A Little Creativity Can Go a Long Way

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Being a sucker for good creative solutions, I notice something that is designed to cut through the everyday clutter. It doesn't matter whether the offer is targeting me: Credit is due to the company that captures my attention.


These days, that is difficult. According to the consulting firm Accenture, the average American is subjected to 3,000 advertising messages daily. I'm surprised it's not more, but even with Accenture's estimate, it is easy to understand why it so hard to have our message acknowledged.


What is needed for a package insert program to make a difference for the advertisers involved? What will make more money for the program owner? Simple: a little creative thinking.


Creativity is not an easy mesh with direct response numbers and analysis, but the two are closely related.


Take software provider Trend Micro. In the Sept. 30, 2002, DM News, Trend Micro was reported to have more than tripled response by using a clear envelope in its direct mail piece. This was tested against a conventional envelope with a clear window on one side. The pieces inside had identical cover letters, free pen offers and reply cards, with a six-question survey. The only difference was the envelope.


Sprint recently used a direct mail piece designed to stand out from other incoming mail. The 6.6-by-17-inch envelope certainly will differ from most things in people's mailboxes. Of course, response will depend on the actual offer Sprint makes to prospects, but the piece will be noticed. The bold, creative solution in itself seems newsworthy within our trade. We will watch to see whether Sprint discloses response results or whether it continues with the "stand out" strategy.


But that's direct mail, and we're interested in insert media. The medium is different, but the audience is the same. Capturing the interest of the potential customer is necessary to make the program work.


Insert media continues to be a growing force in direct marketing, with more than 1,000 diverse programs on the market. The good news is that competition and desire for good programs increase, making it a great time for program owners to strategize on how to keep their programs full with higher-than-average-paying advertisers.


Consider that inserts in a customer order often are opened in a "positive buying environment." This means that when someone gets their ordered merchandise, they are in a good mood. Advertisers do not want to miss the chance to reach prospective buyers when they are generally happy.


People like seeing products and offers that are relevant to their buying habits. That's why they request catalogs or buy magazines that are full of ads. They like to see what's out there for them to buy, especially if it is a good deal.


Part of the problem with many package inserts is that usually there is little that excites or captures the viewer. In the worst case, the inserts are lost in the package. The key factor in building a revenue-earning program is to get the prospective customer to open the envelope and look at the inserts.


I'm not suggesting that success can be achieved solely by using clear or unusually shaped envelopes. Creative solutions to have inserts seen are limited only by the imagination. The goal of the creative approach is to get noticed.


Effectively using the outside of the envelope is a commonly overlooked solution. If the outside of the envelope is not grabbing the viewer's attention, the inserts inside are wasted. The message on the outside should be kept clean and simple.


For example, the logo from each advertiser with an insert in the envelope could be printed on the front of the envelope. This is a successful tactic, especially if the logos represent well-recognized companies. If recipients see a small visual cue that they identify with, they will look inside the envelope.


A program owner that uses the outside of the envelope for its own branding can leverage its offer by asking customers to look inside the insert envelope for a coupon or details on upcoming product releases. Either way, the person receiving the package has an added incentive to look in the envelope.


Also consider positioning strategy. Response rates improve dramatically if the inserts are placed on top of the packed shipment before the box is sealed and sent. Inserts that are placed in the box and buried in packing material result in dismal response rates for the advertiser.


Aside from the creative and positioning, other strategies can be tested for corresponding changes in response rates.


I received a mail-order package recently and was surprised to see the insert envelope sealed. I opened the envelope to see who advertised; would others do the same? Most people in insert media would say that a sealed envelope is catastrophic. Was it intentional to seal the envelope, or did the letter shop seal the envelope without a second thought? We may never know.


Could you argue that a customer is more committed to viewing enclosed inserts after tearing open an envelope instead of lifting the envelope flap and thumbing through the inserts? Sure. But only testing a new strategy reveals the answer.


The results from testing a new approach won't be determined in one or two months. Any changes should be tested for six months. At the end of that test period, poll the advertisers using the program to see whether there is a lift in response.


A program that has a high response rate will be in demand, and command a higher rate. This equals more income for roughly the same amount of effort. Any direct response marketer worth his weight in inserts knows that it does not matter how much a program costs, but rather how much it returns. As long as the return pays back the costs and makes additional profit, the extra expense can be justified.


Though most insert media program owners cannot spend much time on the workings of their package insert programs, conscientious program managers can be invaluable in helping them raise awareness and response to the inserts within the package. Helping the owner create an attractive environment simply produces more revenue.


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