INSIDE DIRECT MAIL
Speaking Your Prospects' Emotional Language
About three years ago, Ladies' Home Journal and its parent company, Meredith Publishing Corp., announced the debut of a new magazine created specifically for women ages 40 and above, called More. The launch package was a #9 envelope mailing with a bright red outer and lots of photos of middle-aged women, both celebrities and models. In October 1998, Inside Direct Mail reported on More's success in upgrading the charter effort to a 9" x 12" envelope format (203MOREMA0798); a second 9" x 12" envelope mailing had been running neck-and-neck with the upgraded control for several months.
Recently, More has soundly beaten both 9" x 12" packages with a new effort that carries a slightly refined message but in a whole new creative presentation. What's more, this effort doubled response--an unusual feat in direct mail, says Ellen de Lathouder, vice president, creative services at Meredith Publishing Corp. The package also holds the honor of being the highest indexing package in the history of the company.
The inspiration for this 9" x 9" envelope package came to de Lathouder in intermittent flashes. She remembers reading a book in which the 70-year-old female author talked about what had been most important during the different stages of her life; the overwhelming message de Lathouder picked up was that women value their relationships with other women, especially when they get older.
It was an important insight for de Lathouder, who notes that promoting to women over 40 requires a sensitive touch. This audience demands that products and services be positioned just for them; they're not 20-somethings just starting out in life, but they're also not ready to be their mothers.
While this idea percolated, de Lathouder came across a news story on a group of women who raised $550,000 to fight leukemia with sales from their annual garden club calendar. The difference between their goal of $2,000 and the final tally: They chose to put artistic nude photos of themselves--real women of all ages, not models--in the calendar. The spirit of these eleven women was also something with which More readers could identify, de Lathouder recognized.
She had the right concept for the next More direct mail test, but de Lathouder needed the right copywriter. Josh Manheimer is the name that came to mind.
"He's a playwright by avocation, and a copywriter by vocation," says de Lathouder. She also felt that he would bring the right sense of fun and energy to the package.
To help Manheimer get the emotional mind-set of a 40+ woman that de Lathouder wanted expressed in the mailing, she invited the copywriter to sit in on a focus group.
"Attending the focus group was helpful," Manheimer says, "but not just to hear what prospective readers have to say. It gave me an opportunity to meet the Editor [of More] and brainstorm with [de Lathouder] in person about what folks might like to hear. I was able to put together a creative porridge of ideas which were then easy to draw from later when I sat down to write."
One of the big ideas that came from the focus group turned into a battle cry for the control and the headline for the outer envelope. "Go, girl" is the catch phrase that embodies how the women in this target market feel about their lives. Manheimer worked with in-house designer Jeff Thompson, and de Lathouder says the duo beautifully rendered the concept.
De Lathouder says she likes to use focus groups. While it's not a mandate that the copywriter be involved, she remarks that it was "fun seeing Josh get into it and take notes."
Coming from a copywriting background herself, de Lathouder emphasizes how important it is to give a copywriter as much information as possible: "They're only as good as what you give them."
She has also found that psychographics provide the best response-boosting ideas; often, these are the creative insights that make the difference between getting eight-percent or 12-percent response to a direct mail package. This type of research helps copywriters and designers find the emotional connection to readers--and present that effectively in direct mail promotions. "We want prospects to say 'that's me,' when they read our mail," explains de Lathouder.
And that's the secret of this breakthrough mailing's success. It's not the offer, which de Lathouder is careful to keep consistent during creative tests, but the long process in getting to know what the voice of your customer sounds like.