Relationship Marketing Travels Full Circle
When you're selling a product or service with a high price-point -- and one that's not purchased with great frequency, as is the case in the cruise or travel industry -- a newsletter seems like a smart marketing idea. It can help you accomplish two important and related goals: build relationships with existing customers in your database and keep your company's name and/or products in front of customers on a regular basis.
Grand Circle Travel, a Boston, MA-based direct marketer of travel programs geared toward senior citizens, regularly uses newsletters to keep in touch with its customer base. It mails a quarterly newsletter called the "Grand Circle Traveler" (501GRACIR0101C) to all the clients in what it considers its active customer file -- totalling about 100,000 five-year names.
According to Dave Lubchansky, publisher of the newsletter, "We try to use it as a communication piece, not a selling piece. Our goal is to develop a relationship with our customers."
As Lubchansky explains, "We do enough other mailings to sell our trips. This is where we want to talk to our customers and build loyalty." As such, no special trip promotions, coupons or deals are mentioned in the newsletters. The only sell is word of mouth-type information such as one traveler sharing his or her experiences of a recent Grand Circle trip.
A leader in travel for seniors, the average age of Grand Circle's customers is 74 years. But as Lubchansky points out, these are "active seniors" who want to travel the world. The content for each newsletter is based around a theme which Lubchansky sets and then discusses with other members of the Grand Circle Travel staff. "I look for input in terms of article ideas, and for possible staffers to profile. We work with freelance writers and have a staff editor who handles all the copy," he explains.
The 12-page newsletter is produced as a large format, 11" x 17", that is then folded and mailed. Its content is divided into regular departments, such as "By and About Our Travelers," "The Photo Gallery", "Program Director Profile" and "Travel Pals" -- a unique section kind of like a "personals column for senior travelers looking for someone to take a trip with," says Lubchansky. Actually, he notes, "we've had some mixed response to that [section]. Some folks love it. We've had clients who met and ended up married after traveling together. And others use it to find travel companions of the same sex. But there are those who don't think it's appropriate [for us] to perform matchmaking services."
While Lubchansky says customers seem to appreciate the newsletter -- "When I go out on the road, people tell me they enjoy reading it," he says -- he admits the company has no formal means of gauging the effectiveness of the newsletter.
But overall, Grand Circle must be pleased with the response it gets to its customer loyalty newsletters, since it also uses a quarterly newsletter called "Inner Circle" as a communications device to its top-tier customers. Plus, that newsletter is being increased in frequency to six times a year beginning in June, so the company must think it's worth the effort.
"Inner Circle" is sent to about 35,000 clients earmarked as frequent travelers because they have taken at least four trips with the company. Best customers are not taken off the list for the regular newsletter; rather they'll receive both, and Grand Circle is careful to stagger the mailing dates for the two publications to ensure they don't hit clients' mailboxes at the same time. Explains Lubchansky, "The Inner Circle' hits about a month prior to the Grand Circle Traveler'. That way, the frequent travelers have an inside edge if there's any new company information" or other announcements.
The content of the "Inner Circle" differs somewhat in that it tries to make readers feel more a part of the organization. "We tell them about the staff members and their families, what it's like to live in certain countries," adds Lubchansky.