Marketing to Mavericks

Jun 08, 2022

I did something this weekend that I haven’t done in a long time…I watched a movie. Don’t get me wrong, I watch movies all the time, but this movie was viewed in an actual movie theater. You remember those don’t you? The place where you need to take out a small mortgage to afford the admission and the snacks? You gotta get the snacks! The moment you walk in your olfactory system goes haywire as you inhale the buttery goodness of what can only be described as aromatic calories. And personally, I can’t genuinely enjoy movie theater popcorn without Milk Duds. I mean, come one, when is the last time you had a Milk Dud? Trust me, it was far too long ago. And add one Milk Dud to a handful of get-your-hands-greasy buttered popcorn and it’s like instant caramel corn in your mouth—an explosion of nostalgia that takes me back to childhood in a way that sweet treats like that often do. It was like a bit of heaven on earth and it reminded me that I need to take two hour breaks like that more often. It was clear that I had forgotten how much I loved the total experience.

Mind you, I felt all those feels before the movie even started. This particular theater had those cool, comfortable, leather seats with the big silver button. You know the button. The one that the longer you press down on it the more reclined you get in your seat. I felt like I was in my living room, except we had Dolby sound hitting us from every direction and a ginormous screen filling the entire space, ceiling to floor, directly in front us. The atmosphere took me away from reality for a bit—all the deadlines and timelines seemed to slip away temporarily and I was transported to another dimension. It was clear that I had forgotten how much I loved the total experience.

Then, right after the trailers for the other movies, which I now want to see, and right before the movie began, something different happened. Tom Cruise appeared on the screen. He was alone, just sitting in a chair talking directly to the audience--no frills, no stunts, no Hollywood sizzle. It was just the star of Top Gun: Maverick staring the movie experience with a brief thank you. He thanked us for coming back out to the movie theaters once again. He, as everyone does, knew that Covid took the wind out of the movie-going sails (sales), and he just wanted to say thanks for getting back to some semblance of normal. You know, precedented times vs. those awful unprecedented times. And he reminded us that the crews, directors, producers, and actors missed us just as much as we missed them and that they worked really hard to make a movie that they thought we would truly enjoy. And they sure did! I loved it. It was clear that I had forgotten how much I loved that experience.

Of course, there were many marketing lessons to be learned in that afternoon movie-going experience and I want to share a couple with you today.

Left Brain Marketing Methods: Did you know that Top Gun, the original movie, was released 36 years ago? Some of you might not even remember that or weren’t even born yet. If that’s the case, find it, watch it, and discover why Maverick and Goose “feel the need, the need for speed”. Then head on over to your favorite movie theater to watch Top Gun: Maverick. I believe you’ll thank me later. The point here is that many people absolutely adored the OG Top Gun. (My friend Happi has been obsessed with it for decades! Yes, I have a friend named Happi!) It was a blockbuster hit. Lots of big name stars, action galore, love, loss, and my favorite emotion—laughter through tears. Yet, there was no sequel until 36 years later! Do you have donors that loved you long ago that you haven’t seen hide nor hair of in ages? Maybe it’s time to go back to the database and Top Gun: Maverick them!

Right Brain Marketing Moxie: We know that there are millionaires next door. Did you know that those same millionaires, and other uber generous people, also love movies? It’s true, they do. They love popcorn and Milk Dud and the big silver button on the reclining seats. They love the Dolby sound and the trailers and they probably even love the talking box of popcorn that reminds us to silence our cell phones during the movie. There are tons of creative things that happen in movies and at the movie theater. And those millionaires and generous people are using their discretionary income to enjoy this type of entertainment in their free time. Because they’re normal human beings just like you and me. Let’s take a page from the what-donors-do-in-their-free-time playbook and apply that to our donor direct mail to put some fun back into fundraising, shall we? 

Left Brain Marketing Methods: You know I’m all about the MVA (Minimum Viable Audience). As I’ve written about before, that requires segmenting your donors into small manageable groups of like-minded people. And, yes, I’m also all about the people in those groups having an affinity for what you do and the capacity to follow through with the help you’re asking them to provide. But typically, when all is said and done, those groups don’t contain long lost donors. As they sang in the original Top Gun, they’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ for some reason. Maybe you know the reason. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you were there when they left. Maybe you weren’t. It really doesn’t matter. Lost is lost.

What does matter is that you can try to win them back. If you feel like you want to take on a new donor segment, this might be the one for you. Like Tom Cruise's character in Top Gun, they’re your Mavericks: independent individuals who don’t go along with the group—at least that’s how Merriam-Webster defines maverick. Donor attrition is a real thing. But it’s far easier to win back a donor who used to love you than attain one who has never heard of you.

Now, keep this in mind—first priority is to retain the donors you have! Those amazing people who have both affinity and capacity. But if you think you have a good handle on those right now, it may be time to venture out into the danger zone—stewarding former donors in an effort to ignite their passion for your mission once again.

Yes, you lost them once. But they also loved you once. In my opinion, if Top Gun can make an amazing sequel that’s sizzling at the box office 36 years after the original, I think there’s hope for you, too.

