Cloning Company Deems Direct Mail the Cat's Meow

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After starting with business-to-business direct mail, Genetic Savings & Clone dropped its first direct mailing to consumers last month. The effort already has produced many inquiries and the sale of one of its $32,000 cat clones.


Genetic Savings & Clone produced its first cat clone in December 2001 as part of a research project at Texas A&M University. It then produced three clones of employees' cats before producing its first clone for a paying consumer client in December 2004 followed by another that same month.


The firm made its first foray into direct marketing with a BTB mail campaign to veterinarians last year, said Mike Hodnett, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Genetic Savings & Clone, Sausalito, CA. He saw it as a logical way to start the firm's direct marketing efforts.


"Every client that we take on requires a veterinarian because the process calls for a biopsy procedure," he said. "Consumers often need veterinarian referrals because their vet may not be willing or able to provide the services required."


Before launching its first consumer mailing, GSC relied on publicity to drive consumers to call or visit its site at savingsandclone.com.


"Virtually 98 percent of our business today is direct sales because we are very high profile and we get a lot of publicity, but we thought that we would be able to refine our message in a direct mail piece," Hodnett said. The company is also opening a new laboratory that increases its capacity, prompting it to intensify its marketing, he added.


GSC created an 11 1/4-by-5 3/4-inch postcard promoting its cat cloning and gene banking services and offering a $50 discount on gene banking, which starts at $295.


"While our cat cloning service is very expensive, gene banking is not," Hodnett said. "There's a huge segment of the population that is waiting for the price of cloning to go down and want to bank their pet's DNA so that they have the option in the future."


GSC's DNA PetBank currently stores pet genes for about 700 clients.


To select consumer prospects for the mailing, Hodnett created a profile based on the company's clients. The typical client is 40-45 and older, has income exceeding $150,000, is childless or an empty nester and, of course, has a cat. He also found that geography was a big part of the profile.


"I understood the demographics of the people, but the key was to understand where our business was coming from, and I found that over a third of our business came from four states: California, Texas, New York and Florida," he said. "So, because this was a pilot campaign, we thought we would focus on these states and the demographics we identified."


Hodnett would not name the list vendor but said he compared counts from several before selecting one that he felt comfortable with. He said the toughest criterion was identifying cat owners.


The mailing of 45,000 postcards dropped April 14. It began generating responses about a week later. Since the drop, the company has received about six to eight inquiries daily and expects the promotion to generate calls for at least the next six months. Hodnett thinks that people with healthy pets will hold onto it for future reference, or even until the price of cloning falls.


One recipient already signed on to have his cat cloned, a response that Hodnett said was understandable given the situation.


"The client who signed up immediately owned a pet that died the same day as he received the postcard, which is very unusual," he said. That response made the mailing a success right out of the gate, he added.


He explained that it takes about two weeks for a client to make arrangements with their veterinarian to have a biopsy performed on their pet for gene banking and another two weeks for cell culture to be completed in order to clone a cat.


"We expect three to five more clients to place cloning orders within the next month after cell cultures are complete," Hodnett said.


Negative reaction from the mailing has been minimal, he said.


"We had maybe six people call to have their names removed from our list, and we promptly did that," he said.


Hodnett also said he was turned down by a few list owners, but did not provide specifics.


The firm has seen increased Web site traffic since the mailing. Though paid search is a hot marketing topic, Hodnett said that was not an avenue the firm needed to pursue.


"If you go to the Internet and type in 'cat cloning' we come up, so there's no need," he said.


Though GSC has a list of about 7,000 consumers who signed up for e-mail from the company, Hodnett is wary of e-mail prospecting based on the lack of lists that are sufficiently targeted.


GSC is formulating its next consumer direct mail campaign and may test bringing the income select down a bit as well as lowering the price of the cat cloning service.


"We expect to offer dog cloning by the end of this year," Hodnett said. "As we get closer to that, the focus moves away from cats. The cost of dogs will be much higher and will increase the overall revenue of the company."


GSC is also working on horse cloning.


It seems likely that direct mail will be an integral part of GSC's marketing of the new services as well.


"I am positive that direct mail is the best avenue for the company, and the return on investment will prove it," he said.


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