National Geographic Mails a Porterhouse
A brilliant salesman and sales trainer known as Elmer "Sizzle" Wheeler came up with one of the great rules of selling: "You sell the sizzle, not the steak."
A few exceptions to this rule exist, one of which is specimen issues of newsletters. A constant topic of debate: Do you send a sample newsletter in your subscription mailing (send the steak)? Or do you talk about it and promise to send a free sample issue with a money-back guarantee (sell the sizzle)?
Newsletters typically are only 8 to 12 pages in two-color, so sending the steak in a mailing is allowed for a feasible cost per thousand. For a magazine publisher, however, not only would the 100-plus full-color pages on coated stock be prohibitively expensive, but it would mail as a very heavy flat at Standard Class rates.
National Geographic has ventured into this risky territory by sending out a specimen issue (202NAGEMA0104B) titled, "Selections From NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC." The polybagged sample arrives with a spectacular cover of a giant Egyptian hieroglyph, partially obscured by a #73/4 window envelope.
The back cover is a stunner and is not obscured by the envelope. It shows the haunting photo of a Middle Eastern womanwho was pictured in a 1984 National Geographic story and in a fascinating television documentary of how the photographer chased all over Afghanistan looking for herwith a pair of eyes that drill right though you. When you turn over the mailing to open it, the cover hits you like a pie in the face.
As for the contents of the envelope ... no letter. Just a three-part "Membership Acceptance Voucher"a knockoff of the current de rigueur "Professional Discount Voucher"with a list of "Member Benefits" and a "Gift Subscription" form at the bottom.
It was publishing titan William Randolph Hearst who proclaimed that what sells newspapers are tots, pets and good-looking women. The Afghan lady certainly falls within those standards. But inside? The main editorial features are of starvation of the Virginia colonists; the 2001 eruption of Mount Etna; new insights on murdered royalty in ancient Egypt; and the plight of the Bald Eagle.
It turns out, these articles have been some of the magazine's most popular features from recent issues. And, this composite issue isn't even the sample that initially won in a test effort. According to Karen Rice Gardiner, director of creative services in National Geographic Society's marketing services division, the test campaign used extra issues left over from a print run. Since a composite-issue effort for National Geographic Kids magazine has been working well, the idea was put to the test for National Geographic, too.
While the marketing team knew it would be expensive, Rice Gardiner explains, the thinking was that perhaps consumers had forgotten what kind of content National Geographic offers. Since the team had been trying cheap test after cheap test, the urge was to do something completely different.
And different has been working for four months. Rice Gardiner notes that the expense is not something they're thrilled about, so the marketing team is exploring some ways to reduce or offset costsuch as cutting pages from the sample or taking inserts in the polybag.
As for why she thinks the sample issue is working, Rice Gardiner says that it's possible the combination of the composite and the envelope/voucher piece make recipients think they've already placed an order. Or, the inclusion of an envelope package just might serve as a more visual reminder to respond than a bind-in card.
Meanwhile, for all you circ managers mulling over an equivalent mailing, one final point: National Geographic can make the arithmetic work because it mails at nonprofit rates.