Knowledge is Power
There’s something refreshing—even uplifting—about receiving a direct mail package that speaks to you. When you pull that rare package from the mailbox that hits all the right buttons, for a moment, it makes you feel as though you are the only person it was destined for.
Knowing its Mileage Plus members well enough to make this special connection is, perhaps, the easy part for United Airlines, which keeps a comprehensive database that allows it to do just that. What takes its highly customized newsletter to the next level, however, is how the airline takes that information and uses it to figure out what its members want and need to know (Archive code #510-171899-0703B).
“We consider this our flagship communication,” explains Aaron Stash, marketing communications manager for Mileage Plus Communications at Chicago–based United Airlines. This iteration of the newsletter has been mailed quarterly to between one and four million members since 2005, although United Airlines has used a similar newsletter approach to communicate with Mileage Plus members since the 1980s, he says.
In mid-February, United Airlines dropped its winter 2007 newsletter to approximately one million of its Mileage Plus members. The 5-1/2˝ x 10-1/2˝ full-color self-mailer has remained the same for nearly two years, yet the creative changes each quarter to reflect new routes or topics. This effort’s cover featured an image of Rome’s Colosseum and its copy highlighted the company’s new route: “New for 2007: Nonstop to Rome, service enhancements and more ways to earn miles.”
According to Stash, approximately 50 percent of the newsletter’s content is personalized, beginning with copy on the address panel. Here, targeted offers are laser printed onto the effort beneath the text, “Look inside to see why 2007 is an even better time to fly United,” giving members a glimpse at just how customized the package is.
Inside the self-mailer, six of its 10 pages are data-driven in some way. The bottom of page one is personalized based on membership status, and the last page even features a detailed account summary. However, United Airlines doesn’t only tailor messaging for its own offers. In fact, using information gathered about a member’s travel history, the company presents offers for partner companies, as it does in the aptly named Partner Spotlight on page four.
Taking personalization yet another step further, Stash explains that double-web press, in-line targeted printing enables the airline to tip in an insert to page five of the self-mailer. For members who possess the United Mileage Plus Visa card, this foldout serves as a reminder for them to tell friends about the card; for non-cardholders, it’s an application.
“Overall, we try as best as we can to keep it [very] personalized,” says Stash, who notes that to better connect with Mileage Plus members, it taps into an in-house database that contains basic information regarding each member’s status level and mileage balance, as well as other data that helps to customize messaging as accurately as possible. Using this information, United Airlines is able to do things such as promote offers specifically geared to a member’s city of residence. “We try to keep pushing the envelope on what information we have,” he reveals.
While the company has tested various formats during the past few years, Stash says it favors this particular version specifically for its targeting capabilities and plans to continue sending the newsletter on a quarterly basis. And although the level of personalization makes this effort more costly than a typical direct mail piece, Stash says that it falls in line with what the company has been doing for quite some time and the results make it worthwhile.
“We’re comfortable with who we’re targeting, and the results have always been positive,” notes Stash. “We do measure the ROI on this package, so it does pay for itself and then some.”
Marissa Fabris, a former editor at Inside Direct Mail, is a freelance writer in West Chester, Pa.