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Hachette Renewal Effort Centers on E-Mail

Hachette Filipacchi Media's decision to use e-mail for subscription renewals is producing significant increases at its Car and Driver and Woman's Day magazines.

In certain cells in the test matrix, the publisher claimed a 48 percent rise in gross responses and 49 percent boost in net responses to advanced-renewal e-mails sent to Car and Driver subscribers six months before subscription expirations. A urgent-renewal e-mail sent two issues before expiration generated a 76 percent increase in gross responses and 69 percent rise in net responses.

Similarly, in certain cells, the advanced-renewal e-mail to Woman's Day subscribers garnered a 25 percent increase in gross responses and 20 percent rise in net responses. The follow-up urgent-renewal e-mail generated increases of 31 percent in gross responses and 28 percent in net responses.

“This e-mail renewal program speaks to subscribers at two points in the renewal cycle: at the first point of contact and just before the subscription is about to expire,” said Neil H. Feinstein, director of creative strategy at New York ad agency True North Inc. “These were some of the best-performing pockets of the subscriber segments.”

The agency in 2002 built the e-mail renewal effort for Car and Driver and Woman's Day. Because of its effectiveness, the program in the fall was rolled out to Cycle World, Sound and Vision, Popular Photography & Imaging and Road & Track.

Several strategic considerations drive the program as Hachette tries to reduce churn and boost renewals. They include tight budgets, lower mail response rates, an aging list of e-mail addresses and revamping the whole renewal program.

Hachette wanted to use e-mail to build a relationship, increase lifetime value and lower costs. It also wanted to establish benchmarks to prove the program worked.

Consider the process for Car and Driver using control creative and offers. The advanced-renewal e-mail is the first notice in the renewal series, coming six months before subscription expiration. It focuses on best price. The e-mail's visual shows the magazine's name and logo and 61 cents per issue displayed on a price flagpole akin to those seen at gas stations.

The headline reads, “Top off your tank for the lowest price.” Opening copy says, “New subscriber special: Add 18 issues to your subscription for just $10.97. That's 84 percent off the cover price.”

The comparison is made that even as gas prices are climbing, Car and Driver's subscription tag is dropping for valued subscribers like the recipient.

The second e-mail goes in the urgent-renewal stage and touts a Web-only price. That e-mail shows the magazine name and logo above a simulated fuel gauge. Animated, the fuel gauge starts at half a tank when the e-mail is opened and soon drops to empty. Then the Car and Driver logo appears.

The headline above the images of recent issues is stark: “Your subscription is about to expire.” Copy urges the recipient to get a Web-only price of 14 issues for $10.97, 80 percent off the regular cover price.

Clicking on any of the e-mails takes the subscriber to a landing page with pre-populated data and pre-selected credit card option. Users need only enter the card details and click “Submit,” or they can check the “Bill me later” option.

Likewise, the Woman's Day advanced-renewal e-mail welcomes the recipient to the magazine's idea factory. Subscribers are urged to click on a link for a special offer of 25 additional copies to the existing subscription for only $8.99. The offer is good for two weeks after the e-mail's dispatch.

Hachette touches on other themes in that e-mail. They include clicking on links to print a free Woman's Day calendar, tips for avoiding skin wrinkles and sneak previews of upcoming Woman's Day articles.

The next e-mail is headlined “How to …” with four bullet points below, simulating a section in Woman's Day. Recipients are informed that they have only a few issues before the subscription expires.

That e-mail pushes the Web-only offer of 20 issues for $11.95, including three bonus issues. Recipients are told they can save 66 percent off the cover price by re-subscribing online. An appealing image of the latest issue gives a visual edge.

Clicking on the highlighted link takes subscribers to a landing page with the same functionality as Car and Driver's.

Key to both efforts is that Hachette did not eliminate direct mail. The advanced-renewal e-mail arrives at the same time as mail to reinforce the lowest-price messaging. The urgent e-mail arrives before mail to show subscribers that they were getting better prices in the e-mail.

“That's part of the training. We wanted people to learn how to respond online,” Feinstein said. “We haven't done this yet, but we want to eliminate mail from the stream at various points and replace it with e-mail.”

Using e-mail, mail and telemarketing, there are nine points of contact with the subscriber, starting six months before subscription expiration.

What has Hachette learned from its online efforts?

“We learned urgency was critical,” Feinstein said. “The closer to expire you can mail, the better your response rates.”

Hachette and True North are waiting to see the program's effectiveness on other titles and are working toward eliminating costlier paper renewals.

Other new initiatives include e-mail append to enlarge the e-mail database, driving paper responders to a landing page for non-e-mail efforts, coordinating e-mail and recorded telemarketing, a new gifting option on the confirmation page and a planned testing of viral marketing.

Also, a third, post-expire e-mail has been added to target non-responders to the initial overtures. The Car and Driver e-mail is headlined, “Your subscription has run out” alongside a blinking, empty gas gauge. The Woman's Day version shows a multitude of idea bubbles that disappear. The headline underneath says, “Don't let the good ideas disappear. Renew now.”

“Because we also found that urgency drove response, we also added a third e-mail to the stream for Woman's Day and Car and Driver,” Feinstein said. “This effort was delivered right after the subscription expired. It's too soon to have results on this e-mail at this stage.”

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