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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Mike Browne of Browne Innovation Group joins us to discuss the future of direct mail fundraising.

Full Transcript:

Mike: That they remember.

Steven: That’s right. Hey there, we just started. Welcome to Bloomerang TV. I just hit recorded too early. That’s okay, thanks for watching, thanks for tuning in. If you follow Bloomerang, you know that we like some controversial ideas. We like to mix it up, we like to put things out there that maybe people don’t necessarily agree with, we like to create a forum for that discussion to happen. That being said, I’ve got a controversial guest a little bit here. I think that is self-described, Mike Browne. Mike Browne is from Browne Innovation Group. Mike how’s it going? Thanks for being here.

Mike: Hey Steven. Great.

Steven: You’re not really that kind controversial of a guy. I would say you’re kind of bearish on direct mail and fundraising. Will that be a fair statement to say?

Mike: I think bearish is very, very accurate. I mean here’s the thing. You remember that Geico commercial with the guy living under the rock?

Steven: Yes.

Mike: I mean, honestly there is no upward trend in direct mail. Look at any trend line you want to pick. I mean anything with any fundraiser that’s out there. The only upward trend line is the cost of postage. All that does is compress margins and again, I’m not just some guy talking off the cuff. I’m a 62-year-old direct marketing veteran, who ran a mail order company, ran a large agency. I kind of get this. But clearly, we are in the declining years of direct mail and unless we understand that, and deal with that, we have to wonder about the future.

Steven: There are a lot of non-profits obviously who are benefitting from direct mail. This downward trend is somewhat undeniable. What do you think the problem is? Would you recommend people just cut cold turkey or maybe try some new things to slowly build up and take over direct mail? And I know you’ve written a lot and you have discussions with people, on comments, on blog posts and things like that. What do you think people should do about this in your opinion?

Mike: Well, obviously I’m Clayton Christensen accolade. Clayton Christensen is a professor from Harvard who wrote the book, “The Innovators Dilemma” and basically what he said Steven, when an innovation comes along, you have three choices. You could do nothing, and I don’t recommend that choice. You can literally take the innovation and attempt to transform your whole company, your whole organization. And, the third option is to take the innovation, put it out here in a startup and let it grow and compete directly back with your business model. It’s absolutely stupid to quit doing something that’s working. Nobody is advocating that, and of course, that’s what we’re talking about with direct mail.

But at the end of the day, you have to have a plan B in this world because everything has changed. The biggest thing wasn’t really the internet, although we talk about the internet a lot as being the thing that disrupts everything. From my perspective it was Google. When Google came out, all of a sudden we could find whatever we wanted and because we could find whatever we wanted, then all of a sudden the power shifted to us. Whether it’s buying a car, buying a television, we can see everything out there and that applies to non-profits as well.

People want to look at non-profits. They want to look at the information and make their own decisions. In fact beginning with the Baby Boom generation, we don’t want to be sold and with internet today its information good, selling badly. You start crossing the line and just pushing transactions, you’re out of luck. Besides which, everybody wants to talk about stories, right? The three key stories that people want to hear, you want to hear, I want to hear, that everybody from my generation down to your generation wants to hear, is that they want to hear about the people that you’re helping. They want to hear about the people who are helping the people that you’re helping. And, then third they also want to hear stories about themselves, they want to hear about supporters. The reality is, that’s called content marketing. That’s a rational response to the internet and to Google.

Steven: How would you

Mike: Go ahead.

Steven: That makes sense. How would you recommend non-profits who are maybe, been very focused on direct mail, assuming they believe everything that you say and can see that downward trend. How do they kind of get in to this whole idea of content marketing and doing more of those stories that generate inbound traffic rather than that outbound push that direct mail represents?

Mike: That’s really a good point. The whole thing really has changed. In the traditional marketing realm that we all grew up with, not necessarily, people in your generation because you just remember computers, and the internet. People my age who for the most part are running organizations, we’re immigrants into this world. We’ve had to just come in to this. So one of the things that we have to understand is that we have to figure out how to transition what we’re doing in learning into the whole realm of the internet and obviously content marketing is part of it.

When you talk about traditional marketing, you’re talking about pushing messages out, whether its direct mail or anything else. When you talk about content marketing, it’s pulling people to your content, which is what they want. They want it when they want it, meaning they want to go out and they’ll find it themselves and they’re going to make up their own minds in what they’re doing, which is a natural leading to what I’m passionate about and talking about even in your industry which is CRM. I talk to some of the biggest non-profits in the United States, I also talk to some of the smallest. Every time I bring up CRM, they see CRM and database as the same thing. It’s not. The old line database is from years gone by. All they basically did was, they keep information about transactions.

