Audubon Society Focuses on Binocular Premium, Sees More Satisfied Donors

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Higher response rates are not the only measure of a premium's value.


That is a lesson the National Audubon Society learned from a three-year test of binoculars as the premium in solicitations to prospects and members.


"We'd been testing binoculars as a premium since about 1997," said Alan Bayersdorfer, vice president of membership at the National Audubon Society, New York. "They always did fairly well in testing against our standard premiums, but we started off with a pair of binoculars that looked more like a toy and it didn't work because we were delivering something that was not acceptable -- it just wasn't professional."


Throughout the testing process, the campaigns featuring binoculars always resulted in a 20 percent to 30 percent lift in response rates, Bayersdorfer said. The problem was that new members were displeased when they received them.


In 1999 Audubon identified a pair of binoculars that met the criteria of its science people and began testing them.


"They are remarkably good, inexpensive binoculars, and that made all the difference," he said.


With a negligible difference in cost to Audubon -- a difference of about 50 cents, Bayersdorfer estimated -- the better binoculars paid off.


Though Bayersdorfer would not share specifics concerning response rates, he said the binocular campaigns still enjoy the 20 percent to 30 percent lift in response that they garnered when offering the less expensive binoculars.


Prior to the switch, Audubon received a lot of complaints about the quality of the old binoculars, and a few people even cancelled their memberships.


"The Audubon membership department recognized that the old binoculars reflected poorly on the organization," Bayersdorfer said.


The society's latest direct mail campaign featuring the binocular premium mailed in mid-July. More than 1 million pieces were sent to Audubon's house file as well as to prospects.


Audubon mails quarterly, and the organization's total member file is about 600,000 names.


Bayersdorfer said the binocular saga was not the first time Audubon experienced difficulty with a premium.


"We came off of another premium that we were very unhappy with because it had lots of customer service problems," he said.


That premium was a bird clock, which members mistook for a popular retail bird clock that features the songs of several types of birds. The problem was that even though the mail piece stated that the Audubon clock did not sing, there was still confusion and dissatisfaction among its members.


Needless to say, Audubon was eager to replace the clock premium with the binoculars, Bayersdorfer said.


Though Audubon made binoculars the standard premium for its direct mail campaigns in late 2000, it has yet to make them the standard premium on its Web site. Instead, users who sign up at www.audubon.org receive an Audubon backpack.


Audubon receives 200 to 400 online registrations monthly, representing about 1 percent of its membership volume.


He said Audubon could improve upon the responsiveness of the backpack premium.


While the binoculars may be offered as a premium on the site in the future, Bayersdorfer said an electronic premium, such as a screensaver, might work better to increase online registrations.


According to Bayersdorfer, Audubon plans to relaunch its Web site, which has been in existence since the mid-1990s. He could not specify a time frame for the launch of the new site, however.


Also, Audubon has not used e-mail much yet but is examining that option as well.


The National Audubon Society makes its member file available for list rental through L90 Direct's offline division in Valhalla, NY, which was formerly Novus Marketing.


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