sometimes, all we’re asking for is a humble bumper sticker, not an unsolicited envelope in our mailbox or the revolutionary solution like the perfect email request for a donation.
At least when you try something new you’re going to learn something about your audience.