Marketing to a Niche Within a Niche
Black Enterprise currently is celebrating 35 years of providing business information and advice for black professionals and entrepreneurs. To date, it has 412,192 active subscribers of whom 72 percent are college graduates and 64 percent hold professional or managerial positions. Nearly a third have indicated they plan to start a business in the next 24 months.
More Detail Than Volume
As a magazine for professionals in the nation's second largest minority group, you'd think Black Enterprise would have no difficulty finding a wealth of names to mail for prospecting efforts. But you'd be wrong.
While direct mail-sold subscriptions account for a healthy percent of its circulation, the magazine relies on a plethora of media, including blow-in cards, Internet promotions, space ads and third-party agents, to meet its rate base. "The beauty is that if something isn't working, you can always go tweak something else," observes vice president and circulation director, Beatrice Hanks.
Black Enterprise's direct mail program relies on two sources of names, which according to Hanks, is dictated by one of the facts of ethnic marketing. That is, it's very difficult to find prospect lists.
"What we've found is, because we're both an African-American magazine and a business magazine, there isn't a real competitive set that we can rent names from." So the magazine has tested files that either have an affinity to the African-American market or to finance. It's done pretty well renting hotline names from other mainstream African-American publications, such as Essence and Vibe, as well as smaller magazines and small organizations. "We found a few little gems that we keep testing, such as Gospel Today, which has tested very well, but it's tiny," Hanks laments. Lists of African-American music and book buyers have pulled low-end marginal results. Other categories that would seem likely, such as African-American catalog buyers, haven't tested well.
"What we've had to do since there aren't many undiscovered lists out there, is start testing the African-American select on the large, personal finance magazines since most have a demographic overlay," explains Hanks. Since this has been met with a fair degree of success, she now plans to test different selects such as mailing paid direct-to-publisher names with and without renewals as well as hotline vs. non-hotline names. The magazine also has a ZIP penetration model it uses to see if the ZIP codes in the lowest third really are worse than the remainder of the file and, if so, if it can use it as a screen on its marginal lists. "We've got a lot of playing [to do] with the specific ways we approach this limited number of lists," notes Hanks.
Because it isn't able to generate enough volume with outside lists, Black Enterprise has heavily relied on a second, and larger, source of names: its expires. "Happily, we have a large file of people who didn't renew in the past, so we're going back to them, and it's working very well. To tell the truth, it has bought us some time while we figure out where we can find some more prospects and tweak the various selects to make that work," says Hanks, adding that the old expires really have been the mainstay of the program since she joined Black Enterprise three years ago.
A Personal Connection
Although a popular and often-used format by many publishers, Black Enterprise has steered clear of a voucher package. As Hanks explains, vouchers work for two reasons. The first is name recognition, which she feels Black Enterprise has within the African-American community. The second, says Hanks, is that "it gives the impression that it's a bill for something you've already ordered." Hanks feels this approach appears too deceptive for a magazine that promotes itself as an advocate for its readers. Instead, the magazine mails a benefits package that, like a voucher, is printed on one form.
Black Enterprise also has tried other offers and creative approaches, instead, one of which was a simple letter package sent to expires as soon as they turn six months old. Because one of the best-read sections of the magazine is a department titled "Motivation," the letter makes an emotional appeal that plays to the reader's sense that the magazine can help him or her achieve the American dream. According to Hanks, the mailing pulled double-digit response on the best expire sources, so the publisher then did some small mailings to other portions of the file, until the effort had gone out to the entire expire file. Although it eventually was beaten by a three-for-one offer, Hanks says that readers really responded to the message that "this is for you; this is your magazine. It was very much a personal connection."
While Black Enterprise's list prospecting efforts deal more with detail, than volume, this 35-year-old publisher has gone the distance marketing to a niche within a growing African-American market.