Do continuity programs have a future?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

CONTENDER
Pat Corpora
President of Corpora Consulting
25 years' experience with Rodale, HCI Direct and AOL

Time Life was the leader in continu­ity programs with its book series when I began in this industry, and now that service basically doesn't exist anymore. It's my belief that the company didn't change with the consumer. The con­sumer has become much more savvy and there are so many more options available to them that they don't need to be in a program where the publisher or the company determines what they get and when they send it.

Continuity and club programs have historically been run at the benefit and luxury of the company instead of the consumer. Clubs and continuities have really diminished over time. But there are certainly some that are still doing very well. In today's market there are three things that make these programs work. First, the product is a thing that consumers really want and need on a regular basis, whether it's food, beauty care or paper products. The next thing is that the consumers need to be in charge — where a consumer selects what they want, how much they want and when they want it. Finally, they must be given the freedom to update their preferences.

That is what is driving what I call the next generation of the continu­ity program, the auto-replenishment program. Amazon.com is currently offering its buyers the option of auto-replenishment. Having a high level of control over a product that is necessary benefits consumers because they don't have to worry about reordering, and it benefits marketers because they get incremental sales and foster loyalty. Continuity programs — if the product is right and the execution is right — have a wonderful and viable place in the marketplace.
 

CONTENDER
Bart Surrick
VP of account management, Alliant Cooperative DataSolutions LLC
13 years' experience

Continuity done right is still relevant. It's a great sales system to generate repeat purchase. You don't have to resell the consumers and you have the opportunity to cross-sell and sell them additional programs.

The point that consumables make a good continuity product is well taken, however entertainment continuity pro­grams are certainly not dying. While consumers may have more choices than ever to buy products and research on the Internet, there are certain consumers who genuinely love to get another shipment — for them it's a treat to get that next installment in the mail.

The concept of continuity, if treated properly from the customer service per­spective, is really compelling: “Send me books, music or whatever the product is until I tell you that I've had enough.”

Continuity and club programs may be more relevant as the economy takes a downturn. Large, luxury purchases may take a hit, but getting small treats at lower prices directly to the home is still a consumer behavior that is going to resonate in tough times.

Marketers need to take consumer behavior into account and need to target smarter. With a lower price point staggered over time, consumers are still willing and interested to maintain those purchases. Segmenting customers up front to focus the effort around those that are going to stay in is critical.

Continuity programs yield a tremen­dous amount of data points and there is a wealth of opportunity for market­ers to pool together resources across similar programs and take advantage of consumers that are responsive. Oftentimes it is the same customer that prefers to receive offers and products through the mail on a regular basis.

THE DECISION
Knockout

Both our experts agree a continuity program is not dead if it takes into account consumer choice and savvy segmenting. The question is whether product or customer matters more. DMNews rules Corpora's case for product is more compelling than Surrick's case for buyer type. One can waste time and effort marketing the wrong product in an inconvenient way to a small number of consumers.

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