Inserts Bridge Above-, Below-the-Line Marketing

My peers reading this article will be happy that I am not going to talk about the functions of insert media, postal or operational knowledge, nor will I discuss the creative aspects of pieces. The reason for my writing involves insert media's changing voice and its historical significance in marketing today.

If you know insert media only as a form of low-end ads, I am here to tell you that inserts have been tapped by a new form of client, and this shift results from marketers transferring from above-the-line spending to below-the-line, quantifiable dollars. Insert media, once referred to only as a mass marketing channel, has become a more sophisticated and segmented high-end creative execution. The mass art of inserts bridges the makeup of both above- and below-the-line requirements.

According to recent Winterberry Group research, “Tracking the Trends: A Comparison of Above-the-Line & Below-the-Line Expenditures,” historical and forecasted spending from 2003 to 2007 pegs below-the-line marketing spending as growing 7.8 percent annually versus above-the-line at only 5.5 percent.

When defining above-the-line, think of brand campaigns, broadcast, print and blimp ads. Below-the-line is defined as data-driven, quantifiable programs that include areas such as database marketing, direct mail, e-mail marketing, interactive services, affinity marketing and its new family member: insert media.

Why are dollars moving below the line? The answer is in the post-Internet-boom transformation of the marketing executive's role to one of an operational title, as well as the agency dynamic (which is now a multi-disciplined organization rather than the old solo brand emphasis). The customer is always right, and if you can't talk with your customer in a way that is highly targeted and based on his/her self-expressed interests, then you are missing the boat.

Insert media has broad placement and customer reach, both mass marketing attributes. However, with insert media being 10 times cheaper than traditional direct mail yet having an added level of targeting and segmentation, it's a hot channel for marketers to test. You could be sitting on a gold mine, one that is a mass distribution but with the uniqueness of speaking directly to your customer. Forrester Research's statement, “When you treat your customers with dignity, respect and a bit of humor, they buy more,” is true for the added layer of relevancy applied to a medium that once was coined “alternative media.” It's now entering the mainstream.

From my experience, spending changes in below-the-line marketing and insert media derive both from market influences and a direct business change reflected within our client makeup. First, let's talk market. As part of Winterberry Group's research paper, there are a list of statistics as well as consumer responses affecting the shift in above- to below-the-line spending and focus. These changes have altered the attitudes around our insert media practice. Examples of below-the-line market impacts in this study include:

* Changing consumer demographics decrease the influence of traditional mass media (one-size-fits-all) marketing messages.

* Growing consumer sophistication heightens the demand for channel-agnostic communications.

* Widespread marketing clutter diminishes the impact of commercial messages that don't address specific, individually relevant consumer needs.

* Heightened client pressure to deliver quantifiable value forces marketing services providers, especially agencies, to re-evaluate services platforms.

With the inundation of marketing messages and the challenges of building stronger customer acquisition and loyalty programs via exhausted mediums, we have seen a client profile change in our insert media group. Historically, insert media has been bypassed by many bigger brands and was skewed toward lower-end consumer packaged goods. The reality is that many people “open and buy,” therefore there is a high percentage of consumers who purchase the blue porcelain bunny from an insert ad.

Ten years ago, 95 percent of our insert clients sold products like the porcelain bunny. Today, big brands, which represent less than half of our clients, are jumping on the insert media wagon. Why? Apply the logic of the below-the-line shift, one that strives to achieve the holy grail of one-to-one marketing. Beyond the level of data segmentation that can be applied to inserts, and the endless placement opportunities from instatements to catalog bind-ins, the level of creative is more sophisticated to represent the change of the insert customer. There is a relatively untapped way to reach new customers and to increase the lifetime valuation of your loyalty programs.

As for the future of below-the-line marketing and insert media's dual role, both will continue to change. First, as marketing dollars continue to be scrutinized, even above-the-line marketing will need a better answer to assigning a number against a brand campaign impact. With below-the-line growing faster than above-the-line, I predict the below-the-line number to double in size by 2010. Insert media will continue to evolve into a higher-end position within a marketer's acquisition and loyalty strategy, accompanied by an integrated program of other below-the-line services.

Insert media has been something of a sleeping giant in marketing. The giant has awakened.

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