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Oct 27, 2005
Case Study

How Public Radio Gets Over-Saturated Members to Respond to Emailed Fundraising Drives

SUMMARY: Is your audience pretty darn tired of your marketing messages? Welcome to public radio during pledge drive season. In our exclusive Case Study, the email team at Boston's WGBH reveal four creative campaigns they've run to get responses even from "sick to death of pledge drive" members. Discover which gift offer worked best -- iPods vs roses.
Even public radio's most devoted fans get mighty tired of radio and TV requests to "Please donate now" during pledge drive seasons.

In addition to broadcast pitches, station members receive an ongoing stream of postal direct mail fundraising and membership renewal efforts. And now email's been added to the mix.

How can you email effectively to a list that's already feeling more than a bit fried?

Last December, WGBH's Director of Online Marketing Terry Lamy called a brainstorming meeting with Marketing Manager Melissa Culkin, Membership Guru Amy Doolan, and George the Radio Marketer. They decided to test a series of different pitches for 2005.

Step #1. Campaign timing

During each pledge drive, regular WGBH radio listeners and TV viewers are inundated. The team decided to use this to their advantage by timing their mailings toward the latter half of a pledge drive, when regulars would already be well aware of the campaign.

The idea was to let broadcast media soften the ground, grow awareness and then emails come along just in time to be a convenient response device.

Each new email offer was sent only once, though. The team figured anyone who didn't respond the first time might be annoyed by a second pitch. And that's too risky in a permission medium.

Step #2. List segmentation

The team segmented their list into three different audiences:

o Members who were up for renewal; o Regular members; o Expired/lapsed members.

The creative and offers for all these groups was almost identical (link to samples below) except for the fact that lapsed members and those up for renewal were asked to "renew" while regular members were asked to make an "additional gift."

Step #3. Simple creative

All campaigns used a similar template, with the station logo in the upper left corner, a graphic of the offer (or person making the offer), a personalized greeting and a PS. The design was exceptionally clean to appeal to the educated "Google crowd."

The HTML message typeface was 12-point Verdana, which is 2-3 points larger than many emailers' font choices. Why? "It's not easy to read any smaller," explains Culkin. "Our designer picked 12 as being the most optimum for reading on the screen."

Campaign offers included:

December 2004 -- End of calendar year donations; February 2005 -- Free roses for donators; spring 2005 -- "Frank" letter from beloved radio announcer offering to stop badgering them with pledge messages for a day if they'd donate; Summer 2005 -- iPod contest offer.

The team optimized the landing page -- a donation form -- by pre-populating the member's name and address so there'd be less typing. They had already seen good results a few years before by removing all extraneous WGBH links from that page.

Given how oversaturated their audience is through multiple media, we're fairly impressed with the team's results:

December 2004 -- End of calendar year donations: 35% open rate Renewers 1.89% clicks, 69% conversion; Gifts .58% clicks, 47% conversion; Lapsed .40% clicks, 33% conversion; February 2005 -- Free roses for donators: 24% open rate Renewers 1.27% clicks, 17% conversion; Gifts .65% clicks, 5% conversion; Lapsed .25% clicks, 0% conversion.

Spring 2005 -- "Frank" letter from radio announcer: 23% open rate Renewers 3.19% clicks, 70% conversion; Gifts 1.23% clicks, 72% conversion; Lapsed .57% clicks, 30% conversion.

Summer 2005 -- iPod contest offer: 25% open rate Renewers 2.74% clicks, 23% conversion Gifts 1.73% clicks, 10% conversion Lapsed .70% clicks, 14% conversion.

Key lesson learned:

Relationship stage matters more than any other factor. The team is very glad they took the time to segment results by regular member versus renewable member versus lapsed member. Simply averaging responses across all these groups would have changed the apparent face of results significantly.

"If I had to pick a starting point for email campaigns, something most worth your time and energy, email your members a few days before they expire," says Culkin.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from WGBH's email campaigns:

Past MarketingSherpa Case Study, 'How the United Way of Greater Toronto Grows Online Donations'


See Also:

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