Myth #4: Courier (the font) is magic

As you may expect, this is false.

It may have been true in 1970 when the typewriter was still a known tool. But today? Maybe not. 

For decades people have misinterpreted direct mail principles. They have tossed the foundations of marketing and communications and used a list to check off elements of success. The list looks something like this: 

  • Courier font
  • All paragraphs 3 sentences or less
  • 3 bolds on the front page and 4 on the second page
  • A bold PS
  • Indent AND double space between paragraphs
  • No word longer than 6 letters

Some of these check points are great, as principles. But writing and designing effective direct mail is much more strategic than that. 

A few weeks ago my daughter received a personalized letter from the Conservative Party of Canada requesting a donation. No, this wasn’t the controversial package that “required” a payment, although I’m guessing that was done by very old school direct marketers who missed the controversy in the 90’s. 

This letter was a 4-page, wall-to-wall copy with all the direct mail tricks: bold, underline, centred one-line paragraphs and courier font. 

Now my daughter is in her thirties. She has never seen a typewriter. Nor has she used one. We got our first family computer the year before she was born. The only thing this old-fashioned, traditional direct mail package affirmed is the Conservative Party of Canada is living in the 1970’s – more than a decade before she was born. 

There were so many ways that package could have been improved. 

A short, straightforward letter directly from Mr. O’Toole that was earnest, transparent and authentic. The cheap looking, old-fashioned letter screamed irrelevant and inauthentic. OK, O’Toole was born in the 70’s but I’m guessing he rarely uses a typewriter. 

Using an engaging, graphically-oriented insert would be so much better that stuffing all the relevant information into a 4-page letter… not that I am against 4-page letters. We have used them very effectively. 

The Conservative Party mailing shouted: “We are not interested in attracting young people to our Party. We want to continue to market to and attract people who are 75 and older.” 

Sadly, this is true of much of the direct mail I see in my mailbox. 

For more than 30 years I have been working in the direct mail business. I KNOW it works. 

But, guys, let’s be professional, strategic and smart about it. 

Mail is not dead, as Canada Post consistently reminds us. But it is dying in the hands of direct marketing agencies that refuse to change their tactics. 

One of the biggest challenges nonprofits face is an aging donor base. 

When we do surveys for clients, too often we find that the age of their donors has risen faster than the years between surveys. The age of the average donor in Canada is +65. I’d be interested in breaking that upper age group into smaller chunks: 65-75; 75-85; 85-95; 95+. Because that gave us a much better understanding of the aging donor base. 

Nonprofits are perpetuating this with a lack of understanding of younger populations. 

I challenge you. Study the demographics of your current donors. Watch what’s happening. At what age are you acquiring donors? If you’re still using the infamous “card” or “label” packages (now rejigged to include labels, cards, gift bags, stickers, pens; all stuffed into an oversized envelope), I would doubt that you are acquiring very many donors under the age of 70. 

Resist the temptation of extremism. 

When I see a donor base with the average age of donors between 55 and 65, I’m thrilled. If I see that age range perpetuated over 15 years of growth—I’m ecstatic. You see, it’s not about attracting the 20-year-olds. It’s about consistently attracting new donors in their 40’s and 50’s. 

A trend that disturbs me is that organizations are terrified of their older donors dropping off (because these donors sustain them), so they resist building their brand or marketing with engaging, modern packages. Instead they continue to do the same old same old time and time and time again. 

Have faith in your older generation. They want to see you communicate to the younger generation (note: 50-year-olds are younger than 80-year-olds). They want their children and grandchildren to support their favourite causes. 

Which package would you open?

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