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Using Printers and Technology to Improve Communication
By: David Murphy

Everyone wants a return on investment (ROI), whether investing in a mutual fund, real estate, or any other asset. To communicate your church's message to potential or occasional visitors, your church makes investments in computers, software, printers, and paper. There may also be advertising costs for listing your church in community directories.

For every thousand dollars invested in these communications, what is your church's return? It's certainly okay if you don't know the answer because most organizations don't. It is difficult to correlate the number of new visitors or members directly to your church's communication expenses.

With today's economy placing pressure on giving, churches are understandably reducing expenses across all departments. There is a tendency to want to cut back on advertising, unnecessary printing, and other communications projects. But, while reducing communications can help cut costs, it also means fewer people will receive your message and that can aggravate the church's financial condition.

The alternative is to spend in ways that will reduce your operating costs and increase the response rate on your communications. Church leaders want a measurable return on their investments in communications.

A February 2009 survey by Jupiter Research showed that "achieving a measurable ROI on marketing efforts" was the top priority for marketers this year. It may be for church leaders, as well.

Achieving a measurable ROI for your ministry communications means reducing costs while also increasing the effectiveness. Reducing costs means finding more efficient ways of communicating, and increasing effectiveness means getting more people to read and respond.

Let's work on a new way of communicating your message to your church's inactive and potential members, a way that involves using use multiple media channels, including personalized e-mail, personalized Web landing pages, and colorful printed materials.

1. Select the target audience for your campaign.
This first step involves knowing who are talking to so you can tell them something that might be of interest to them. Knowing who you are talking to means you need to build or acquire a database. This could be a database of new residents or homeowners in your local community. These lists are readily available from reputable list brokers. You can also develop your list organically through internal church records. It might include members who haven't attended in awhile, visitors to your Web site, or first-time visitors who attended a past service.

As you gather and assemble these databases over time, try to record as much information as possible and practical about each individual. You can use Microsoft Excel to build tables or you might consider a contact management software program. For each person, you can record data such as "new to the area" or "visited our 2008 Christmas service." Gathering this information is not an invasion of privacy and it will help you craft appropriate communications that may be of special interest to each recipient.

2.  Create a set of personalized URLs (pURLs) or Web landing pages with your church domain name along with the names of each individual.
For example, a church domain might be www.anywherechurch.com and each individual on your list would have his/her own page on that site. Jan Smith's page would be www.anywherechurch.com/jansmith. When Jan visits this Web site, she could have a personal greeting, perhaps a welcome message from your pastor, that reads, "Welcome, Jan. Thank you for visiting our church for our recent Easter service. We'd like to invite you and your family to our harvest festival on October 31." There are many pURL service providers that can help you build and manage your personal sites easily and very affordably.

3.  Design and print a colorful direct mail piece with a message specifically targeted to a particular segment of your audience.
There are software programs that allow you to create mailers and other promotional documents with customized photos or graphic images along with variable text for each recipient or group. For example, you could send a youth group invitation to parents with teens and include images of your church's youth group activities.

To further increase the readability and response rates of these communications, you can also create customized fonts in the shapes of graphic images like clouds, balloons, starfish, or any custom image you like. Imagine if you received a card in the mail that had your name spelled out in sky writing or on the front of a racecar. It would almost certainly catch your attention and you might be more inclined to read the mailer a little more closely.

As for the printing of these direct mail pieces, you might consider some of the newly introduced high-speed low-cost inkjet printers on the market. These devices typically print at twice the speed and half the cost of conventional color printers that use lasers and toner. Some of these printers can print colorful graphic images and customized messages, such as, "Mike, come to our July 4th family picnic!" directly on your envelopes. Inkjet technology has come a long way, and it is faster, more reliable, and more environmentally friendly than other toner-based MFPs.

4. Send an e-mail to the recipient a few days after you have sent the direct mail piece.
This e-mail should have a similar look and feel of the mailer and again list the personalized Web site that you created for the recipient. The same vendors who helped you with steps two and three can help you create this e-mail campaign.

Marketers typically aim for a one or two percent response rate when they launch direct mail or e-mail campaigns. Yet, a 2008 InfoTrends study revealed that when e-mail and Web landing pages are combined with printed materials (like direct mail), the average response rate jumps to 8.8 percent. Wouldn't it be great to reach out to 1,000 strangers and make 88 friends from the effort?

Assembling all these separate steps into one integrated cross-media campaign is easier than you might think, and it becomes even easier when you get guidance from a vendor who has implemented hundreds of these campaigns before. The reality is that the minimal financial investment you make into setting up cross-media campaigns is returned to with much higher response rates.

Studies show that the average consumer receives between 250 and 3,000 messages each day. We are all bombarded with promotional offers everywhere we go. It's no wonder that it is difficult for us to remember or respond to messages that are actually of interest to us.

Plus, when was the last time you looked in the phonebook for anything? Is this an investment that will actually generate a positive return for your church? These factors combine to create a compelling inspiration for you to integrate your ministry communications into a cross-media strategy. Maybe it's time for your church to start sending messages that more people will actually read. Wouldn't that be great?

David Murphy is vice president of marketing for RISO, www.us.riso.com.

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