Working in the world of marketing, advertising, and professional communications is fun. Our field is full of lots of ideas, action, impact, and plenty of fascinating lessons. Never a dull moment. A recent project with a client presented a great learning opportunity that I wanted to share. So without further ado, I present the Curious Case of the Clippable Coupon—and the five simple lessons that it taught me about marketing.

*cue dramatic soundtrack*

We were recently working on the communications strategy for a nonprofit that helps local individuals with a variety of needs. Along with our work, came a review of all their current communications—one channel was their ongoing email marketing.  At the bottom of their emails, they include a printable “coupon”—for the recipient to cut out and send their donation in the mail. Like the kind with the little dashed line to denote “cut this coupon.” To print out. Then cut. Then put in the mail. Snail mail. With a stamp. This was in emails.

And their records showed that a reliable subset of their list would indeed print, cut, and mail a donation via this means consistently. I was initially baffled that this still worked, but I loved hearing the success it had. So, embedded in this one seemingly antiquated practice were FIVE very valuable lessons for any marketer. Despite what initially felt like a pretty old-school way to do something, this was a serious “Aha!” moment. I love those moments.

1) Know thy audience  

The savviest of marketers understand their audience, what makes them tick, their preferences, their habits. I’ve heard marketing defined as “the right message via the right medium at the right time.” Guess what? Doing a good job in all three of those categories requires a true depth of knowledge about your audience. What’s the right message exactly? What medium would they respond to? What time works best? All hard to answer if you know nothing about your audience.

1a) …and you are (probably) not your audience

I call this the Marketer’s Dilemma. This is the psychological or behavioral difference between you and your audience. You are not your audience and must proactively learn how to overcome that distance to better communicate. This is ultimately an empathetic process—learning to walk in the shoes of others. Seeking to uncover “Aha!” moments about people who aren’t you—that process is a truly fascinating one.

2) Do what works

Marketing is about ROI. And while we didn’t recommend relying solely on this practice for all the client’s donations, it worked consistently enough to warrant keeping it. There was measurable effort, measurable return—and a compelling reason to maintain the practice based on the ROI. Newer is not always better. We think that because we’re in the digital age everything needs to be updated, and that old channels are dying (and some are). But it takes insight and clarity to realize older forms of marketing and advertising might still work.

3) Don’t miss cross-channel flexibility

This printing tactic clearly wouldn’t work on say…television commercials. This tactic worked well for emails-to-print. The lesson here is that having mechanisms to give will depend on the channel or mode. Different channels require different response types. Different messages require different follow-ups. Maybe the coupon is great for emails, but having an iPad with a pre-loaded giving landing page would be better for live events. Or having an easy-to-remember URL for outbound marketing would drive traffic well.

4) Find what you’re missing

Imagine this: What if the coupon didn’t exist before our audit? Would I have thought to add it to all emails? Despite my own genius (jk), I’ll go with an answer of “highly unlikely.” So how do you go about finding new ideas and tactics? This is a big and personal question. Having a constant source of new ideas and having an open mind to them is important to keeping sharp as a marketer!

5) Maintain, then diversify

Moving forward, I don’t expect this tactic to grow as a source of donations for this client. So the plan was to maintain it and clean it up a bit, but continue to build other diverse “giving” channels for various personas on various platforms.

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How do you go about narrowing the gap between you and your audience? Would love to hear from you on this and other ways you stay sharp as a marketer!

Magneti aims to be the most effective and innovative growth marketing team in the world.