Editor’s Notes: Past Its Prime?
At the end of February, I pulled out of my office inbox a continuation notice for a free trial to min, also known as Media Industry Newsletter. I racked my brain for a minute, trying to remember if 1) I had signed up to receive this publication and 2) if I had gotten a sample issue. With a negative answer to each question, I put aside the invoice-like notice but decided to keep an eye out for the publication. A week passed with no sample issue, and I received another continuation notice—this time, featuring the teaser “LAST CHANCE” on the outer envelope. Inside, the reply form was more brief than the one in the first notice, with just one line of sales copy: “Your immediate payment is required to continue receiving min.”
This message would have been accurate if I, indeed, had received at least a single copy of the newsletter … I did not. I know that I never laid eyes on my so-called trial copies, because I’m an industry-publication pack rat; my office is practically a fire hazard. No copies of min were anywhere to be found in my informal direct marketing periodicals library.
The process of sending a couple of unsolicited sample issues and then following up to see if the prospect wants to continue receiving the publication is nothing new. It’s called a forced free trial, and is primarily used by B-to-B newsletter publishers. But this tactic needs a little renovation precisely due to the scenario I just described. When continuation notices and sample issues are separated in the mail, you lose the connection between what you’ve read and what you intend to continue reading. Between e-mail, Web sites, direct mail, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, webinars, podcasts and just good ol’ conversation, who remembers where they’ve gleaned which information bits? I’ve fielded phone calls from marketers trying to track down an article from Target Marketing that’s just not showing up on our Web site, when in fact the editorial came from one of our competitors’ publications. I’ll venture a guess that our competitors handle similar inquiries.
Perhaps a better way to handle the forced free trial—a tactic that still offers marketers an excellent opportunity to let the product sell itself—is to send an order form with each sample issue. Then the prospect has the response mechanism in hand as she’s reading the issue, and your proposition appears less like a mistake or a scam.
That’s my take, anyway. I’d love to hear from publishers still using forced free trials, and learn what their experiences have been.
Before I leave you this month, I want to thank all of our subscribers, readers, attendees and visitors for helping Target Marketing usher in its 30th anniversary. We look forward to serving your direct marketing information needs for decades to come, in whatever formats you prefer. “Target Marketing TV,” anyone?
—Hallie Mummert, editor in chief