Prospecting With a Free Sample

15 May

Although Whole Foods is supposed to be a healthy place to shop, some folks leave the supermarket a few calories heavier and with unplanned extra items in their carts. That’s because most shoppers are susceptible to the store’s free sample traps—stations set up along the aisles with fruit on toothpicks, spreads on crackers and a perennial favorite, the piles of tiny little cubes of heaven available in the cheese section of the store.

Taking a similar approach—giving away samples, and then perhaps making the sale—more and more magazines are testing into the slim-jim magalog format, a 6˝ x 10-1⁄2˝ self-mailer, which mails at the same rate as a #10 envelope, yet has enough real estate to act as a free sample and make a strong editorial sell.

Saveur, an epicurean lifestyle magazine published by Bonnier, after several tests and tweaks, has adopted a magalog format as its new control. For years, it had been mailing a #10 courtesy voucher, with a reply form, buckslip and BRE. Then, the company began testing the magalog format in June 2005 against the voucher, way before the May 2007 shaped-based pricing was even a consideration, just to work its brand more into direct mail efforts. “We were struggling a little bit when we were getting outside lists and felt that the voucher wasn’t communicating the essence of the magazine. We wanted to create a much more promotional piece and bring some more of those people in, and it’s done just that—it has expanded our list universe and allowed us to mail a little bit deeper,” says Leigh Bingham, subscription director of Saveur’s consumer marketing department.

It took a few tweaks to get the magalog up to performance speed. “When we initially tested the magalog, we did not include an envelope in it, and we got barely any cash at all … so when we retested, we decided to put the BRE in it and were astonished at the amount of cash we got,” Bingham reveals.

The 16-page booklet mailer offers a sweepstakes entry for a KitchenAid Stand Mixer prize, two cookbook premiums, discounts on other Saveur publications and a money-back guaranteed trial issue in exchange for a deeply discounted three-year subscription. To display the brand, there are pages of colorful photographs and editorial taken directly from the pages of the magazine. “The copywriter [Jay van Wagenen, owner of Pittsburgh, Pa.–based JVW Direct] had all the magazines and did a couple of conference calls with the editors to discuss what they saw as the key editorial pieces,” Bingham shares (Archive Code #202-179939-0801).

In January 2007, Saveur retired its voucher package completely and rolled out with a half a million magalog packages. It plans to mail to another 500,000 prospects in June. The mailing goes to a list of house names, including four-year lapsed subscribers, and outside names from competing gourmet food titles.

Saveur’s
prospecting is much more psychographic than it is demographic. “We’re not out there just looking for females in a certain age range who have a certain household income, which makes it hard to find lists,” says Bingham, who describes the prime prospect as a foodie who eats, breathes and loves food more than the ordinary person. Readers may not all be chefs, or even talented home cooks, but possess an elevated appreciation for food and its origins. Due to the ever-growing popularity of the “foodie” movement on television and in pop culture, Bingham says that in terms of new names, “We’re definitely finding more avenues than we had in the past.”

This image- and editorial-driven magalog seems to match up well with Saveur’s prospecting needs. The last rollout, with the BRE, doubled the publication’s net response. In future efforts, this format will remain the control. “We don’t really have designs to test packages against it—we’re still working within this format and just trying to tweak it to make it even more successful,” Bingham shares.

A new possibility is testing a reply card with only one perforation, which is easier to use and less costly to produce. “That’s something we’ve tested … and we did get a lift in response, so I’m sure we’ll be revisiting that,” she says. Also on the table is a smaller, eight-page format, which will greatly reduce production costs. “I am very tentative about it because it’s losing a lot of editorial, and I think it could very well hurt response, so I can’t say we’re absolutely going to test it,” Bingham adds.

The company has also seen a lift in response with a gold-colored sticker for its sweepstakes prize, and there could be a potential retest there. “I think gold is really perceived as a lucky color, and I think it gets people thinking, ‘Ah! I’ve got the golden ticket!’” Bingham explains.

Seems like this effort is Saveur’s golden ticket to building its subscriber base. “We’re very pleased with this package, and when people are mailing vouchers, it’s nice to have a package that stands out a little more,” Bingham concludes.

(Originally published in Inside Direct Mail, April 2008)

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