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Response reassessment

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Direct-mail response rates have plummeted so much that many publishers have abandoned what was once a dependable and commonplace channel. E-mail response rates, steady in some categories, have fallen off in others. And telemarketing for new acquisitions has pretty much disappeared and isn't as dependable for requalification anymore.

As one circulator who asked not be named said, "To be ignored is the average." So what's a circulator to do?

"Test, test, test," said Gloria Adams, director of corporate audience development at PennWell. Adams said that her circulators mostly test on e-mail. Different subject lines, different days and times of day, and different senders are all favorite parts to test.

"The problem, of course," said Deb Walsh, director of audience development at IDG's Bio-IT World, "is that when you find something that works, it only works for a very short time." She said that for some time, Wednesday was considered the day to e-mail subscribers but now response rates are sliding for that day, too. Testing is generally done by splitting a group of recipients into two or three and seeing how each group responds.

"The real key," said Doug Riemer, director of circulation at Vance Publishing, "is to hit them in every way possible." He said that one subscriber may be notified by mail, e-mail, telephone, on a cover wrap and by fax. Unfortunately, respondents don't necessarily respond through the same medium the next time around. "Once you get a quality group, though, you've got to deal with the annoyance of hitting them every way possible so you can continue to keep that group," he said.

Riemer is trying to increase response rates by including donations to different cancer associations within the requalification materials. "Anything we can do to get them to look twice is helpful," he said. The response rate results of this novel approach weren't available at press time.

Another area of frustration is tracking e-mail accounts. Walsh said that people change their personal e-mail much more frequently than their work e-mail, so circulators need to keep careful track of these addresses. "I think it's going to become commonplace to have circulators have to send out e-mail blasts once a quarter or more often to be sure their lists are still accurate," she said.

Brad Mitchell, director of circulation in information technology at Babcox Publications, said if publishing companies want better response rates, it's better to listen to what readers want. "You want to have an immediate turnaround, but if magazines would listen to what their readers actually want-and if that target audience is valuable to advertisers-then response rates would be better," he said. 

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