When I think of trends, I tend to think of the hot new thing. The newest fad that is here today and gone tomorrow.  To be honest, the pace of change in the direct mail universe may be a bit glacial to think of things in terms of trends.

That isn’t to say there isn’t any innovation or change in direct mail. For something to gain any traction in the direct mail sphere it generally needs to be seen as cost-effective and as having a measurable effect on results.  It takes time to establish those things and then filter the results out to the direct mail producing world.  Once we learn about these innovations, we then have to find a spot in our budgets and plans to fit them in.

All of this means that it can take a while for a direct mail epiphany to go from a neat idea to the next big thing in direct mail.

I think of these more like best practices that everyone is gradually adopting. But for the sake of a snappy title, let’s call them trends.

So what are the best practices of direct mail in 2019?

Variable Personalization

The more of it, the better.  Variable personalization deepens the relationship you have with your donor.

The more your mail piece is specifically tailored to each donor, the more you demonstrate that you are listening to them and that you want to understand them better.  The key is that the personalization must demonstrate that you know why your organization or cause matters to them.

At a minimum, include variable content such as salutations, paragraphs specific to their segment and asks relative to their giving history.  To show your donors that you get them, try mentioning their length of association or the specific area where they have previously requested their gifts be directed to.

Personalization does not have to be just words either.  Variable images and personalized URLs are examples of personalizing a mail piece with more than words.

Stand Out From the Crowd

In this era of hyper-fragmented attention, making your mail piece stand out from the rest is an important first step.

Changing up the package size, larger or smaller, is one way to differentiate your mail.  Colour and arresting imagery on your envelope are another.

But don’t just do colour or attention-grabbing images for the sake of grabbing your donor or prospect’s attention.  It has to relate to you and your message.  Your audience will see right through an unsupported and cynical attempt to catch their eye.  Once you have their attention, they still need to want to open your envelope.  Your mail piece should tell a story.  The envelope is the invitation to that story.

Cross Channels Seamlessly

We often find that talking to your donor across multiple channels increases the likelihood of multiple gifts, which can lead to deeper donor loyalty.  Pre-minder emails that go out before a mailing, combined with follow up emails or voice mail broadcasts after the mailing, have been shown to lift results of the direct mail appeal.

Further coordination with social media campaigns and up-to-date related content on your website deepens the impact of your direct mail message and appeal.

The challenge is to not spread yourself too thin.  If you only have the budget and resources to effectively communicate across a couple of channels, get those right.  As you have success, you can grow into additional channels as budget and resources become available.

AI and Increased Data Collection

As you speak to your donor in more ways, you will find yourself able to gather new data points that were not available to you before.  Not only can those new data points lead to new variable content personalization, but it can also allow you to bring Artificial Intelligence to track donor behavior, anticipate changes in their donor journey, and even forecast channel fatigue.  AI can be used to analyze all of those new data points to help you understand when your donors need to hear more from you or maybe a little less from you.

This trend may be better suited for advanced users. To best take advantage of AI tools, you will need a robust database that is capable of tracking multiple data points. Getting to this step takes planning and discipline as it relates to the structure and maintenance of your database.

The Takeaways

No matter what trends or best practices you adopt for your direct mail program, plan them carefully.  Make sure they fit your budget and your plans. Remain true to your message and your mission and continue to talk to the hearts of your donors.