How to grow a nonprofit website with a simple “traffic portfolio”

By day, I’m a copywriter and direct marketing consultant. By night, I help run a nonprofit political action committee (PAC).

Since I prefer to keep politics off this blog, I’ll forgo mentioning the name of the PAC.

In my last post, I talked about driving web traffic with direct mail. However, direct mail has its limitations, especially for small nonprofit organizations with tight budgets. Our PAC budget is less than $50,000 a year. So from the beginning, I’ve put an emphasis on highly cost-effective tactics.

As a result, the organization has no brick and mortar presence and operates almost exclusively online with a website and a variety of online “outposts,” including a forum as well as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

While we run a variety of real-world events, such as political rallies, dinners, and meetings, online tools and social media drive the marketing, enabling the website and organization to grow rapidly with minimal cost.

I decided to look at the numbers recently and found confirmation that these tactics have worked spectacularly well.

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How to use direct mail to drive website traffic

direct mail drives website trafficIf you want to drive traffic to your website, which media should you use?

Email delivers traffic quickly and at low cost, though open rates can be low. Social marketing shows great potential, but it takes effort to make it work.

Then there’s PPC, banner ads, and other online strategies which deliver varying results. But what about traditional direct mail?

Too many people suffer from an “oil and water” mentality when it comes to mixing online and offline media. But the fact is, they work well together. And when you need to drive online traffic, an integrated approach can often work wonders.

According to the 2009 Channel Preference Study by ExactTarget, direct mail influences 76% of Internet users to buy a product or service online. Better still, direct mail remains the one medium that gives you direct and reliable access to nearly everyone in your target market.

How do you drive web traffic with direct mail? Here are some pointers:

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Defending yourself against the sales lead killers

sales lead killersA couple of years ago, I was at a party where the host challenged guests to remove a cork from the inside of a wine bottle. It was quite a challenge, the host proclaimed.

One by one, people tried and failed to remove the cork. Then the host began explaining the tricky and complex solution, and people were impressed. However, the host was unable to remove the cork after 15 minutes of fiddling.

Growing impatient, I grabbed the bottle and asked the host if he really wanted the cork out of the bottle. He said yes. So I broke the bottle and handed him the cork. He wasn’t happy with that solution and said I “cheated.” Apparently it just wasn’t clever enough, even though it worked instantly.

Too often, this is the way it is with sales lead generation. Generating leads isn’t really that difficult, but people seem to be forever looking for complex solutions to simple problems. I call these the “lead killers,” because that’s exactly what they do — they kill leads.

The best defense against these killers is to just do what works. The simpler, the better. Here are a few examples.

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Using a coin trick to get your mail opened

direct mail coin trickRemember when people used to send direct mail packages with lots of stuff packed inside?

That was back in the good old days, before the economy went bust and everyone panicked and started mailing little postcards, invoice mailers, and fliers that all look alike.

One of my favorite old-fashioned direct mail package techniques was the “coin trick.” You attach a penny or nickel to an insert and use a window envelope to let recipients see the coin inside.

It’s irresistible. Very few people can bring themselves to throw away a real coin.

I guess no one told The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society about the “new” economy because they just sent me a package with a coin trick. Specifically, they use a 3-window envelope, showing the mailing address, return address, and a shiny nickel.

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Write the perfect sales letter in 14 proven steps

write sales lettersFairfax Cone once said, “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is.”

He was so right.

There is no better way to sell something than in-person. Talking to someone face-to-face lets you have a personal conversation and get a feel for what someone wants and what it will take to make a deal.

However, since it’s not possible to have a personal chat with the billions of potential consumers out there, we use advertising media as a stand-in. And of all the traditional formats, sales letters come closest to the personal conversation you want to have.

A well-written sales letter remains one of the most effective means of speaking to people, sparking an emotional response, and motivating them to buy. It’s simple, personal, easy-to-read, and effective.

It’s hard to explain what makes a good sales letter. It’s sort of like good art: you just know it when you see it.

However, there are some basic steps for writing a sales letter. Here are 14 of them.

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Are there simple ways to reduce your direct mail costs?

Smart direct mailers should always look for ways to cut costs. But in today’s economic climate, cutting costs is a must.

Paper, postage, and printing are all on the rise. Prospects have become more choosy about responding to offers. And marketing departments are being asked to tighten their belts and stretch their dollars.

Here are three simple tips for trimming costs.

Talk to your printer. You may have a well-designed direct mail piece, but is it efficiently produced? Can you make small changes in the layout that will allow you to use more of the paper stock and create less waste? Are you using an odd shape that is making production or postage more expensive? Is the piece printed on unnecessarily expensive stock or stock that requires a special order and extra freight charges?

Consider the following video from my friends at Ballantine Corporation.

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Simple direct mail offers can work like crazy

Spring Hill envelope sampleWhat do you do when you have a good product and a loyal audience? You give them a simple, straightforward offer. That’s what Spring Hill Nurseries did with this big 6” x 11.5” envelope package.

Ferns are popular because they grow in moist or shady areas of the garden where few other plants will grow. They blend with any kind of plant and provide beautiful color and texture where it’s needed most.

I’m a customer of Spring Hill, and I’ve purchased ferns from them before, so I’m on their list and they know I like ferns. Do they need to clobber me over the head with fern details. No. They just need to catch me at the right time with the right offer.

They start on the outer envelope with a big photo of their ferns. The teaser copy is dead simple: “Ferns. Over 50% OFF!” Not clever, but it doesn’t need to be. The back of the envelope shows the six types of ferns offered with the headline “Beautify any shady spot instantly and save over 50%!”

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Why “selective attention” can kill your ads

Last week, I asked you to take a test to see if you’re a word nerd. This week, I have another test for you. And it’s a doozy.

The concept is “selective attention.” I don’t want to spoil it, so watch the video below. Don’t cheat. You’ll miss the point entirely if you don’t follow directions and see the results for yourself.


If you followed the directions and tried to count the number of times the people in white shirts passed the basketball, there’s a 50/50 chance you’re amazed right now.

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Are you a word nerd? Take the test.

word nerdWhile skimming a recent issue of Advertising Age, I ran across an article called If you’re creating ads, odds are you’re talking to yourself.

And it presents yet more evidence that ad writers and other advertising professionals are disconnected from the people they’re creating ads for.

I’ve been discussing this since 1997 when I wrote about how ad writers don’t relate to ads in the same way as ordinary people.

The Ad Age article talks about research on behavior-based segmentation performed by Xyte Technologies. They tested people in marketing and advertising (including people in creative, media, and research) and found that they’re “word nerds.” They like playing with words and rely on intuition (rather than data) to craft message.

Trouble is, only 18.5% of the general population fall into that category. Ads that appeal to word nerds don’t do so well with the other 81.5% of the population, most of whom are highly practical people and respond to tangible benefits.

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Customer retention: plugging the leaky pool

customer retentionIn my last post, I talked about the nightmare of customer defections and showed you a dramatic calculation that demonstrated the profit you sacrifice when they leave you.

If you lose one customer every day who spends just $5 a week, you’re out $94,900 a year ($5 x 52 weeks x 365 days = $94,900)! If you’re a service business, you’re losing 15-20 percent of your customers every year. So the actual loss is huge and growing persistently over time.

At the heart of customer defection is lack of satisfaction. This isn’t the same as dissatisfaction, which means an active dislike for something. Lack of satisfaction is simply the absence of any good reason for a customer to stick around.

Do you remember that U.S. News and World Report statistic I gave you? A whopping 91 percent of customers who leave do so simply because they are not satisfied.

How do you satisfy customers and retain their business? Any number of ways.

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