AARP is at the perfect age to relate to its 39 million members: After all, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the nation's largest membership organization for people over the age of 50. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has led a revolution in the way people view and live their “golden years.” AARP has been a step ahead of for-profit companies in its ability to accurately target, attract, and hold the attention of America's mature audience.
Still, it might come as a surprise that AARP's newest membership development initiatives embrace insert media, a channel that hasn't enjoyed widespread adoption among marketers in recent years. The decision to explore insert media as a means of member acquisition arose from the AARP's need to diversify from its direct mail focus, partly due to the growth of online media.
New list sources through inserts
“The big benefit is we are uncovering list sources that we're not reaching through the direct mail channel,” says Katie Leon, director of channel management with AARP's membership development team.
Leon's team began planning its insert media program in spring 2005 and ran the first channel test that fall. Examples of AARP inserts have included membership renewals and incentive offers featuring free pedometers and travel alarm clocks. “We dabbled in it before, but not in a scientific way like this,” she adds.
Another team manages and analyzes the organization's prospect and member databases. Segmentation and tests are based on strategies set by the database team, but for a membership organization that targets millions of people, the challenges are huge.
“The tried and true messages that seem to work for the masses don't always work for us, but that doesn't mean we stop trying,” Leon says.
As AARP's membership base has grown, so has the organization's need to serve all those members. Leon's group focuses solely on utilizing specific direct media channels — direct mail, print, insert, TV, radio, online, and specialty — for membership, renewal, and engagement.
Supporting Leon's team is multichannel consultant and media buyer ParadyszMatera. The New York City-based firm's work is virtually 100% acquisition goal oriented, according to Dennis Erickson, VP of insert and print media. Erickson and his firm helped test-launch the channel for AARP.
“Given the rapid growth of the 50-plus segment, [AARP] wanted to make sure it was acquiring new members at the rate that segment of the population was growing. So, it needed to look beyond the direct mail source to effectively do that,” Erickson says.
Nonprofits have unique goals
AARP's strong social mission drives the organization. For instance, Leon's group is making a significant investment in direct marketing to help achieve AARP's diversity goals. “We want to ensure the membership reflects the population at large. Acquisition often comes at a higher price and we do that because it's part of our social mission,” Leon says.