I have yet to read a well thought out, convincing argument for why churches spend money on promotional direct mail pieces. Usually, the answer is something like:
- “This is how we’ve always done it.”
- “Another big local church does it, and they are growing so it must be working.”
- “We don’t have any data to convince us otherwise.”
- “Someone told us they found us through a mailer, so it must work.”
Most of the time the above responses are good enough to leave the mailer discussion alone and move forward … until now.
NOTE: This is a fairly in-depth and comprehensive article. Skip to the bottom if you want to read the conclusion.
First, It Took Some Convincing
I’ve been a broken record in the ears of my church’s leadership for the last few years about direct mail. To them the mailer was such a critical piece in fall kick-off promotion and directly connected to church growth that the risk was simply too high to not do a mailer without some proven alternatives. Well, I didn’t have proven alternatives, but, what I did have was 1 year’s worth of data collected on everything from the website analytics to various social media accounts, attendance metrics & email marketing usage statistics.
I’m kind of a statistics nerd, and love looking at the impact of trying new communication channels and marketing messages. Armed with data I met with church leadership and was able to convince them to abandon the traditional fall mailer for this year and give me a shot at other methods.
What Does a Mailer Really Cost You?
If your church is in a growing phase and an average attendance of 1200-5500 then you are likely spending $17,000-$25,000 to blanket your local community (5-7 mile radius) with each direct mail promotion. For argument’s sake let’s say this covers 80,000 households. Mailer’s, along with most other forms of junk mail, have a relatively low open rate and an even lower action rate. Let’s be liberal with our estimate and assume that of those 80,000 households about 5% actually open/read the mailer (4,000 households) and let’s assume that of that 5% about 10% respond to the call-to-action (i.e. come check us out, go to the website, etc.). So, we are looking at about 400 households responding to the call-to-action. Now, let’s assume that each household represents about 2.5 people (families, singles, etc.). So, 400 households multiplied by 2.5 gives us 1000 individuals responding to the call-to-action. Not bad, right? If they all become members then you’ve just grown your church by 18%-83%!
Now, let’s use the low-end cost estimate of $17,000 for the direct mail piece and divide it by the 1000 individuals responding to the call-to-action. That comes out to $17/person you spent to get them to respond to your call-to-action. You might say to yourself, “See, that’s not so bad if we can grow our church by 18%-83% in the fall.” Or, maybe you’re thinking, “Those numbers may be accurate, but, if they stay and start giving after 6 months then the marketing has paid for itself.” Ok, fair enough, but now let’s look at a real-world case study based on the data I collected from my fall marketing experiment. For additional comparison I will also reference another local church that pulled out all the stops for its fall promotion.
My Real World Experiment
My church’s fall kick-off series was meant to be a low-barrier-to-entry for people who had never attended church, or, perhaps were burned out by the church. The series, called “Old Time Religion” was a 13-week examination of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation with an “O Brother, Where Art Thou” fusion of Bluegrass worship hymns kicked off by an outdoor baptism & BBQ. Our marketing included:
- Teaser Video (shown during services 2-weeks prior to series kick-off)
- Introduction Video Blog with the Lead Pastor & Worship Pastor (web-only)
- Promo Video (web-only)
- Promo Blooper Reel (web-only)
- Facebook Ad’s
- Custom Facebook Landing Tab
- Social Media Viral Strategy
- E-mail Promo
- 4×6 full-color invites distributed to church
What is important to point out is that the videos (except for the teaser) were shot with my iPhone with very little production value added to them. While I do appreciate good video production quality I didn’t want the argument to be about people coming because of the high-production value of our media. I wanted the videos to be raw and reflect the personalities of the two most visible people at the church – the Lead Pastor and Worship Pastor.
By comparison, the other church promoted their sex series multiple ways including a freeway billboard ad, microsite, multiple high-quality promotional videos, a movie theater pre-roll ad, and of course, a direct mailer. They also had the benefit of the local news coming out to do a story on the upcoming series. I say this not because we are competing with them, but, it is good information to have when comparing relative marketing effectiveness.
A Word on the Promo Videos
I need to talk about the iPhone promo videos a bit more for a moment. When the Lead Pastor, Worship Pastor and I met to discuss the videos my idea was to create 3 different videos with tweaked messages for 3 different demographics that we wanted to target. The plan was then to use Facebook’s ad system to create 3 different ad campaigns which linked directly to those videos. But, after looking through the footage I realized 2 things: 1) The message was so broad there really wasn’t a reason to create 3 videos; 2) These guys’ interactions made for some really funny blooper outtakes!
So, I made an executive decision – we would have one serious promo video and one blooper reel. None of us started out thinking a blooper reel was part of the plan, which in hindsight is why it might have worked out so well. I’ll discuss how well a little later.
