Cook's Illustrated Keeps It Real
As all mailers know, it's important for a direct mail package to entice prospects but also be real in how the product is portrayed. Show them anything less than an authentic representation of what you're trying to sell, and new customers may feel deceived upon fulfillment. Not the best way to foster a relationship, for sure.
Cook's Illustrated magazine's secret weapon in the battle to be reala 9" x 11" self-mailing composite issue with a four-color, four-page wrapperwas found amidst the March Who's Mailing What! Archive mail pieces (Archive code #202-178232-0503).
The wrapper includes letter copy on the first and second pages, quick tips, and a detachable 31/2" x 5" reply card that entitles one-year subscribers to 44 percent savings off the newsstand price and a free copy of the magazine's charter issue.
First tested in 1999, this 32-page "best of" issue went up against, and beat, the previous control: a 4" x 6" envelope package that included a four-color brochure displaying sample spreads from the magazine, a four-page letter, an order card and a buckslip. It's been in the mail off and on since, and has the same format and look as an actual issue of Cook's Illustrated.
According to David Mack, vice president of marketing for the magazine, the challengeand where the envelope package fell shorthas been creating direct mail that communicates what the publication actually is like, given the fact that, unlike most cooking magazines, there is no advertising and there are very few four-color food photos. Consumers' perceptions about what they're going to receive when they subscribe to a cooking magazine and what they actually get in a text-heavy issue of Cook's Illustrated can cause a disconnect, says Mack.
"Even when you have a four-color brochure showing people spreads, Cook's Illustrated has such a unique design that actually getting an issue into somebody's hands is extremely beneficial for us in terms of getting people to subscribe and then continue on," says Mack.
Initially, it tested mailing an actual issue of the magazine with the four-page wrapper on the outside. The challenge with that mailing, notes Mack, was that the look of the package always was changing.
"As most direct mailers would know, you don't want to be changing variables, especially in your direct mail package," says Mack. "You want to have some piece you can test and then if it works, roll out with it and know consistently the kind of response rate that you're going to get."
Mack adds that another downside is that sometimes the content of a particular issue might not be as intriguing to some recipients. "If you do happen to have a particularly soft issue where the editorial lineup in there does not connect with the reader," he says, "then you're spending a lot on
direct mail. It's very risky."
The magazine moved from mailing an actual issue to testing both a 32-page composite and a 16-page version that contained partial recipes and drove readers to the Web to get the full text. Though the slimmed-down version cut costs while still giving prospective subscribers the look and feel of the magazine, the larger issue still is the control for outside prospecting.
In addition, the premiuma free copy of the 1992 Cook's Illustrated charter issuecontinues to be successful due to the timeless nature of recipes, says Mack, and overall response rates for the composite issue have been upwards of 3 percent, with gross response pay-up rates exceeding 85 percent.
"I think this type of format or approach is a good test for anybody who's selling a magazine that has an extremely original or unique design," he adds.