A Wake-Up Call for Custom Publishers

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Custom publishing only pertains to a few companies that send out glorified marketing pieces they call publications to their existing customers to sell more product. Right? If this is your perception, you're not alone. Unlike the world of paid consumer publishing, with scores of professional organizations, associations, industry trade shows, lobbying groups, etc., the custom publishing world is a little-known and understood piece of the publishing world. Would you then be surprised to learn that there are close to 1 billion custom publications circulated per year?


Custom publishing is a virtually unrecognized industry, but booming nonetheless. According to a recent study by Publications Management, the industry's leading newsletter, corporate America spends $14 billion dollars annually producing its own publications with $1 billion going into custom publishing companies. The industry also is immature: Fifty-nine percent of today's custom publishers entered the business after 1990. One key point here is that more than 50 percent entered the field to gain new customers rather than existing ones. The customer acquisition process employed by consumer publishers is a sophisticated and critical discipline called circulation marketing. How do custom publishers approach this process?


Within the consumer world, circulation marketing is typically on a par with the other pieces of the publishing puzzle. Everyone from the editor to the publisher to the ad director knows that without a well-thought-out circulation marketing plan, there is little chance that even the best creative will be good enough to generate adequate response. In the custom world, all energies are focused on editorial content, with circulation marketing typically being an afterthought. How can this be when it is circulation directing and focusing the marketing message by use of the customer/prospect database? If they cannot deliver to the correct audience, what good is content?


Though custom publishers might recognize there is a bevy of circulation marketing ideas and techniques available at their disposal, many are not taking the time to put them into place.


Let's take a look at how a few basic rules and techniques from the consumer world can help you reap some considerable benefits:


Maintaining your client database. Custom publishers spend very little time and effort on structuring their company's most valuable asset: The customer database.


Are you able to capture the specific customer data needed to make informed mailing decisions? Can you target precise segments of your customer file with different versions of your publication? Can you identify your list by particular criteria such as age, household income, gender, etc.? There's a reason consumer publishers use sophisticated internal/external subscription fulfillment databases from vendors such as Centrobe, Kable, CDS, QuickFill and NexTech: It gives them the ability to access compiled customer information in a format that can help them make important mailing decisions - quickly.


Can you do the same? Remember the cardinal rule: Garbage in, garbage out. Find the resources you need to purchase or build a database that lets you capture and evaluate customer data effectively. If not, you may find your circulation marketing options severely limited.


List hygiene. This is another overlooked area for custom publishers. Just because you have a list of customers/prospects in your database, can you be assured that your publication will be delivered correctly? There are many things that can degrade the accuracy of your customer file and reduce mailing efficiencies: a change of address, improper entry of address, duplication of names, deceased clients and industry opt-outs. In the paid world, key emphasis is placed on procuring clean, quality lists first, then creative. In the custom world, it's just the opposite. You'd be surprised how much you can save in postal and printing costs by ensuring correct delivery:


• Get rid of undeliverable addresses by running your database through a postal hygiene service. The National Change of Address service will catch move-ins and move-outs and standardize existing addresses for better deliverability.


• Inexpensive and easy-to-use software can merge/purge your list of duplicate names. A good user-friendly duplicate removal program is Superdupe from Mailer's Software.


• Several large list compilers and service bureaus have master files of deceased people. Purging your list of the deceased can save money and avoid embarrassing situations.


• Some people just don't want to receive your publication - even if it's free. Contact the DMA Suppression Service at 202/955-5030 and get a list of those who prefer not to receive unsolicited mail.


Prospect evaluation. Even though many custom publishers generally mail the majority of their publications to an established customer list, many will use their publication as a tool to reach new customers. How do you find these prospects? Have an outside firm profile the people on your house list by doing a demographic or psychographic overlay. Profiling your best customers, for instance, makes it easier to identify prospects possessing similar characteristics.


List testing.Many marketers blindly send their publication to purchased prospect lists that just feel right. Instead of sending your publication to these lists en masse, just test a portion of them. Try to include a response device to see which lists generate the most interest. This way, you can avoid mailing to large groups of prospects that are not interested in receiving your message and thus save your marketing dollars for those prospects that test well.


Premiums. Many consumer publishers use surveys, questionnaires, fax-backs, bind-in cards, etc., to gather additional customer data to target their product or service more effectively. You can increase response by up to 300 percent if you use a premium. Consumer publishers rely on premiums as basic response tools. Even the most inexpensive trinket can help you get better results.


Polybags. Sometimes you'd prefer the previously mentioned surveys, questionnaires, cards, etc., to be free-standing. They could have greater impact by being separate from your publication. Or you might want to target new residents with a welcome message on corporate letterhead. And what about those premiums? Items such as key rings, magnets, Rolodex cards, calendars, etc. are not typically bulky in size or weight. You can send them as ride-alongs with your publication in a polybag. U.S. Postal Service Standard Mail allows you to send up to 3.3 ounces of material, including your publication, for the same rate. For instance, if your publication weighs 2.1 ounces, the rest of the material up to 3.3 ounces rides free. Work closely with your printer to ensure that you meet its insertion specifications.


The custom publishing world has the tools and the knowledge available from the consumer world to increase the effectiveness of the marketing messages delivered to their core constituencies. By employing these, as well as other tried-and-true circulation marketing techniques, custom publishers will come to enjoy the same benefits the consumer world has received for decades.
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