10 Growth Ideas for Circulation Marketers in 2004

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Though we generally can expect magazine and catalog circulations to improve in the coming months, competition for subscribers will intensify as marketers take a more aggressive and confident approach to building their businesses.


Marketers need to take a creative, yet disciplined, approach to developing and implementing campaign strategies. As industry professionals, we need to adhere to the fundamentals of circulation building yet remember that the willingness and ability to take measurable risk is the cornerstone of our business.


Though lists, promotional offers and creative that worked in the past will serve as the foundation for future campaigns, the systematic testing of innovative marketing concepts is critical to sustain growth. By pushing the envelope a little, measuring the results and applying what you learned to future initiatives, you will find new ways to increase return on investment.


These ideas may help jump-start 2004 for you:


1. Test against various vertical market segments. Our experience has shown that the targeting of messages against the interests of specific audiences almost invariably lifts response. Prospects react emotionally and rationally to offers, and you are more likely to tap emotional hot buttons if you address personal interests.


2. Test geographically specific creative. Many nonprofit fundraisers use local market versions of creative executions to lift response. Depending on the editorial focus of your publications, communications that may have impact in New England might not appeal in the Southwest. Familiarize yourself with the demographics, psychographics and social interests of prospects in different geographic areas and use that knowledge to give direction to your creative team.


3. Less is more. Try reducing the number of components in customer acquisition packages. Simple, straightforward, uncluttered packages tend to be much more effective and less likely to interfere with the offer and corresponding call-to-action.


4. More can be better ... for the right audiences. For fence sitters, you may need to test a more comprehensive, "kitchen sink" approach; i.e., selling with every piece of information and persuasion in your tool kit. The key is to know your audience segments and understand how hard you have to work to convert business in each.


5. Experiment with new external resources. If you're not testing internally developed creative against outside experts at least once a year, you should be. Though there is value in using legacy agencies that know your business, vendors need to be on notice that you are constantly in the hunt for optimal results and that there is no room for complacency.


6. Control customer acquisition costs. Challenge prevailing thinking about what it takes to attract subscribers. In the toughest economic times, cost-effectiveness needs to be a priority in everything you do. With a little creativity, marketers usually find ways to optimize results while keeping expenses to a minimum.


7. Try multiple lower-cost touches. The reality of direct mail is that only a small percentage of prospects convert the first time. Assess the effectiveness of supporting your core campaigns with pre- or post-communications using relatively cheap channels such as e-mail. Compare results and formalize a communications flow that best helps meet your business objectives.


8. Reduce the use of costly premiums. As if you had a choice anyway. Well-crafted, spare creative frequently can be effective in replacing the need for a time-honored bribe. Believe in the value of the publications you market and convey that message as "energetically" as you can.


9. Experiment with editorially related premiums. They'll cost you less and, if marketed correctly, can deliver more bang for the buck. Executive briefings, tips books and free advice never seem to lose their currency and contribute to the equity of your brands.


10. Append data intelligently. Avoid collecting data you can't use. Make a clear distinction between data that's nice to have and data you need, then proceed accordingly. The right data analyzed with the right analytical tools can yield powerful creative insights that drive future efforts. Inaccurate or irrelevant data can be misleading and a waste of time.


Though there is no guarantee that any of the concepts described above will generate the results you seek, you are overlooking exciting new opportunities if you don't try at least some of them. Look at your business from new perspectives, challenge assumptions, break new ground, explore hunches - and enjoy the ride.


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