4 Signs of the Voucher's Evolution
If there's a subject that gets most copywriters, especially those who write in the squeezed publishing sector, fired up, it's vouchers. Simply put, most hate them because these "is it a bill?" mailers have replaced many full-blown acquisition or retention packages that used to be their bread-and-butter work. It's not just that jobs have been taken away, they say, but also the meaning of their work, as so many publications are, in essence, sending a much less impressive representative now—the lowly voucher.
However, slowly but surely, the voucher is evolving and, in some cases, starting to resemble the standard publication effort. Before getting into why this evolution is happening, it's important to acknowledge the traditional voucher's strengths. "The old voucher had a lot going for it, including brevity," says Ruth Sheldon, a New York-based copywriter. "You can see the offer in nanoseconds. You know what you're saving and what you're spending without wading through lots of ancillary material in the traditional full-blown package."
"Yet it's very difficult to tell a magazine's story with a voucher, which is precisely why this format is 'evolving' into a traditional package with more enclosures, more copy and more design," explains Elaine Tyson, copywriter and president of Tyson Associates in Brookfield, Conn. Here are four signs of the voucher's evolution.
1. Traditional vouchers are starting to fatigue
Did I hear a giant "it's about time!" chorus from thousands of copywriters just now? "The voucher has definitely evolved over the past six or so years, with marketing managers always looking for the next breakthrough for when the traditional voucher will inevitably fatigue," describes Sheldon, who has 25 years of experience writing subscriber acquisition and retention packages for more than 80 consumer and B-to-B publications.
2. Less is no longer more
"The voucher has evolved, starting with the inclusion of a buckslip insert and more copy, and I've now seen a few with additional inserts and more graphics on the outer as well as inside components," says Tyson, who has worked in and for the publishing industry for more than 40 years as a circulation pro and copywriter, and her company manages circulation for 22 magazines.
Direct mail printing firms have noticed the changes as well. Ryan Coté, director of marketing at The Ballantine Corp. in Wayne, N.J., says the company is seeing more hybrid vouchers than ever before. "I assume [it's] because the simple voucher is losing steam. Plus, vouchers don't leave much room for testing except copy," he reasons. The variations Coté has seen for the hybrid voucher include buckslips, lift notes, odd-sized outer envelope (OE) windows, OE teaser copy, different OE colors, brochures, as well as freemiums like return address labels and even a packet of seeds (for a gardening magazine).
"What is evolving is the inclusion of added inserts for people who do want to get more of the feel of a magazine," agrees Sheldon, who points to how New York magazine helped launch the trend of the expanded voucher with its New York City subway map freemium. The last few years she has been creating vouchers that describe benefits in greater detail. For example, she wrote a traditional package for Woman's Day that was tested against a combo letter/voucher; the latter pulled almost as well.
"The trick is to be brief and as descriptive as possible, and to use freemiums that have real value to the consumer," suggest Sheldon. In her experience, the more that's added to the voucher within reason that provides additional information and a broader range of benefits, the better the voucher does.
3. Going beyond "is this a bill?" marketing
Many copywriters agree that the consumer is sophisticated enough by now to realize the voucher is not a bill in disguise. "A lot of color was not used in the past, because people believed it detracted from the professional, 'bill-like' look. Now the use of color adds interest and draws the eye to relevant details. Used wisely, it can also portray the feel of the magazine," details Sheldon.
For Farmington Hills, Mich.-based copywriter and designer Todd Lerner, it's about better communication. "For voucher packages, we often like to separately include a simple, good-looking, little brochure—the idea is to contrast the transactional offer-promoting form with a subordinated, sexier piece showcasing the product and conveying the brand value," he says.
4. Not forgetting about the real thing!
I would be remiss, however, if the case for the return of the standard acquisition package wasn't made. "I understand why people use them, but I don't think a voucher is any substitute for a real direct mail package. I'd rather use a letter and order card in a #10 outer," declares Tyson, who says that nothing has ever worked better to sell magazine subscriptions than a traditional package.