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UK Marketing and the Olympics, Sort Of…

Date: August, 2012 --

Given what we know you’re either thinking about or even watching this very moment as you read this article, we’d be remiss as international marketers if we didn’t acknowledge the largest eyeball-drawing event taking place in the world at this very moment. Not that the title of this article is at all misleading, but, try as we may, we were unable to find a UK direct mail campaign directly related to the Olympics. In fact, in the course of our search we were reminded by many a UK colleague that, unless permission was tendered, advertisers had to be very careful to refer to the Games only indirectly, and avoid use of the 5-ring logo entirely as The Olympic Organization is extremely aggressive in protecting its intellectual property. To make up for this shortcoming, and in part to illustrate how marketers are coping with these restrictions, we’re sharing a photo taken

in May of a poster in the Brussels subway showing an athlete in training for the Olympics. You will note that there are no rings and no mention of the word “Olympics”.


But, keeping on the sports theme, we decided to present the story of the rebuilding of a venerable UK brand, Which?, a magazine very much like Consumer Reports in the US but differing in that it also covers the service industry. Why sports?  Because this is the story of a 6 year marathon of finding the right marketing media mix.


The subscriber base had been recruited by direct mail packages that included a prize draw offer.  This method had worked for 20 years. But, in 2005 it was concluded that the magazine was no longer well-known, and in fact had disappeared from view. The sweeps weren’t “sweeping in the customers”. To build back the subscriber base the public had to be informed of the organization’s, and the magazine’s, relevance, and the main marketing message had to rely on the brand attributes, not the prize draw.


Beginning in 2005, careful research into the market disclosed that its subscribers tended to lack confidence in their pre-purchase research abilities in advance of buying the product or service in which they are interested. These were people of independence, integrity and thoroughness, but who were a little insecure in their judgments.


They abandoned the prize draw and developed a new “premium” modeled on their respected ‘Best Buy’ guides to products and services. Since these latter were indeed premium, and popular, they did not want to cannibalize the product line. This led to the development of a separate “look-alike” set of free guide premiums. These guides were similar in that they all shared common themes of “how to get the most out of...” They provided some clarity in areas of mass consumer confusion such as differences among laptops, growing different kinds of vegetables, and retirement planning.


Direct mail by itself would not work with this premium, and so spending shifted to DRTV, newspapers, and inserts, all driving response through the telephone to carefully chosen call center operators who “chatted up” the callers, converting them to 3-month trial subscriptions at a discount.  Depending on the media driving the response, between 25% and 40% of callers converted on the calls and all callers entered the prospect pool. Responses reached 500,000 over three months and response rates were 10 times the mail offer when used as a stand-alone. Total conversion to trial was 30%, producing an ROI of 200%.  


After identifying important modifications to this formula in terms of reach and exposure, the main marketing vehicles became search engine messaging, print, and DRTV.  The magazine is now experiencing a 50% increase in revenue. 


It’s not direct mail, but the data capture at the call center and on ordering must be accurate, subscribers’ move updates carefully recorded, and the magazine, special reports, and invoices must travel to the right addresses. The heart of the operation remains that important database. No matter what media you use for prospecting, you need Data Services to keep your customers’ names and mailing addresses correct. How else will you be sure you are buying that TV time, or newspaper/magazine space, for the right markets?