direct mail, Economics, Marketing

How You Make Personalization Pay Off


A 24-page color calendar, replete with country roads, cabins, barns, flowers and birds…lots of birds.

Personalizing a mail piece comes with expense. You are about to see the motherlode.

Gracing the letter with the reader’s name is one thing, but it’s quite another to match that to the envelope. For the fully committed direct marketer, there are personalization payoffs, and Father Flanagan’s Boystown shows us how.

Boystown Envelope

An outer envelope promising lots, and delivering, too.

BoystownBooklet Bird Jan

January.. from the 36-pager booklet, with more birds…growing in numbers.

Just before Christmas we received a 9 x 12 envelope from Boystown announcing their 2015 appeal. The donor acquisition kit weighs about a third of a pound, which is huge. The outer envelope calls out, by name, that FREE Special Edition Gifts are enclosed.

“Free Gifts” is right. They send three calendars: a 24-page hanger for the wall, a 36-page purse calendar booklet, and an 8-1/4 x 10-3/4 calendar card.

Boystown    color labels

The color label sheet. High quality and keepable.

The whole collection is covered in Sam Timm nostalgia art: winter ponds, chimneyed log cabins, old trucks, old boats, old canoes and birds…. enough birds to awaken Alfred Hitchcock one last time.

Boystown    028VGF Calendar

Another calendar, this one with a stylized street sign.

But the overwhelming effect comes from the personalization. Father Flanagan has managed to personalize 8 pieces in this whopper kit: the envelope, the letter, the reply form, the reply envelope, two sets of very nice address labels, a certificate and a calendar card.

Boystown  Certificate

It’s only an acknowledgement, but hey, it’s framable.

Over the top maybe?

Boystown Johnson Box

A Johnson Box, personalized and tinted, captures the gist.

Not really. Remember, good direct mail is designed to be indispensable.   It is extremely difficult to throw out a kit when your name is woven into its making so admirably.   The proof: this is a control package, or very similar to past controls. So it is working.

What’s the math that supports this?

The kit itself probably cost around $1.80. Postage for a 6-ounce Flat at non profit rates is actually a bargain, add another 30-cents. Total cost in the mail, probably $2.25 after adding list and processing.  This is a guess, only, having not spoken directly with Boystown.

Boystown Gift Certificate

Individualized gift certificates, one of three.

Now, the hard part: getting paid. Assume the average gift is $15. To break even, we need a 15.0% response. ($2.25 divided by $15.00 = 15.0%)

And the really hard part: they probably won’t get 15.0% response.   More likely, they might achieve 8-10%.   Let’s say 10%.  So given that, every response came at a cost of $22.50 ($2.25 divided by 10% = $22.50).

Boystown Donor Closeup

A strategic gift choice, Goldilocks-style. Let’s go for $15.00!

Is a new donor worth $22.50?   The answer is, “yes”!

By Father Flanagan’s 2012 financial report, they derived nearly $5 for every dollar spent in fundraising.  A very acceptable payback according to industry standards.  By the numbers above, the new donor will continue to give over time, well in excess of $113.00.

Boystown B&W Close Up revised

A set of stylish B&W labels in case I don’t want to give away the birds.

BoystownBangtail Reply

Personalized donor form and reply envelope. Note the QR code for tracking!

Again, this analysis is my perspective only, but a donor will continue to give to a worthy cause, especially one as well branded as Boystown.   And not only will they give today, but some will most assuredly make bequests after passing to keep the institution providing its valuable service.

So personalization plays a big part in winning support, and the savvy marketers at Boystown have done their jobs well in making it pay for their cause.

Thanks for hanging in to read all those numbers!   FYI, Boystown provided nearly $192 million in services in 2012, and in 2013, served 122,000 children and families across America.

direct mail, Marketing

Are You For Real?

SantaLetterText-776x1024“You have to write letters to get them,” said my 5th grade teacher as she drilled us on formatting.    What a drag.    At the uncomfortable age of 10 we had no one to write, let alone anything to say.

So it’s ironic that over half a century later I exit from a successful business which is all about writing good letters.

In direct mail, the letter is the backbone of building a personal relationship.  Avid consumers are enchanted by letters from their favorite gardener, doctor, hunter, dress maker, shopper, financier, teacher, traveller and coin buff  frothing over the latest gadget, find, or technique.

It’s no wonder direct mail grew astronomically through the back half of last century and into this one.    We were guaranteed to receive a letter at least once or twice a week with important news from somebody we knew, and who knew us, from far away, like Terre Haute, Fort Wayne, Franklin Center, Troy, West Babylon or Battle Creek.

But the bloom pales, if it doesn’t fall right off the rose if we discover that the writer doesn’t exist.    I was stunned when I learned that Readers Digest’s Carolyn Davis was just a beautification project — a makeover from “CD” for the Credit Department.

Betty Crocker in the Witness Protection Program

Betty Crocker in the Witness Protection Program

Carolyn was just my first commercial heartbreak.    I only recently learned that Betty Crocker, the lady who guided my mother through countless birthday cakes and blueberry muffins is a complete phony.   Never existed.    Isn’t even an anagram for an NSA operative named Cory Berckett… clandestinely stealing philo recipes while posing as a dishwasher.

Martha Logan modeled on Beth Bailey McLean

Martha Logan modeled on Beth Bailey McLean

The charade continues.   Martha Logan, who managed the Swift meat kitchen for a generation never existed, though at least she was a pen name for the real Beth Bailey McLean.

Ms. McLean was born in Superior Wisconsin in 1892 and knew her bacon.   But Swift’s ad agency apparently wasn’t satisfied with her creds.  They invented their own version of Martha Logan to broadcast from the Swift radio studios on Chicago’s WLS.

The Radio Martha Logan

The Radio Martha Logan

This new Martha had a photo portrait, and was reared and educated in Illinois, homeland of a long tradition of phonies.

Still, there’s one more fictional character, Beatrice Cooke.

Beatrice Cooke, queen of cream.

Beatrice Cooke, queen of cream.

She was the majordomo for Beatrice Foods, formerly the Beatrice Creamery Company, founded in 1894 in no, don’t say it, Beatrice, Nebraska.  That’s right, there never was a whiff of a Beatrice in that company unless she was lactating in a stable outside.   Adding the final insult, Beatrice moved to Iowa in 1905.

Which brings me to a quandary today.   On impulse, I made a donation to Wikipedia.   Totally guilt-ridden, I felt better after giving them a measly $10.    In response, I received a Thank You letter from Sue Gardner, executive director of Wikimedia Foundation.

Well, this wasn’t a Thank You letter.   It was a THANK YOU letter.  555 words, 14 paragraphs, 49 lines and 3337 keystrokes.   I winced in embarrassment.   Imagine dropping a few pennies into the Salvation Army bucket, and the bell ringer chases you down the crowded street crying thanks, before tackling you around the knees and blubbering all over your $900 cashmere wool coat.

scroogeMs. Gardner saw my paltry $10 funding the sum total of all world knowledge sought by countless individuals, and she began to describe the dire circumstances of each of them.

She concluded: “On behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation and the half-a-billion other Wikipedia readers around the world: thank you.”   

This was a “loaves and fishes” moment.   I did not guess my $10 would go that far.

Truly though, her letter did its job.   I have to return to Wikipedia, and I will no doubt double down on my charity.

But now I wonder– is she really there?