How does one really package prestige? And, who can say what will compel someone to buy a book, much less open a direct mail piece? These are questions Senior Editor Robert Dreesen of The Readers' Subscription, New York city, posed when discussing his recent direct mail campaign promoting membership to the Reader's Subscription Cluba distinguished book club dating back to 1951 that was founded by the historian Jacques Barzun, poet W.H. Auden and literary critic Lionel Trilling.
While he could offer no definitive answers to these questions, Dreesen did say this initiative was designed essentially to let readers think for themselves. "We are offering books that matter to readers who know what matters," says Dreesen. "Therefore, it is our duty, really, to offer readers what they might not yet know they want, and to allow them to reach that conclusion on their own."
Incorporating such a strategy into this mail piece was especially key considering the competition the club faces from heavily discounting dot coms and retailers, such as Amazon and Wal-Mart. "We try to position ourselves as a club that offers a certain expertise and passion for intellectual reading that others cannot," he says. "And we are able to do that without being perfunctory."
To offer the right balance of subtle salesmanship and intellectual stimulation, Dreesen and The Readers' Subscription marketing team put together this annual effort, which consists of a 6-1/4" x 11" envelope containing a letter describing the club's history and benefits, a brochure-style catalog of books to choose from, a lift note including accolades of the club from renowned author Joyce Carol Oates and a postage-paid reply card (125REASUB1202).
Probably the most blatant element of the package is the outer envelope, which is adorned with large photos of books such as "It Started with Copernicus," by Howard Margolis, "Islam: A Short History," by Karen Armstrong and "Lectures on Shakespeare," by W.H. Auden, along with a banner that reads, "Fiercely intelligent books for discerning readers."
This design, says Dreesen, is intended to initially pique the recipients' interests without insulting them.
Another distinguishing component is the lift note which, says Dreesen, serves as a validation of the club's well-known worthiness, while the letter's purpose is to instill its readers with feelings of prestige by reminding them that they are part of a select few who appreciate high-level reading.
"The point of a mailing like this is to try to offer as many unobvious selections as possible and to not hit readers over the head with overly flashy direct mail," reminds Dreesen. "It's a fine line we have to walk. Maybe none of these efforts matter, as it's likely that we're dealing with impulse purchases. In that sense, Reader's Subscription is ahead of the competition, because the books really do speak for themselves."
Targeting mostly males between 30 and 60 years of age, Dreesen says the mailing is sent to very serious, well-informed and scholarly individuals who know what they want and tend to be skeptical toward such an invitation. With that said, he added that an additional challenge presented to this club's marketers is the fact that they are marketing a club.
"It's really a conundrum of sorts ... trying to get people who wouldn't normally want to join a club, to join a club," explains Dreesen. "There's a bit of subversiveness involved, and we try to have our copy reflect that ... That is why we choose to adhere to Lionel Trilling's advice to be modest, brief, absolutely honest, without exaggeration and, when appropriate, witty."