Takes Online Lessons Offline

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Online healthcare concern, San Francisco, has begun testing direct mail pieces for its first offline direct mail campaign, which it expects to launch later this summer when it begins operating a revamped Web site. The direct mail campaign is part of an integrated media campaign.

The company, which offers natural healthcare products such as herbal remedies and other alternative fare, plans to use the campaign to promote the relaunching of its site with an expanded array of over-the-counter healthcare products.

Tim Hogan, director of marketing for, said the direct mail campaign will include about 1 million pieces and will be accompanied by television, radio, outdoor and probably print advertising, as well as an online effort.

For the past several months the company has been very active in testing e-mail, conducting new tests with four to eight cells each almost every week, and some of the lessons learned from those tests might be applicable to its offline direct mail effort, according to Hogan. For example, the company found that consumers who previously had made online purchases were more likely to respond than consumers who were interested in health-related information but might not have had any online purchasing experience.

"What we found was that we increased our response rate by about 2.5 percent when we reached consumers who had experience buying online," he said. "They had overcome their concerns about privacy and security, and at the same time had seen the benefits and convenience and savings from buying online."

He also said the company learned that consumers tended to respond poorly to offers that included a minimum purchase.

"The best way to drive up order volume is not to have a minimum order requirement, but to put an order together with a price point that encourages people to stock up," he said. "You get a better response and sales per order for a $10 discount offer than for a $15 discount offer with a minimum purchase requirement.

"I think before, when we had those minimum order requirements in place, we tended to lose some of our most valuable customers," he said.

The company also learned that sometimes a soft-sell approach worked better than traditional direct response mechanisms such as making a bold offer or highlighting "free" in the copy. He said the company received a response rate that was up to two times better with a warm, values-oriented introductory e-mail letter from the CEO than it did with a strong offer highlighted in the subject field of the e-mail message.

"Our target audience is primarily women, and they don't just buy a brand, they join a brand," he said.

Some aspects of the direct mail message "will have to be radically changed" from the online effort, however.

He said the company would seek to validate the results of its e-mail tests through offline testing in the first month of the campaign.

"In some ways, offline will be much harder because you are asking people to change their behavior pretty dramatically," he said. "You're asking them to turn on the computer, go to our site and then order something … our greatest challenge, I think, is inertia. People have a habit of doing it a different way."

Hogan said the company had identified a few lists that it might use for the initial direct mail effort, and said the offer in the mailing could revolve around its proprietary Accumins brand, which is a custom vitamin tailored to individual consumers based on their responses to a 28-question lifestyle survey.

"That's certainly one of the offers we're testing," he said, adding that the product was "incredibly well-suited for direct mail."

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