The surprising truth — science resonates best in direct mail

It may seem counterintuitive that science, specifically research, outperforms patient stories in direct mail.

Why? Well, we hypothesize that when sharing a patient story, you run the risk of driving negative or indifferent emotions. The constituent reading may have had a different, or possibly bad, experience or may know someone who did. Giving is emotional, and we see return on investment (ROI) decline when direct mail appeals are based on patient stories.

(We’re not referring to featuring a patient image and quote in a direct mail appeal. This is referring to a patient story–based letter with an ask to donate.)

It’s important that cancer organizations, specifically, remember that one in four people are diagnosed with cancer, and their experience or that of their loved ones could be different than the positive story portrayed.

Research and science-led content drives hope for today and the future. It’s relevant to those who may benefit now or in the future from advancements made, but it removes past experiential emotions.

So, where’s the proof? An anonymous survey conducted for a cancer organization targeting their surrounding community and current constituents showed that respondents were primarily interested in research, as shown in the chart below.

And respondents didn’t just say they want research-focused content. Direct mail testing results are clear … research and science-based content and graphics resonate best in direct mail — driving a better ROI.

Initial A/B testing of research-based language versus a patient story in direct mail generated a +9% lift in overall ROI. Subsequent testing to the same audience in a later campaign confirmed the hypothesis, this time generating a +47% lift in ROI for collateral that featured research updates versus a patient’s personal experience.

Giving is emotional, and the goal of a healthcare appeal is to create balanced content showing institutional progress and hopefulness for our community.

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