An insert for every occasion

Insert media can be a cost-effective way to promote across brands, David Ward reports. 

For years, was known primarily for its niche in the gift bouquet industry. But as the company grew, adding divi­sions that offer gifts from premium confections and wine to children’s toys and home décor, it found it needed a way to educate customers on its entire assortment of brands and products. And increasingly, the company has relied on insert media to not only drive those brand awareness efforts, but also to provide outside marketers with pro­grams to reach this audience.

Because of low response rates, insert media has historically not been the first choice of marketers. But that is changing, thanks in large part to rising postage costs that have made traditional direct mail more costly.

“There is a lot more excitement around insert media than there has been in the past,” notes Jill Eastman Vidal, director of third party market­ing for “Market­ers are finding that creating an insert piece can be extremely cost-effective and a real revenue generator.”

What makes insert media work so well at is the fact that it is a company with such a diverse product lineup. In addition to the Flowers brand, the company divisions also include Plow & Hearth, Problem Solvers, Wind & Weather, Madison Place, HearthSong, The Popcorn Factory,, Cheryl & Co., Fannie May, and

Insert programs combine offers

As a general rule, the company limits the number of total inserts in each package, both to ensure it doesn’t swamp the recipient with too many offers, and to help keep postage costs in check. But that still leaves plenty of opportunities to combine offers from the same division that’s providing the product with cross-promotional mes­sages from sister brands and insert pieces from outside marketers.

“My role is not only to provide brand exposure for our sister brands, but also to leverage our insert real estate to make some money,” explains Vidal. “We offer customers an implied endorsement that if something is in our packages, it’s an opportunity to buy from a partner source.”

Cheryl Zatz, VP of marketing for The Popcorn Factory, says each division within the company usually focuses on one gift offer that gets changed out seasonally. “We might start inserting two months before a holiday,” she says, “but once that holiday arrives, there really is no longer any more tail on the orders that come through so the offer is pretty much dead.”

Zatz says the company may test new products and offers, but adds that one thing that never gets tweaked much is the design of the inserts themselves, which tend to stay very simple.

“It doesn’t work to get into 3-D pieces and expensive die cuts because you’re not getting the same response rates from this media that you would from a mailing,” she explains. “With inserts you have to be very cognizant of your costs.”

Vidal adds, “You have to stay away from complex products or messages,” noting there’s not enough space for a product such as curtains, for exam­ple, because you must have room to explain how to measure the size.

Offers tend to focus on value

Lisa Hendrikson, director of direct marketing for, adds that most of these inserts include a direct call to action with a set expi­ration date. “It’s either a promotion code or an offer of good value like an arrangement with a free vase,” she adds. “Particularly in the current mar­ket, people are looking for value.”

Having multiple internal divisions in addition to outside marketing partners gives 1-800-Flowers many opportunities to test out new mes­sages and offers.

“Sometimes we try out new insert concepts with our sister brand pack­ages to get a feel for response rates before we roll it out to outside compa­nies,” says Hendrikson. “By the same token, we’ve included offers from out­side companies as inserts that we’ve later adapted for our sister brands.” does not insist that all inserts be uniform, but Vidal notes that the company looks for prod­ucts that complement its own brands, such as a jewelry offer. “You have to be careful because you’re not just delivering something to a customer but also to a recipient,” she says.

Zatz also stresses the goal of these inserts is more than getting that next order or even making sure custom­ers are aware of all the divisions and products within the company.

“It’s definitely good brand aware­ness, but it also enables us to reach another market,” she says. “We strive to provide inserts with good value because our ultimate focus is on cus­tomer acquisition. Once that person gets into our file, we can begin to understand them better, and then use other channels to market to them appropriately.”

Call to action’s cross-promotional inserts are simple but effective, says Vidal.

Cheryl & Co.
For a holiday-themed insert, cookie company Cheryl & Co. keeps its messaging simple but still manages to combine two calls to action — free ground shipping and $10 off purchases of $50 or more — with a set expiration date to encourage timely response.
A simple visual with logos introduces consumers to the family of 1-800- brands. Brand expo­sure and cross-market reach are key elements in the company’s insert programs.

With limited space on its inserts, HearthSong keeps the text to a minimum — instead relying on colorful images to provide many of its messages, including the type of products it can offer and even the seasonality of the offer.

Fannie May
Consumers spend only a few seconds looking at inserts, so Fannie May highlights its value proposition by emphasizing the word “free.” Vidal notes that in this tight economic climate, insert programs must highlight value in order to drive response.

Popcorn Factory
A strong visual delivers the message that the offer is a lot more than gourmet popcorn. The front provides a strong call to ac­tion, while the reverse encourages consumer to call or visit the Web site, where their information can be captured for follow-up.

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