Facebook Ads – Our Big Budget Item
While a combination of factors above contributed to the overall fall marketing strategy we spent the majority of our budget on Facebook ads. This was my biggest response to “what do we do instead of a mailer.” Here are my reasons:
- Because of the housing crisis nearly 94% of homeowners in our surrounding community are underwater on their houses. This also brought home prices down significantly which means that many young marrieds, young families and college students were now able to afford to move into or rent homes in our community. Thus, our community demographic makes up nearly 70% of our Facebook users (see chart below).
- Facebook ads allow us to target very specifically for the different campaigns we want to run
- Facebook is web-based and our call-to-action (watch the video) is web-based. We assume that people will decide more often to simply click vs. opening a mailer, reading it, turning on the computer, typing in the site and then clicking.
- We can get far more impressions (views) of our ads targeting the right people on Facebook for a significantly lower cost than a direct mailer – this leads to making efficient use of our budget.
Facebook Ads By the Numbers
Here are the complete results from the 3 Facebook ads:
Here are the 3 Facebook ads we ran:
From the data above you can see that our most effective ad was #2 – Pastors Make Mistakes. It was no coincidence that I tweaked the spending on this particular ad throughout the 2-week Facebook ad campaign as I recognized it had the highest CTR (click-thru rate) percentage.
So, you can see that we received over 8.2 million impressions during a 2-week period. Of that we received over 7,000 clicks (our call-to-action) and spent just under $3,000 for the total campaign. This campaign cost us about $0.42/person responding to our call to action.
Remember when we calculated $17/person for a mailer? Just wait, it gets better.
Ongoing Value of Facebook “Likes”
In the 2-week span that we ran our Facebook ads we increased our Facebook fanbase by 10% (or appx. 200 people). By comparison, the other church, who ran a much larger traditional media campaign increased their fanbase by 0.5% (or appx. 12 people). Why is this significant? Well, because we now have the ongoing opportunity to communicate with (and have more details about) 200 additional people who have opted-in (i.e. Liked) our Facebook fan page without ever stepping into our church! These people represent a very high potential for ongoing attendance as well as making our church Facebook page visible on their Facebook profile (i.e. social media word-of-mouth)!
The Blooper Video
I noticed something pretty interesting and significant when it came to our video statistics. People were far more interested in our after-thought blooper video than they were in the real video promo. In fact the blooper video almost instantly became viral – being shared and viewed at a ratio of nearly 6:1 when compared to the promo video! People loved it, were talking about it, and even more importantly, sharing it on their social networks. In a 2-week span we received nearly 5,000 views of our blooper reel.
The E-mail Promo
We sent out a custom e-mail promo using MailChimp. I’m a big fan of MailChimp because it is very designer-friendly, provides excellent stats AND allows for a simple send-to-a-friend process. Click on the image to the right to view a full-size version of the email along with click statistics.
Our e-mail promo looked very similar to the default tab that everyone who clicked 1 of the 3 Facebook ads landed on. So, every user had an opportunity to watch videos, learn about the series and post to their Facebook page. The flow felt very natural.
So, after all is said and done what did the attendance look like for the Fall Kick-off, and how did it compare to last year? Well, recorded attendance for the kick-off was 3,219 which is about a 22% increase over the week prior and about a 30% increase over the year prior.
You’ll notice there is a small bump in attendance prior to our kick-off which is (likely) caused by people who saw the marketing/videos and were interested in checking out the church prior to the kick-off.
For our intents and purposes our fall kick-off marketing experiment sans-mailer was as effective if not more effective than a traditional direct-mail piece. It was by far more cost-effective and efficient. Our total campaign with creative & marketing was just under $4,000 compared to the $17,000-$25,000 of a direct mail piece.
For consistency let’s compare apples-to-apples as best we can:
- Mailer: 80,000 households
- Facebook ads: 8.2 million impressions
- Mailer: 4,000 reads
- Facebook ads: 7,000 clicks
- Mailer: 1,000 (400*2.5 household multiplier) “actions”
- Facebook ads: 5,000 video views
- Mailer: $17,000
- Facebook Ads: $3,000
- Cost/response to action
- Mailer: $17
- Facebook ads (based on video views): $0.60
So, are church mailers a total waste of money? That’s for you to decide based on what you know about your audience I guess. For me (and our church budget dollars) this ad campaign was a success! Not only did we save an estimated $13,000 but we effectively grew in both our attendance and social media presences. We now have the option to invest that savings in some significant upgrades to our website (our digital front door) as well as … heck … we could just save.
I hope this was informative and helpful for you and your team. I realize this is just 1 church’s example but I think it represents well the opportunities to take advantage of other communication and marketing channels with some confidence. Maybe now you’ll have a case study you can use as you make budget decisions moving forward! Oh, and I’m always available for hire should you need a consultant (shameless plug)!