How to Make Your Insert Media Stand Out
If you tested one insert program a day, it would take you four years and counting to test them all. "There are more than 1,500 insert programs available today," says Leon Henry, chairman/CEO of Leon Henry Inc., a 50-year-old insert and list management and brokerage firm. "And there will be more."
The insert field received additional attention when it augmented its popularity, at least in industry press, with the renaming of the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Alternate Response Media Council to the Insert Media Council, which held its first-ever Insert Media Day in the fall of 2003. "It's certainly becoming more talked about," says Cheryl Bagdan, senior account executive at Statlistics. In addition, the field may be gaining some new constituents "as mailers have budget constraints put on them," notes Bagdan, "and realize this can be slightly more economical."
And, it certainly can be profitable to those offering programs for others to join. "Just about everybody is [offering an insert program] now," says Ben Giordano, former chairman of Media Solution Services, an integrated media and marketing company that placed more than 2 billion inserts into billing statements (its specialty) in 2003 (now it's a part of V12 Group). "It becomes a profit center for the institution."
The success of those offering insert programs suggests that for many, insert media is a flourishing direct marketing vehicle. If it wasn't working, companies like Amazon.com, America Online and Blockbuster wouldn't continue to spend big marketing dollars placing inserts, and companies offering such insert programs would be on the decline, not on the rise, as industry experts have observed.
Not Your Ordinary Insert
With so many programs out there—package inserts, statement stuffers, free-standing inserts (FSIs), card decks, multi-offers/co-op mailers—and many inserts often in one package, how can a marketer ensure his or her insert will capture the eye of the consumer?
There are both general creative guidelines and more specific strategies that can effectively guide your insert approach, depending on the program you choose to carry your insert. In many programs, the inserts from all participating companies are "gang printed" together to adhere to the host company's restrictions in size, weight and format, as well as to offer cost-savings to participants. Other programs allow marketers to print their own inserts, but still require them to follow strict format guidelines.
"There are usually restrictions," suggests Pat Friesen, president of direct marketing firm Pat Friesen & Co., "but within those, what you can do is vary your use of color and type, as long as it goes with your offer. If everyone else is using full-color, consider black and white."
As a general guideline, suggests Friesen, whose career has included stints with Fingerhut, Current Inc. and gift cataloger Walter Drake (where she managed the insert program), "Use large, bold type and a strong, simple offer. … Attach a swatch or a sample—anything to overcome that first objection and draw interest," she says. "You don't want to look like everyone else."
Despite many restrictions, size also is a consideration. "I always recommend taking advantage of the maximum size of the vehicle you're going into," says Doug Guyer, president of new business development for International Direct Response, which specializes in insert, list and print media channels, among other direct marketing disciplines. "Whether it's a catalog package insert program where you can go typically [larger] than most of the insert vehicles out there, or for a statement insert program, where you're going to be a little bit smaller, but you can make it the maximum size for a universal statement program, which is typically 3-1⁄2˝ x 6-3⁄4˝," he adds.
And, of course, as in any direct marketing medium, making it easy to order is essential. Giordano believes that the ease-of-order nature of the medium is among its most appealing elements, especially for more expensive items and in today's economic climate. "No money changes hands; you think, 'Yes, I want it,' and you just check off the box," he explains.
Explain Your Raison D'être
Despite all your peacockish attempts to be the biggest and the boldest insert in the package, the success of your insert may come down to its message. "The ones that stand out the most tend to tie the product in with the program or medium, with an endorsement or special offer," says Giordano.
Friesen suggests, "Make it clear to the customer why you're in there selling to them, and why [they] would want it. Try to link to the relationship that's already there."
It's also important to consider who's receiving your offer. At the most basic level, "Are you going to prospects or customers?" Friesen asks. Inserts in your own fulfillment package, notes Friesen, "can be really effective in cross-selling your own customer," and in generating new customers in gift-order fulfillment.
"A lot of larger players base the insert on the type of placement," suggests Bagdan. Some good examples of this appeared in a U.S. Postal Service new-resident change-of-address confirmation and "Welcome Kit." In this particular kit, AOL's insert featured a "Get Connected in your new home!" sticker, and Home Depot's insert featured the message, "You've just moved in."
Read This Other Important Consideration Now!
It's also important to think about the response you're seeking, says Guyer. "What I do is ask my clients to ask themselves what they want the consumer to do as a direct result of reading the insert—do you want them to call an 800-number, mail an order in, go to your Web site—and then craft your headline copy for what you want them to do," he explains.
Also, most experts say that, like most direct mail, your offer should be center stage as well.
Try on Your Customers' Shoes
One mistake marketers often make is ignoring the setting in which their package will be viewed. "For clients, the temptation is often to just run a version of something they're already mailing," says Friesen. "If you're going to use this medium, you've got to make sure you know how [your effort] will be perceived in this different environment, with all this other background noise." After all, you're not just in the mailbox with others, you're often in the same envelope with them.
"Ask a broker for a sample before you decide to run," suggests Friesen. "Whatever it's going to ride along with, get a sample—buy something from them if it's a package insert—to see what it looks like."
While the environment certainly can affect your creative approach, adhering to proven offers and messaging for your product or service still is advisable. "This is not a great place to test something entirely new," says Giordano. "But if it works on TV or in print, chances are it'll work here."
Also, testing often is not viable because of the quantity of people you'll be reaching with an insert program; and most hosts don't allow for segmenting, suggests Giordano.
But, one of the benefits, he notes, is that "inserts can also be very specific; you can advertise a children's product in an insert package for another children's product."
"It's an interesting, challenging, wonderful medium," says Friesen. Just make sure do your homework and know what you're getting into—literally.
Noelle Skodzinski is editor-in-chief of Book Business, Publishing Executive and Graphic & Design Business magazines. She is the former managing editor of Inside Direct Mail. This article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Inside Direct Mail. For more information on this monthly newsletter devoted to direct mail marketing, visit www.insidedirectmail.com.