Outlook 2006: As Market Fragments, Expect More to Try Insert Media

More testing of insert media will happen this year from lots of different players, both for customer acquisition and for branding. With the increase in TiVo usage and other television on-demand features limiting advertising opportunities, plus the rise in postal rates, I would be surprised if more consumer product brands and ad agencies serving these brands didn’t at least dip their toes into insert media waters.

There were no real pressing issues in 2005. However, questions always exist about placing orders, accepting them or about expected volume. And if you do not carefully forecast and reforecast your programs and communicate this detail effectively, you can get into a bind either way. I suggest reviewing your package volume expectations at least quarterly.

Are inserts getting the recognition they deserve? Not yet. And until we somehow wave the insert media education flag in front of the right crowds, we will continue to rely heavily on existing programs and participants. We need to broaden the competitive landscape to get things really interesting.

Retailers Should Test

There are more co-op pieces in circulation/testing and an expansion of testing from related media – freestanding inserts – that have encouraged new dabbling into existing package insert and blow-in programs. I love to see all of the players that test, and continue in, the pricey Amazon.com PIP (rate card is $100/M). Plenty of branding and couponing opportunities exist from many of its merchant partners and other consumer and direct brands.

There also was quite a buzz about some big-box retailers testing package programs, though they may have been scared off by the details required to ensure this effort doesn’t evolve into an operations nightmare.

Maybe they should seek more advice and references and decide to facilitate a hand-dropped item or two before going whole hog with this endeavor. We also afforded several consumer brands and retailers the chance to test this media as a part of larger partnership arrangements. It was great to see players like Shutterfly.com, Circuit City, Movie Gallery and Avon test into our various programs.

The typical response rate to inserts is the same as in the past, averaging 0.15 percent to 0.5 percent depending on the offer, the media – blow-in, bind-in, on-page – and the creative of the piece.

I think the time has come again to walk the education walk with ad agencies. Clearly, this needs to be done appropriately, as targeted as possible, without overwhelming the audience. I wouldn’t listen to a list broker advising me to test into a file that has no relevance to my brand’s own demographics or a proven track record for my offering, so why not selectively recommend the right programs to the right agencies?

Lastly, if you facilitate more segmentation from a particular program (e.g., geographically), you could build some real interest from these potential participants.

If you can offer creative ideas and consultation in the mix with your recommendations whereby you make it an easier implementation for these first-time players, you are bound to be more successful with your overall sales efforts.

Before You Go …

Test, test, test! Don’t be afraid to try it all – new offer, new format, new media. I know we all operate in a world with a limited tolerance for failures, but if you don’t try it, you can’t know how well insert media works for you. You also can test opening up an insert media program. You don’t have to commit to envelope printing, collation services or a rollout to potential participants; only to your operations people that you will make it as seamless as possible to try it on for size.

If you are testing into insert media with a customer acquisition piece, don’t forget to push out those expiration dates. This will ensure that some silly production-related, freight-related or unrealistic volume projection problem doesn’t snare you in a trap of unwanted material in some faraway warehouse or a trip to the local recycling center. I suggest building as much flexibility into your creative as possible.

Though I am all for a more immediate call to action, there are ways to tier your offer to make it more distribution-friendly in potential problem programs that could delay insertion for a whole host of reasons. Simply push out the final expiration date and give a larger percentage off for more immediate action or redemption.

Finally, if you are a program owner, take the time to reforecast your programs and communicate these details with your program management team. This should be done at least quarterly, or monthly if your business is more complicated (e.g., lots of distribution points for which you are collecting data regarding what has been inserted to date). This ensures that you meet commitments, and by providing the right level of communication to your program participants if and when things happen, you can accommodate shifting material if necessary.

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