Alternative Media for Catalog Prospecting The Right Formula (1
By Lois Boyle
Are marketing methods other than direct mail lists effective for catalog prospecting? They can be.
For catalogers who've found the right prospecting formula in alternative media, the payoff is big. Consider Omaha Steaks, Lands' End, Park Seed and Cushman's Fruit. All of these companies have found a way to affordably—even profitably!—find new customers.
Even if direct mail lists already work for your catalog, test alternative media. First, it balances your prospect portfolio, allowing you to beat the odds when your traditional method isn't working. Second, alternative media lets you prospect outside of your regular season. And in some cases, it can be cheaper, create more qualified prospects and allow you to reach a different pool of prospects than your competitors.
How do you reach that Holy Grail of the perfect alternative media prospecting vehicle? Here's a checklist for creating a formula that will work.
Choose the Right Media
Before deciding what method of alternative media to test, know how much you can afford to spend to acquire a customer. In your calculations don't include fixed creative costs that can be absorbed during several placements. Consider benchmark response rates along with the cost of placement, redemption and future conversion costs. Once you know these numbers, you can wisely pick media that work for you. After the analysis, do the following:
•Consider all media, including newspapers, magazine mail order sections, card decks, Sunday supplements, Internet ads, affinity programs, FSIs (free-standing inserts), package inserts, etc.
n Ask for and study the media kit to be sure the market fits your target audience. If you've obtained any modeling on your own customer base, use that information when making your media choices.
n Negotiate price and placement based on a test with the promise of rolling out (if the numbers work at a higher rate). Also research remnant space that guarantees you great prices, but not placement.
n Within a chosen medium, consider what other advertisers are doing. Is your competition present? Call non-
competitive advertisers who are repeatedly present in your chosen medium and ask about their results.
n Consider timing in conjunction with your offer, and the offer must be considered when choosing the media.
Create the Right Offer
The first decision to make when creating your ad is whether to ask prospects to request a catalog (two steps) or actually buy a product (one step). The price of your products often will determine the appropriate method.
Either way, create your offer with the answers to these two questions in mind: "What do I have to offer that will motivate a prospect to act immediately?" and "How can I convince prospects they'll be missing out on something special if they don't act immediately?"
Creating the perfect offer is the most difficult component to creating a successful alternative media prospecting campaign. The offer must be simple and easy to understand (and easy to represent), and you must give prospects an easy and safe method for responding.
For a two-step offer, remember that the word "FREE" (notice the all caps) is the most attention-getting word in the English language, and a catalog can be offered for free. However, you may find your response is high and conversion is low. To rectify, either charge for your catalog with a credit toward a future purchase or, if your price points are on the high end, indicate pricing somewhere in your ad. This will decrease response, but prospects will be more qualified.
Developing a one-step program is more difficult but can be more profitable. The payoff is a more qualified prospect and a method that may even pay for itself. Consider the following when choosing to highlight one product that will entice profitable prospects to your catalog:
n The product must be within your brand image and representative of your overall product mix. Otherwise, conversion will be difficult.
n The product must be easy to depict and describe.
n It must have a broad appeal.
n The price must be affordable for someone to take the initial risk. Prices that seem to work are those numbers less than multiples of 10 (e.g., $9.99, $19.99, $29.99).
n Don't include shipping in the price, but clearly spell it out in the details after the decision to buy has already been made.
n Include a discount for ordering more than one.
Finding the right product at the right price-point usually doesn't happen in one try. Testing is a must.
Develop the Creative
With the right offer, creative should come easy, based on your team's understanding of direct response basics and the offer's uniqueness. The following tips will help you create an ad to motivate prospects to act:
n The headline and primary graphic must grab the reader's attention.
n Copy and graphics must work in concert to create an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand offer that's a snap for prospects to order.
n Present ordering options (phone, fax, mail, Internet), and always include a coupon "box" with a picture of what you're offering, to flag the reader that there's a mail order offer.
n For tracking purposes, add the source or media code several times, including inside the coupon box. Have your contact center reps ask for the code during order processing.
n Be sure your graphics will translate into both color or black and white, or create separate ads for each if necessary.
n Within the copy and graphics, connote you're a catalog company with a broader selection of product offerings.
n Gravity has a role in how an individual reads an ad: The eye will begin at the top and work its way down. In addition, vertically placed ads are easier to read than horizontal.
Convert Prospects Into Customers
Building a conversion plan to get customers to order again completes a profitable program. Here are a few conversion tips:
n Timing is critical. If a catalog was requested, immediately send one out reminding prospects who you are. Try testing an offer to get that first catalog purchase.
n If a product was ordered, accurate and complete fulfillment is an absolute must to get that second purchase.
n Thank them for their orders!
n Watch individual media sources. Many catalogers find that some media, which at first blush did not appear profitable, actually were over time, and vice versa.
Once you've developed the right mix of offer, media and creative, along with a sound conversion plan and testing strategy, the formula—and its success—can be repeated.
Lois Boyle is partner and chief creative officer of J. Schmid & Assoc. You can reach her by e-mail at email@example.com.