So, use your left brain logic. Pull your donor data from your database. Find 25 or 50 donors who used to give abundantly to you 5 or 10 or 15 years ago but haven’t actively supported you in years—and try to win them back! It might take a few tries to pull the right list because we’re used to pulling reports on donor activity. Reports on donor inactivity might take a bit more technical finesse. Stick with it until you get a list that you think is worthy of at least one year (probably two to give them and you a fair shot) of active stewardship.

Then, the great thing about left brain marketing methods is this…at the end of the trial period that you’ve designated, you can pull that list again. Did you activate those donors? If so, use that valuable information allowing you to place them in a donor segment with other active donors. If not, use that valuable information allowing you to say, “I gave it my all and they are no longer stampworthy”. After one to two years of telling your stories, reporting on your mission, and thanking them for their support in the past, if they haven’t budged, then you can move on. And if you’ve activated a handful of donors, then count that as success. Either way, you’ve just made a highly impactful left-brained, data-driven decision and that will ensure your resources are wisely expended. That’s why the left brain is so important.

Perhaps Top Gun: Maverick has proven that it’s never too late to reignite the passion someone once had for you years ago. In fact, reminding them of why they loved you in the first place might be an unexpected, but very welcomed, surprise they didn’t even know they needed. 

Right Brain Marketing Moxie: I met with a potential client last week and said, “I’m not afraid of color.” And he said, “I could tell by your outfit!” It’s true. While my outfit wasn’t wild (in my opinion), I was wearing a red dress with turquoise glasses and leopard print shoes. It was both comfortable and cute!

And guess what? Your donors aren't afraid of color either. They don't live in Pleasantville. They're not still watching black and white movies. They long to go on vacations where they can see different sites and explore different scenery. They read books and go to movies that give them that ‘Calgon, take me away’ experience.

So much of life is so darn serious. And, yes, some of it must be. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a will or estate plan typed in a Comic Sans Serif font. There’s a reason for that! And while what we do is often on the serious side, whether that be our specific missions or the instruments we utilize to deploy the gift of generosity, it doesn’t mean that we can’t appeal to the emotions of a donor within the context of a content-rich message.

You see the reason you must use both sides of your brain is because all the left brain logical, data-filled decision-making in the universe won’t matter if your donors won’t open your mail. That’s it, that’s the tweet. If they know what you send will be pages filled with word walls that are boring and lifeless, they may read it once but they won’t make that mistake again. Boring content sent to the right people bears little fruit.

Besides, don’t you want your donors to be inspired? Inspired about how they are the solution to your client’s problems. Inspired about how they are a leader in this mission of yours? Inspired about how they are the hero of the story you are telling?

Heck, everyone wants to be inspired! And that’s why people go to the movies or read books. They want the story to make them feel some kind of way. They want the full experience. They want to see that birthday-sized card that doesn’t look like a bill in their mailbox. They want to see a font that doesn’t scream mass marketing. They want to see a picture on the front (or back) that beckons them to open it up and learn more. They want to be taken way by your message like they would be with a movie or a book, not like they would be if they read a legal brief, a medical journal, or the phone book (for you younger readers, phone books used to be a thing).

While your donors might be wearing neckties or high heals during the day in their ever-so-serious careers, by night they are wearing beach shirts adorned with pineapples or frilly sundresses. They’re planning their next getaway vacation or fun weekend excursion. They are actively looking for an experience. That full Dolby-sound, nostalgic experience of seeing a movie sequel 36 years later or that experience of realizing through an ocean or a donation that life is far bigger than we are. YOU can give them that experience. After all, if we learned anything through Covid is that most people were business on the top and party on the bottom via Zoom.

Stop looking at direct mail as alphabet letters and 8 ½ X 11 paper. Bring it to life! Make it stampworthy. Heck, make it better than stampworthy! Make it something you would love to receive in the mail from your favorite charity of choice. And vow never to place a stamp on any donor communications unless and until you think you’d love to see that in your mailbox.

You see the reason you must use both sides of your brain is because all the right-brained, creative-seeking, emotion-invoking cleverness in the universe won’t matter if you aren’t sending things out to the right donors with a customized purpose just for them. That’s it, that’s the tweet. If they know what you send will be engaging and fun, but it’s labeled ‘or current resident’ or you’re making a generic, watered -down request for the understanding of the least common denominator, they may read it once but they won’t make that mistake again. Dynamic content sent to the wrong people bears little fruit as well. That’s why the right brain is so important.

Top Gun: Maverick reminded me that that warm spot I had in my heart for Goose and Maverick was still there. I hadn’t lost that lovin’ feeling; I just needed a reminder. A 36-year old reminder. And oddly enough, I also needed a 2-year old reminder that I love going to the movie theater. That Covid hiatus we took was just enough time for us to forget all the reasons we love the total experience.

Perhaps your donors need a reminder, too--be a movie in your donor’s mailbox! Give those mavericks of yours the total experience.

All My Best,
[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc.

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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