Steven: They are passive systems.

Mike: Exactly, they’re passive systems. CRM, by the way let’s say what that is, its customer relationship management. Of course in the non-profit world, we want to put our spin on it so we say, constituent relationship management. But the key word is in between its relationship. It’s all about relationship. With the database in a transaction centered world, of old traditional media like direct mail, what do we measure? Transactions. When you’re in the CRM world, where you’re monitoring relationships, what are you measuring? You’re measuring the level of relationship. Just like, you don’t meet a girl the first time and say, “Hey, let’s get married,” there’s a process. Well, the truth is, that’s exactly what’s going on with non-profits, only today, with the technology that we have that’s instantaneous and connected. We’re all connected.

This is how you and me and about everybody else stays in touch with everybody. And because of that, we can be an instantaneous contact and we want what we want when we want it. We don’t want to wait around for the other things. The CRM systems of course capture the information, but they measure the relationship. That’s what’s critical, because again, I could go into algorithms here which is another thing that I’m passionate about. The whole thing about measurement gets into algorithms. If then, if this, then this. If this, then this. If somebody hits the particular article on your website, then you send them this particular piece of information because obviously they’re interested in that. That’s where we are going, that’s what content online marketing is about.

Steven: That’s why, everything you’re describing is why we have the engagement meter in Bloomerang because we want to see what is moving that meter of engagement. Whether it is inbound interaction, volunteerism, all these things different things that go into that. Do you think that, I feel like non-profits aren’t doing less because they did not have access to the kind of technology historically, they had to rely on transactional methods, because they didn’t have access to the kinds of technology historically, so they had to more or less rely on the transactional methods, because they didn’t really have access to, but it’s something much like Bloomerang, a CRM to be able to do that kind of thing. Do you think that’s the root cause of this primary focus on just transactional types of communication?

Mike: I think, unfortunately it goes back to, they want to get to the point where they’re having support coming in, financial support coming in. And they view that there’s a back and forth. I send that mail, I get a checks. And that’s worked forever. In the world that I grew up in, that made all the sense in the world. But the problem is, the world has shifted. And it’s kind of like television and radio and newspapers and all these other things. They’ve all been disrupted because of the internet. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t radio, newspapers and direct mail out there. But fewer and fewer people are paying attention to them.

And if we’re going to connect with people, I’m from a small town in the Midwest and of course when you grow up in a small town in the Midwest you go hunting and fishing. And you learn really early on, Steven, if you want to shoot the ducks, you have to go where the ducks are. The ducks are online and if we don’t get that, we’re really in trouble. And again, shifting is about taking a model of content. In other words, information, telling stories, and getting it out there because that’s what people connect with or don’t.

Steven: Or don’t.

Mike: Yeah.

Steven: I hope when we post this, this generates even more discussion. Because I think this is a really interesting topic, and I agree with all sides and I’m not sure exactly where I stand. We tell people a multi-channel approach is good, do your direct mail if it’s working. But try these things, try the storytelling and the blog and all the inbound things and get that engagement going as well. Test and see what’s happening and see what’s working for your organization. Mike, I appreciate you coming out and sharing your thoughts. I know you kind of take it on the chin in some of these comment threads, but I appreciate you being honest and open .

Mike: You bet. It’s good to talk to you Steven, it really is. And of course, at the end of the day, I’ve been around, this isn’t my first rodeo. When I see big changes, I just talk about them because it’s about helping this industry and moving us along.

Steven: Where can people find out about you? I want them to follow your website and get in touch with you because you guys do a lot great work at Browne Innovation.

Mike: Basically we started off years ago as a consultant and now basically we do online education. It’s Browne Innovation Group and that’s Browne with an E. Browne Innovation Group and they can check out our website, you can just Google it. There again, we’re Googling in finding our information. It’s Browne Innovation Group, Browne with an E and we’re available online all the time.

Steven: We’ll link to all that stuff. Mike, I really appreciate you hanging out with us. Interesting discussion. I hope it continues on the comment thread on this. If you’re watching it on our blog please do share your thoughts, we want to keep it going. Mike, thanks again man. It was a lot of fun.

Mike: Good, good to talk to you Steven.

Steven: Thanks to all of you for watching. We’ll be back next week with another great discussion on Bloomerang TV, so we’ll catch you then. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.