A Lesson from the “Nevers”

By | June 29, 2012

Recently, I attended a seminar session headed by John Leininger of Clemson University on the subject of demonstrating ROI from integrated marketing campaigns. In that talk, he recounted a very interesting story about his own experience with a fundraising campaign for Clemson.

Leininger indicated that 45% of alumni never donate a penny to the school from which they graduated. “They are the nevers,” he said. “The average response rate for nevers is .07%.”

To demonstrate the power of personalization, Leininger’s department decided to send personalized fundraising letters to the nevers. They broke the mailing into lots of variations. They did lots of fancy things with it, including spelling out recipients’ names on an image of the football field. Then they sent it out.

“You know what our response rate was?” he asked. “It was .07%.”

Leininger took the failed campaign to his marketing gurus. “‘What did I do wrong?” he asked.

One marketing guy’s response?  “Why are they nevers? You have to ask them.”

So Leininger went to the head of alumni association. “Why are they the nevers?” She didn’t know.

He went to two different alumni. He asked them.

“The answer given by one of the alums really stuck with me,” Leininger said. “He said he’d never give money to alumni association. He also said he never once went to a football game. The lightbulb went on. Until you know why people are not responding, all the nevers whose names we typed onto the football field—that was a waste of money.”

The lesson to it all? Leininger concluded: “You have to understand your goal and what you are doing and why.”

The takeaway for you? Encouraging your customers to send fundraising letters and marketing solicitations to non-engaged alumni and non-engaged (or former) customers can be a great strategy. But before they make the investment in the creative and print work, you may want to help htem understand why those people are “nevers” in the first place.

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3 thoughts on “A Lesson from the “Nevers”

  1. Chuck Gehman

    This must have been a really long time ago, because everyone in the industry knows John Leininger is an expert in print personalization.

    Personalization for marketing isn’t about spelling someone’s name on a football field. It’s about a message that is personalized to them. Frankly, that message doesn’t even have to have their name on it at all if the actual message is targeted well enough to the prospect’s needs, desires and drivers.

    This piece has taken a “roundabout” route to explaining this, but it is true.
    Why on earth would you waste money sending an expensive printed marketing piece asking for money to someone you know nothing about? You might as well go stand on the corner and ask passersby “Did you go to Clemson? Do you want to donate money?”

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker

    Absolutely! Unfortunately, and this goes back to my post about whether or not every digital printer should be selling VDP, that’s what I think too many printers are doing. That’s the point of the post. We’re all making the point of relevance all the time. I liked this story because it drives home a related and just as important point. Relevance doesn’t get created in a vacuum. It starts with an understanding of what motivates your audience and makes them tick. Sometimes that takes some digging.

  3. Tony Hodgson

    I before E except after C, as Brian Solis tweeted some time last year. Insight before Engagement unless Customer or community needs take immediate precedence.

    Direct Marketing has “never” been a particularly effective way to change buyer behaviour or attitudes. It’s effective when there is already a propensity to buy. It’s always been about catching the right person, at the right time with the right offer. Advertising, events and social media will work better on the “nevers”. DM is the follow through.

    If the “nevers” never changed though, there would never have been an advertising and marketing industry as we know it today.

    It’s a good story though. I shall make use of it. Thanks.

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