A friend who is an alumn of a well-known college in the Midwestern neck of the American woods recently received a direct mail appeal asking her to join the alumni association. I'll keep the name of the school anonymous ... even though it sort of kills me to do so.
She brought it to my attention because it's so shockingly generic and makes such broad assumptions about her experience. The sad thing is, a little backgrounding - a little gathering of data - would've made a big difference. More importantly, would've secured a gift.
Here's a rundown of what went wrong and why it didn't need to be that way:
Assuming makes a ... well, you know
My friend attended an adult learning extension of the main campus. She went to night and weekend classes. Never stepped foot on the main university campus. Yet the package copy begins by asking her to reminisce about her first day on the main campus. Ouch.
Go Team! (except different)
Sports were never a part of her experience. Not ever. Said appeal package is plastered with the school's mascot, a collage of photos that is all sports all the time and cheerleaders. With all the cool stuff you can do with variable data, they could've personalized this package at least a little. Pep rallies? C'mon,
Enough About Me, Let's Talk About ME
When the package is already alienating, an envelope teaser that can be misconstrued is the death icing on a failed package cake. Said university used "we" instead of "you" thinking my friend was already on board. She wasn't, and the teaser came off as self congratulatory and weird.
LESSON LEARNED: Take the time to know who you're talking to and spend the extra effort to tailor your message. This isn't revolutionary, but it's surprising how often it isn't done ... and how bad it makes organizations look to potential donors, customers and advocates.