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A revamped direct mail strategy has helped The Weekly Standard boost its paid circulation by 39 percent between its June 2009 and June 2010 BPA statements. New voucher packages accounted for the majority of the lift, producing better conversion rates than the brand's digital marketing strategies.
Over the last year, the magazine, which publishes 48 issues per year, increased its paid circulation from 71,340 to 99,033. The magazine's newsstand draw is about 6,000.
According to Catherine Lowe, The Standard's marketing director, direct mail has proven to be a solid workhorse. "We have tested two new packages. Our control, which is a soft offer, remains strong, but we've seen good results from some new vouchers. The up-front costs are lower, so we're mailing more using the vouchers."
Those results have helped push direct mail to the top of the brand's subscription marketing strategy, adds Lowe. "There is still a good amount of test universe that we can go into and not see too big of a dip in our net results. The CPO is competitive compared to the other channels we're using. On conversion, direct mail still remains the strongest."
Lowe's team has been using SEM to drive subscriptions, too, but while that channel's cheaper CPOs are a value, it's not producing a comparable conversion rate. Direct mail beats SEM by a 10 percentage point spread, says Lowe. Plus, there's a limit to the audience size that SEM tactics can target.
"Our CPOs for keyword search marketing are very low," says Lowe, "but there's a limit to the amount of people who search for branded terms. It hasn't proven to be the volume generator that direct mail has been. Search is definitely an effective source for us, but if I take a longer view I'm picking direct mail as the winner for the time being."
Subscription pricing has been creeping up too. Compared to a year ago, the average price has increased $6 to $64—and Lowe feels there's opportunity for taking that higher. Renewal rates shot up from $72 to $99 for a one-year subscription without a significant fall-off, says Lowe. "We're probably undervaluing the subscription," she adds. "It is 48 times per year, after all."
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