Salsa Blog

Planes, Trains and Autoresponders

I travel quite a bit in my job, less than some people I know, but still a significant amount.  With this travel comes more airline visits than I care to count and more loyalty programs than I can keep track of.  Okay, you say, we get it, you travel, we don’t really care, and when are you going to talk about donor retention already?!

While donations and business trips may seem worlds apart, frequent flyers and donors have a lot in common.  

  • They have both made a previous financial commitment to an organization.  

  • That commitment may represent a choice as a preferred brand/association or it may represent a more transactional and transient type of support.

  • They both have multiple choices when looking to make a repeat purchase/donation.  

  • And lastly, they are both marketed to relentlessly in the pursuit of the ever elusive loyal customer/donor.

Now to be fair, with airline programs, the accrued miles, free upgrades, early check in and all the other offerings can make a big difference.  But I want to focus on the last bullet above. The Marketing. And I want to give you two contrasting real world examples of how, and how not, to connect with your supporters.

Last year on a trip with airline A, I experienced unusually long delays, a missed connection as a result of the delay, and a cancelled flight all in a single day. Now I will caveat that running an international airline with multiple hubs, flights, weather issues, FAA regulations, etc. is extremely complicated and so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Marketing however, is much less complicated, and also much more in our power to control. Besides myself, the only people who knew (or should care) about my travel troubles was the airline I was flying with. They knew my flight was delayed, they knew I missed a connection and they knew a flight was cancelled. However upon my return home, there in my email, was a marketing offer to buy FTD flowers and receive bonus miles.  No “sorry for your inconvenience”.  No “we know you had some problems”.  Nothing that even hinted at what my recent interactions with them had been or even understanding of who I was. (I can’t tell you the last time I bought flowers anywhere but a roadside stand).  The email not only did not make feel like a valued customer, it actually made me angrier about the problems I had experienced than when they were happening.

I am sure that the systems of airline A recorded my missed connection, cataloged the number of flights I have made with them, extrapolated a number based on the total value of me as a client and who knows what else. But the information did not make that “last mile” into the marketing department in a meaningful or actionable way. So instead of something relevant, I got the next offer on deck. Flowers. What a missed opportunity.

Contrast that with airline B. I returned from a business trip late Saturday afternoon. The flight and all elements of went off without a hitch, but here’s the catch, I HATE traveling on the weekend and missing time with my family. Upon my return, my family and I headed out for some outing or another. Inevitably, I ended up checking email and some point, and there in my inbox and email from the airline. No trying to get me to buy something. No hawking items I was not interested in. Simply a note saying “Welcome home, and thanks for flying with us.” That simple message went further in solidifying my perception of this particular airline as a friendly, caring and personal airline then you can imagine.  

I am also assuming that their systems calculated that I was on a business trip based on my travel experience  and that I was returning home on a weekend, because it is not a message that has been repeated on subsequent business trips. If the message was triggered by that combination, then this airline is exhibiting marketing genius. At any rate, it stands in stark contrast to the type of messages we are bombarded with on a regular basis.

Systems today are better than ever at helping us gather information. We know when they click and when they share. We know how long it has been since we have touched them, and the list goes on and on.  But data by itself is of no use to us. It is what we do with that information that makes the difference. By looking through the single filter of donations, we run the risk of missing out on key opportunities. Ask your self, of the vast amounts of information you have on donors, how are you using it? Is it exclusively used to calculate propensity to give, wealth scoring, Lybunt scores, etc.  Or do we take a step back and use that information to determine who within our file we should reach out to and simply say “Thanks for joining us on this journey.”

Want more of Blake's insights? Read his previous posts on bringing supporter retention to the front seat and donations on Facebook

Topics: Fundraising