What Your Broker Doesn’t Tell You About Insert Media

What Your Broker Doesn’t Tell You About Insert Media


This column will provide a sampling of secrets to successful insert media utilized in the past eight years by Boardroom. Boardroom is among several publishers using such programs to boost subscription sales – reaching consumers with inserts in ordered-merchandise shipments (from catalogers such as Omaha Steaks, for instance) and in credit card or product billing statements (such as Visa or The New York Times). To give these programs the best chance for success, here are some recommended tips to follow:

* Choose a reputable broker

The first secret to program success is to work with a good broker. Unlike direct mail, insert media doesn’t provide any verification data that proves your inserts have gone out as planned. Programs are often based on trust, and a good broker will know which programs to enter and which to avoid.

* Look for the hidden gems

Although there are a number of strong programs readily available on the market, the best ones are often less obvious, and you have to dig deeply to find these hidden gems. A few years ago, Boardroom was renting a list that worked very well for our direct mail campaigns. Although the list wasn’t offered with a related insert program, we asked the list manager if the owner would be willing to insert our promotion anyway. They agreed, and began shipping out 50,000 inserts a month. The program turned out to be one of our best, probably because it wasn’t formally on the market and our insert was the only one included.

* Watch out for duplication

There are catalog-buyer and continuity programs out there that are often shipping to the same people every month. When you’re in such a program and it’s successful, it’s best to skip months to eliminate the likelihood that consumers are receiving your message repeatedly. With continuity programs, find out when new-starts come on board, so that your inserts can go into those shipments – this is similar to mailing to a hotline list.

* Monitor the number of inserts in a program

Usually, there are six to 10 inserts in a program. While common sense suggests that the more inserts in a program, the lower the response, the number of inserts doesn’t always dictate program success or failure. I’ve made programs work when there were 12 inserts, and I’ve failed on other programs where my insert was the only one included. The results really depend on the kind of customers in the program.

Sometimes a lot of inserts in a program means that the program is working for lots of people, so that’s a good sign. Always ask the owner for a count of a program’s inserts. As an added precaution, ask your broker for an envelope that contains the program’s previous month’s inserts.

* Get the best price

You should always try to get the lowest possible price, but don’t worry about paying a little more for a test. I’ve found that saving hard negotiation tactics for the rollout – when insert quantities are greater – gets you more bang for your buck, and gives you more leverage in making a deal.

* Negotiate exchanges

This can also be very cost-effective. You can exchange name for name – meaning that you insert an agreed-upon number of your partner’s pieces in your shipments at no cost in exchange for the same number of your pieces in his shipments. This should mutually benefit both parties.

Boardroom has, on occasion, done exchanges from direct mail to package inserts. In this case, you’ll want to value names at two or three package insert names for one direct mail name. Finally, make sure that you’re entering into an exchange with someone who has a similar quantity of names as you, in order to avoid the exchange balance getting out of whack.

* Always have inventory of pieces on hand

During negotiations, you may find that the list manager or owner won’t accept the lower price per thousand that you require. If so, ask your broker to contact you closer to the actual mail date if there’s still an insert opening in the program. An opening at such a late date may mean that the manager or owner will accept your lower offer. It’s much more valuable for the owner to take the lower offer than to leave the space unfilled. Being able to ship inventory at a moment’s notice will not only help you meet last-minute deadlines, but it will also get you the best price.

* Request a non-compete clause

Before placing an order, consider including a non-compete clause for your specific category. Since Boardroom is in the publishing business, we require that our offer is the only publishing offer in a package. Most companies will agree to these terms, but if they don’t, think twice about testing the program.

* FREE offers are best

In insert media, you have only a small space to get your message across. The key is to attract consumers’ attention very quickly. “Free” is still a magic word. Boardroom always offers free-trial subscriptions. Premiums – like a video or special report – also work well, especially if you’re looking to generate leads. Also, monitor the competition. Look at what other marketers are doing successfully, and steal smart.

* Adapt your most successful direct mail piece

Scale it down to the format and size of the insert, and include your most important selling points. Also consider using interactive devices. As an example, Boardroom has successfully used a scratch-off insert for many years.

* Size (and weight) matters

Keep in mind that the maximum size for package inserts is usually 5″ x 8″. I recommend designing your insert to conform to this size. We’ve found that smaller pieces – 3 1/2″ x 6″, for instance – don’t respond as well. While they may be less expensive to produce, they usually lose on a cost-per-order basis. Generally, inserts in billing statements must weigh under 0.10 ounces; package inserts, 0.25 ounces. It’s best to design your insert to fall within these weight restrictions or you’ll pay higher program charges. Maintaining a standard size and weight will also help in testing, allowing you to mix different inserts for a better test split.

* Test, test, test

Testing in any medium is critical, but projecting test results to rollout in insert media is highly unscientific. You may be pleased with a 10 or 20 percent lift on a direct mail package test, but you’ll want a 50 to 100 percent lift before deeming a test successful for insert media. I also recommend testing different categories, such as cable bills, bank bills, and newspaper bills – three unique categories that might have varying consumer response patterns. It’s also helpful to test how each group responds to a specific creative strategy.

* Rotate controls

At Board-room, we’ve found that it can often pay to have two or even three controls in this medium to beat creative fatigue. Because you’ll be going into universes on a regular basis – not just once or twice a year – try to hit consumers with a variety of offers that trigger different hot buttons. (Note: These controls should have relatively even response rates before being added to the rotation.)

* Track your program

Once packages or bills are mailed, it’s important to track them. Surprisingly, there are marketers who use just one key code per program. The problem with this is that you’ll never be sure if all of your inserts went out. For example, if you booked a program with 1 million inserts, and you utilize only one key code, you won’t know if the program manager inserted 800,000 pieces, or 500,000 pieces, or the agreed-upon 1 million pieces. In this case, you could divide the program into four separate codes of 250,000 each – giving you four readings that should respond fairly similar. Then, if one code is off by a large percentage, chances are that the pieces didn’t fully insert, and you’ll have good reason to call it to the attention of your broker or list owner.

* Trust your results

I can’t tell you how many times a program manager has told me that all of my inserts went into a shipment, even though my response was zero or was off significantly. While all campaigns perform differently, remember that very poor results can signal program problems. When an insert is promoted with a soft offer – such as a free trial or a lead generation – and response is zero, the program didn’t include your inserts, no matter what the program manager tells you. Hold firm. You’re always going to get at least some response to a soft offer. The results don’t lie.

Michael Feldstein is Director, Alternate Media at Boardroom, Inc., which publishes a variety of consumer newsletters and books. This article is based on Feldstein’s recent presentation at the 2003 DMD New York Conference & Expo.

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