Renewing With a Basic Voucher
The voucher's biggest pros are its cost-effectiveness and good response rates. Some of the cons in using a voucher format are that there are too many vouchers in the mailstream, thus decreasing its impact, and the format does not offer enough real estate for direct mailers and copywriters to make sales. Even with these arguments on the table, there are still some instances where a voucher can be a perfect fit.
Magazine renewal offers are one area where vouchers are a good vehicle for retaining customers, and Sports Illustrated Kids maintains its retention rates with a voucher-heavy renewal series. "We're talking to people who already have a relationship with our brand so we don't necessarily have to sell them on the brand," says John Kerner, vice president of consumer marketing at SI Kids. Kerner believes the voucher gives him just enough space to communicate to loyal customers.
SI Kids receives most responses early in the series but will send up to 10 renewal mailings to subscribers. The fourth of 10 mailings is a #10 voucher with a letter, buckslip and BRE, and it's a long-standing control. Beginning on the outer envelope, the mailing touts the magazine's industry awards and accolades. On the front outer, the copy reads, "The critics agree-Sports Illustrated Kids is a winner!" and on the reverse there are four awards from the publishing industry, underscored by a star design (Archive code #710-174454-0904).
From findings in focus groups and customer research, Kerner says the mentioning of all of the magazine's awards adds value to the product. "The Sports Illustrated brand provides a certain amount of credibility ... but the third-party awards we've received do help reinforce that and help improve the value of the product," he comments.
The "award-winning" concept continues inside the package in a sidebar to the left of the letter, which lists even more awards that the magazine has won from nonprofits, parents groups and industry organizations. The voucher package also is embellished with a buckslip featuring cover thumbnails and the copy, "Winner! Parent's Choice Magazine Award," on one side. The other side of the buckslip details the educational benefits of the magazine, such as "kid subscribers spend an average of 1-1/2 hours reading each issue!" Below that, a "Better-Reading Guarantee" offers a full refund if the magazine does not get children to read more.
The magazine's audience is mostly boys, ages 7 to 13, and readers are very loyal and actively engaged with the brand. "They write us a ton of letters every month. They're very active on our website ... They're really engaged with the products," Kerner says. However, the challenge lies in marketing to both the readers and their parents. "The kids are the ultimate readers of the brand, but because of their age they're not the ones making the purchase so we have to speak both to kids and to parents," he says. In a renewal effort, including industry accolades and educational benefits drives the value of the subscription home for parents.
Kerner remains pleased with the results of this control package. "We evaluate every mailing in the series on a profitability basis, and this one is certainly profitable ... We have tested things against it in the past, and this has won," he says. While the mailing offers a URL, most of the response comes in via direct mail, and a high proportion of response is cash-with-order, using the enclosed postage-paid BRE.
Within the next few months, Kerner plans to test different creative against this package in an effort to lift response.
Know Your Audience
Consumer magazines have been hit hard during the economic downturn. John Kerner, vice president of consumer marketing for Sports Illustrated Kids, is keeping a close eye on the impact of the economy in his reader research, response and pay rates. However, he believes the magazine's educational focus on getting children to read may provide some immunity. "While certainly there's a lot of belt tightening going on ... spending on their kids is one of the last places [parents] want to cut ... especially when it's something that they view as educational," he says.