Anatomy of a Control: Health After 50 Finds Life After a Monster Control
The minute you have a new control, it's got to be tempting to sit back and admire the view for a little bit. After all, your hard work has paid off in the form of a direct mail effort that's bringing in better response and pay-up.
But that kind of thinking can put you behind the eight ball when response eventually tails off and you aren't prepared with strategies for how to improve results with tweaks or entirely new test creative, or ways to cut costs for more profit.
The marketers at Health After 50, a monthly newsletter from Johns Hopkins Medicine, were ready when their seven-year control needed a replacement. From 1994 to 2000, the Who's Mailing What! Archive consistently received the same #10 envelope effort from the publisher, save for small tweaks to the outer envelope or the color scheme.
Then, a month after the Archive received the last control, the new control popped up in the mail stream. For Health After 50, published by Rebus, a New York City firm that also puts out and promotes the newsletters UC Berkeley Wellness Letter and Johns Hopkins Prostate Bulletin, there was no time like the present to get a new control out there.
And it's likely that timeliness had much to do with the shift to a new control: By my analysis, the prior control did not seem to appeal to the boomer market as well as this new effort does.
Let's take a look at the elements of Health After 50's current control for some insight into its shift in message strategy.
Stately is, as Stately Does
Publications produced by medical institutions do not go for the flashy, four-color, graphics-heavy approach in direct mail used by other health newsletters and health magazines. They prefer to match their creative approach to their stature.
For example, the prior control for Health After 50 featured a white #10 envelope with part of the hospital's seal used as a graphic element. The copy was a replica of the line used on the outer of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter's longtime control: "Free Issue Certificate Enclosed ... the favor of a reply is requested. Thank you."
The new control ventures just a little farther with a gray-flecked background on a #10 envelope. This envelope features the entire seal of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and adds a signature to the name of the doctor represented in the envelope's return address block. It's a personal touch that helps set the tone for the package. One line of teaser copy"The health information you require is enclosed"helps propel prospects inside the envelope, but doesn't sell the farm too soon.
A Letter That Serves
Amidst industry discussion that longer copy could be a problem in today's never-a-spare-minute lifestyle, Health After 50 actually upgrades from a four-page letter to a six-page letter for its new control. Copywriter Don Hauptman, who specializes in direct mail for newsletters, has noted that as long as the content is relevant, prospects will read copious amounts of information on topics like health and finance.
Whereas the previous control letter leads with Johns Hopkins' ranking by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top hospitals in the country and an immediate, directive call to action ("A suggestion: Let me send you the current issue..."), the new control's sales letter is the picture of flattery and service. Note how the headline, shown on the next page, stresses to prospects that they have been "chosen," and assumes they know the other half of the goal besides living longer. What's unsaid draws prospects into the letter, thinking to themselves, "I'm sure the other half is living healthy, and maybe this letter will tell me how."
Another important usage of flattery is in the congratulations the letter extends to recipients for taking care of themselvesa sharp contrast to the scare tactics employed by broadcast news and some other health publications to garner prospects' attention.
Fear is a powerful motivator, but the boomer market needs this emotional technique backed up with information they can put to use.
Of course the institution needs to establish credibility for the opinions and research published in the newsletter, so the sales letter features the same U.S. News & World Report ranking from the prior control. In addition, a blue sidebar runs the length of the first page and jumps to page six, in which it promotes the hospital's authority on health with a list of Johns Hopkins' medical achievements from 1897 to 2000.
The rest of the letter describes the kinds of editorial features and topics covered in the publication, making sure to touch on as many relevant health conditions as possible. With six pages, the letter has more than enough room to talk about strokes, colon cancer, arthritis, home tests, C-reactive protein, etc.
It also smartly shows reader involvement by highlighting a regular department for reader questions. The letter provides a list of questions asked and points out that editors of the publication are doctors who can answer questions readers don't want to take to their own physicians. This implies a benefit to being a subscriber that's bigger than just another newsletter to read; the publication becomes more about personal service.
The last page features the typical direct mail offer copy. Prospects are encouraged to take the free sample issue offer, with the option of returning the invoice marked cancel or paying $15 for 12 issues (including the sample).
The letter is signed by the same doctor who provided his signature for the outer envelope: Dr. Simeon Margolis, a professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. And both signatures match.
Two Inserts for More Lift
A dynamic duo of strong lift pieces provides additional support to the claims in the letter of Health After 50 being the source for health information.
The more traditional lift piece is a note from a woman we can assume is a subscriber. Her tale is heart-felt and shows the power of the reader-question section of the newsletter. The folded note features a lavender background for the cover and inside panels. The cover reads: "Because of a question from one of your readers, I was able to save the sight in my right eye."
Inside, the lift letter tells the story of how the writer recognized her urgent medical condition after reading the response of a John Hopkins' doctor to another reader's question. She sought medical attention and saved her eyesight. For today's skeptical but hopeful prospect, letters like this are powerful.
The second insert is an 8-1/4" x 14" form that folds in half and then in half again. The promo copy on the top panel proclaims this insert to be the "Johns Hopkins Prescription for Longevity"; it also notes that the editors of the newsletter produced this pamphletan important message that tells prospects this information is created just for them.
Unfolded once, the insert displays the introduction to the "practical anti-aging plan," and the first two of 11 pieces of advice on how to live longer. Unfolded to full size, the remaining nine tips are shown, punctuated with illustrations that fit each tip; for example, the image of a pear, a slice of watermelon and a wedge of a citrus fruit accompanies advice on eating a healthy diet.
In a large box at the bottom of the sheet is a call to action for readers to send for a free sample of the newsletter, always a good practice to prevent inertia. Just below this box, the publisher provides the response address, just in case the reply card is missing. Considering that this insert contains the kind of information some recipients might put aside to read later or share with loved ones, this detail allows Health After 50 to pick up more orders.
On the back panel of the folded-up insert is the full editorial advisory board: 12 doctors at Johns Hopkins listed with their medical specialtiesfurther support of the mailing's claims of credibility in this field.
An Order Card That Knows its Place
The emphasis of this mailing belongs on the letter and insert pieces, so Health After 50 keeps the order card crisp and functional. It stands out from the rest of the package's elements with red accents and a bright yellow response sticker token that screams, "FREE!"
The order card is titled, "RSVP for Free Issue," making it crystal clear what prospects will receive when
they respond. The offer copy is the standard summation of termsprice, term and the savings off the regular price.
Also included in the mailing is a standard BRE, except that the publisher prints a promotional message of "RUSH FREE ISSUE" on the front to show that responses are important, and to suggest that the prospect will not have to wait long for the sample issue.
With a track record of three years and counting for this new control, Health After 50 seems to have found just the right message to appeal to the 50+ age group.
Knowing that boomers like to be in control of the purchasing process and gather as much information as possible before making a decision, this control takes the right tack with a more relationship-oriented and flattering copy platform. Time will tell if it can last as long as the control it replaced.