The National Geographic Society’s Karen Rice Gardiner on Direct Mail
Hardly a day goes by when the average American consumer doesn’t come home from work to find a few pieces of direct mail in the mailbox. We’ve all gotten used to the routine of opening the pieces that we find important, relevant or interesting, and tossing the ones we don’t. Given the scant few seconds marketers have to capture the attention and imagination of their intended audience, it takes an enormous amount of creative talent to successfully place those relevant messages in the right mailboxes and get them opened. This week, Target Marketing caught up with Karen Rice Gardiner, director of creative services for the National Geographic Society, whose job it is to convey the Society’s message of conservation, education and exploration.
Target Marketing: What does the National Geographic Society do to monitor and test the effectiveness of its direct mail campaigns?
Karen Rice Gardiner: For direct mail we use the traditional valuation techniques: improved response rates, lower costs per order and higher pay-up rates. In the fall we mail our largest member acquisition campaign, and we have between 10 and 20 test segments. We use those to test price, premiums, freemiums, creative concepts and formats.
TM: What is the creative process used to adjust and tweak the campaigns?
KRG: The marketing, creative and production teams meet to review the previous campaign; we look at the performance of the control, discuss what we tested and how those tests did. Everyone is expected to contribute test-worthy ideas, and when all the suggestions are put together, some get assigned to later mailings, some don’t make it through the costing gauntlet, and some just have to be rejected. We try to walk the line between discipline and creative freedom.
TM: Explain the importance of tracking those creative changes.
KRG: Everyone knows that if you don’t test you won’t know if you could be doing better. Testing is central to being a good direct marketer. Creative changes may be large—like a new creative positioning with a new premium, or it may be small—like showing an alternate array of product covers. At the National Geographic Society we are very careful not to mix in other variables if what we’re trying to find out is, say, whether a $24.95 price is better than a $25 price. In the end though, you always have to decide what is worth testing, because you can’t afford to test every little nuance of a package. You have to be smart about it.
TM: How can nonprofits like the National Geographic Society create value for donors? Are there creative ways to offer premiums or discounts?
KRG: I see nonprofits using the same methods for thinking up freemiums, premiums and member benefits as any other direct marketer. The difference is that nonprofits have to be much closer to what assets the organization has that can be turned into a value-added item. Here at the National Geographic Society we use our “experts” in many ways. They teach photography camps, give lectures around the country, and serve as brand ambassadors. I think the goal is to get to the point where you are thinking more about unique offerings, rather than just more offerings.