What Works in Circ
I pulled on my face mask, checked the air in my tank and dove deep into the icy core of the Who's Mailing What! Archive. I spent days reviewing hundreds of publishing mailings sent out by the biggest fish in the industry.
When at last I returned to the surface, I had found six trends to help you boost your response and profitability right now. And based on the samples in the Archive, each strategy recently has been rolled out by several major mailers, so they're all proven winners in test efforts.
1. Test Different Formats
If you're stuck in voucher purgatory, try testing the three most prominent rollout formats in use today: a "pseudo-voucher"; a double postcard (either on its own or tipped onto a posterboard); or an oversize envelope package.
So first, what's a "pseudo-voucher"? It's a voucher in sheep's clothinga voucher that resembles another dry-looking, commerce-related format, such as a utility bill, IRS form or a check. But when you test this format, be sure to use every element you currently include in your mailings to emphasize price savings and exclusivity (see strategy 6).
Readers Digest's recent rollout is a pseudo-voucher (next page). Note how the publisher also added a graphic designed to look like a special last-minute addition: the "rate adjusted" theme. Ugly ... but effective.
As an alternative, if your magazine features compelling graphics and a low price, try the ubiquitous comp-copy double postcard, either on its own or tipped onto a posterboard that displays a modified version of one of your magazine covers.
And when marketing to lists of older information-seekers, mailers seem to be migrating away from the magalog in favor of oversized envelope formats.
Like a magalog, jumbo outer envelopes allow for long copy and big graphics, and their size sticks out in the mailbox. But they also involve the reader more, because tearing open a mysterious, large envelope is, in itself, an involvement device.
2. Test Voucher Copy Enhancements
With such a dry, simple format, often testing a small tweak can produce a surprisingly robust lift off the controlif you pick the right tweak.
Recently rolled out outer envelope enhancements in the archive include: "Summary of Benefits"; "Do not bend"; "Please Complete and Return"; and fake "Dated Material" stickers (below). And, of course, consider a blind outer envelope with no magazine name and an important-sounding return address, or "Executive and Professional Services" in the corner card.
Enhancements you should consider testing on the order form include: the line of copy, "Vouchers received after this date will be honored at the publication's discretion," near the reply-by date; the statement, "Sorry, this price is not transferable"; and the use of a bar chart at the bottom of the statement to further dramatize price savings.
3. Segmented Creative Messaging to Expires
Yes, it sounds as innovative as butter on white toast. But most of the largest mailers segment their messaging for expires, simply imaging a different version of their voucher inline with the rest of their acquisition vouchers. With the low price of variable imaging and with the right commingling services, smaller mailers can do this, too. Just use a "We Want You Back" creative message and reposition the offer as a "Former Subscriber Discount."
And if your current control is an expensive, copy-heavy, non-voucher format, try another big mailer's trick: Save money mailing to expires with a short and simple format instead, using a "Former Subscriber Discount" offer theme.
4. Two Years for the Price of One
If you're a reasonably low-priced title, try the strategy that Better Homes and Gardens, GQ and others are mailing: Add an additional year of issues at no cost to the recipient.
This approach works because it's an instantly recognizable discountno math required. So you can get a great lift in net response and total revenue from the offer itself. But there's another big benefit from this offer: You get an added year of paid service from every new subscription. And that means you won't need to acquire new subscribers at a loss to replace the folks who expire at the end of the first year.
Remember, with a regular one-year offer you'll lose half your people at the end of their term. You'll then have to acquire new subscribers at a loss to meet your rate base.
But with a "two-for-one" offer, you won't need to replace anyone until the third year, because this offer automatically turns every new subscription into a "paid renewal" for the second year. And since you get those return customers without any renewal mailing expenses, the combined savings may be more profitable for your bottom line, regardless of the potentially cannibalized second year renewal revenue.
5. Test Capturing E-mail Addresses on the Voucher
It appears that Time Inc. has started to capture e-mail addresses on numerous large titles' voucher reply forms. You should try testing this, too.
You can use these addresses to reduce renewal, billing and customer service expenses (or to supplement your regular mail efforts). Plus, e-mail's a low-risk way to test and sell ancillary products, drive traffic to your site and add value for your advertisers. But more importantly, in the next few years you can expect the industry to discover how to use the Web for distribution, acquisition and paid premium services. And when it does, it will take you years to gather subscribers' e-mail addresses. So be proactive and try to collect names now. Remember, mailable names are moneyin any medium.
6. Use Voucher Best Practices
Be sure you're already using every one of these elements of the industry's most successful vouchers, which include:
* Savings positioning with a price-comparison table
* "Professional" or "Executive Discount" price positioning
* Credit card capture tests (some use it, some don't)
* A "good fake" that looks like a statement (not promotional)
* Envelopes tinted inside and outside to prevent show-through
* A hard offer (i.e., no comp-copy offers)
Can you beat your current voucher? Absolutely. But you need to use both sides of your brain, mail smarter and look to similar formats inside and outside of publishing to find more fresh, proven ways to emphasize your savings offer.
Bill Baird is a direct marketing consultant, trainer and speaker specializing in subscription acquisition, retention and continuity marketing. He is based in Darien, CT, and can be reached at (203) 912-8958 or firstname.lastname@example.org.