Rethinking Direct Mail for Evangelism

Larry WitzelMarketing Practices, News

Considering direct mail as part of your evangelism marketing strategy? It’s time to rethink your timelines.

First, let’s be clear: direct mail is still the only way to ensure that someone in every household has an opportunity to respond to your message. Facebook and Google can’t do that. Neither can radio or TV, nor billboards, banners or road signs. If you want to reach someone in every home, you have to use direct mail.

And direct mail works. An analysis of events over the last 18 months shows that while there is variance based on geography, seasonality, and demographics, on average we’re seeing 10 more people on opening night for every additional 8,000 mailpieces sent.

However, we have to rethink our timelines. Because everything is slower, you’ll need more time to get the mail out effectively.

Before Covid-19

To understand the impact these last two years have had, let’s look at how things were done before.

Two decades ago, the rule of thumb was for your mailpieces to land in mailboxes precisely on the Monday before your meetings. That’s because stories were told about pastors getting up on Sunday, holding up the handbill, and saying to the congregation, “Don’t go to these meetings. It’s heresy.” So the goal was to give people enough time to plan, but not enough time for their pastor to stop them.

However, even back then this wasn’t a viable goal. The US Postal Service allowed you to request a 3-day window for a mailpiece to be delivered, but they make it clear that it’s a guideline, not a requirement. Ultimately they have absolute control over mail delivery, and they’ll deliver it when they’re good and ready.

So SermonView was already aiming for the Friday-Monday prior to opening night, just in case there was a backlog at the post office that delayed the mailing. The last thing you want, after all, is for your mailing to land in mailboxes after the event has already started.

To do this, we would deliver it to the sectional facility (SCF) 10 days before opening night. The standard practice was 2 days to get to the delivery post office, then 3 days to deliver to mailboxes. Often the mailer would arrive in mailboxes before that Monday, sometimes later, but it was almost always in that window.

Supply Chain Slowdowns

Today, everything is running slower. First, UPS, FedEx, and other freight companies have suspended their delivery guarantees for all shipments. That means:

  • Paper delivery is slower, so offset printing takes longer
  • Delivery from the printer to the mailhouse is slower
  • Delivery from our mailhouse to the USPS sectional facility is slower

What used to take 2 days now takes 4 days or more, which really adds up with each stop. Furthermore, when shipping to the SCF, we have always paid extra for a guaranteed delivery date. Because those guarantees are now suspended, we can’t predict when a mailing will actually get dropped off into the postal system.

But it gets worse. The US Postal Service is officially slower now, too, recently announcing that they are relaxing their internal service standards. So instead of 2 days to get from the SCF to the delivery unit, the new standard is 4 days. Instead of a 3-day window for delivery into mailboxes, the new standard is 5 days.

Both the supply chain and mail delivery are much slower now. And unfortunately, because there are now so many factors outside our control, SermonView has been forced to suspend our delivery guarantee, too.

Changes to Mail Habits

But even when the mail was landing in mailboxes on time, there was already a societal change taking place. The US Postal Service did a study back in the early 2000s, which found that 98% of postal customers check their mailbox every day.

Today? Not so much. A recent Reddit thread showed less than half of commenters check their mail daily. Most check it once a week or less. If that’s the case, getting your handbill in the mailbox 5 days before opening night means 25% of your audience won’t even see it until after the meetings start.

The New Direct Mail Plan

So what does that mean for you? Two things:

First, SermonView needs at least 8 weeks to do your mailing. We used to be able to turn around a mailing in 5 weeks or less, but we just can’t do that anymore. We’ve always done our best to serve latecomers, but we got burned recently when we tried to turn around a mailing in 4 weeks. The pallet of handbills from our print vendor took 2 weeks to arrive, instead of the 2 days they promised. In this case, the church was able to reschedule the meetings, so we were able to reprint and get the mailing out on time. But with everything slower now, the risk is too great. So give us at least 8 weeks to get your mailing out.

Second, you need to get your flyer into mailboxes sooner. We now recommend aiming for 2 weeks prior to the meeting, which means delivering it to the SCF 3 weeks before the meeting. This ensures the mailpiece will be seen in at least 95% of your homes before opening night.

Social Media Advertising Alternative

If you’re late in your planning, there is a proven alternative: social media advertising. SermonView is seeing increasing success with Facebook and Instagram advertising for evangelistic events. Our research shows that a $2,500 social media budget gets the equivalent response on opening night as a $10,000 mailing.

Of course, social media advertising does not scale the same way direct mail does. Doubling your direct mail budget will essentially double your pre-registrations, but increasing your Facebook budget offers diminishing returns. Ideally, you’ll include both in your advertising mix, along with some banners and road signs for maximum effectiveness.

The bottom line: direct mail is still effective, and needs to be included if you have a larger marketing budget. But everything is taking longer, so please give us 8 weeks to get your mailing out.

Have an evangelistic event coming up? Request your evangelism marketing quote today.