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Recent research suggests that one of the barriers to growing subs, is the perceived inflexibility of the subscription offer. The standard set term / single title offer isn’t an attractive enough proposition, especially for gift purchasers. Armed with this research, IPC sought to come up with an innovative new subs offer. The result was the ‘Mix’. Here, Sanjeeta Patel explains what they were trying to achieve.

By Sanjeeta Patel

As subscriptions marketing continues to grow in importance to overall publishing circulation strategies, marketers face the ongoing challenge of continuously innovating and testing in order to identify ‘the next big thing’ for the subscriptions industry.

Coupled with the challenges of innovation and the lack of flexible subscription fulfilment systems, subscription marketers also have to put together commercial marketing plans that deliver healthy returns. In markets where the consumer is less brand loyal, more time pressured, and savvier at searching for the best offers and deals, this becomes more challenging.

Research project

The PPA completed a major research project in conjunction with Royal Mail and produced by Brandlab, looking at the subscriptions purchasing process - ‘The Loyalty Challenge: How consumer subscriptions work’. Commissioned in late 2006, the aim of this research was to understand better how and why consumers use subscriptions as a means of buying magazines, whether for themselves or as gifts. The research addressed:

* What motivates consumers to buy a subscription
* To track how they use that subscription
* To assess why non subscribers choose not to subscribe

As part of this research, 6,683 individuals in the UK were asked several questions relating to magazine and subscription purchasing decisions and a number of focus groups were also carried out. The research highlighted some extremely insightful pieces of information that IPC used to form part of our strategy for a brand new subscriptions product.

The research highlighted that, for many, buying a subscription is seen to be "a sensible option rather than an exciting one", and to many consumers subscribing is all about "price"; making taking out a subscription "a business-like process". This naturally made us question how our offers and subscription packages are perceived by our largest growth opportunity, the ‘non-subscribers’ in the UK.

Why people don’t subscribe

The majority of ‘non-subscribers’ in the survey (64%) have not actively chosen not to subscribe. They just need to be convinced! The fact that 73% of direct subscribers are not buying gift subscriptions clearly demonstrates that there is significant growth potential for sales in this area across all publishers. Discussions in the focus groups suggested that the gifting process needed to be more of an event. It needed to give more freedom to choose the titles. Overall, our customers wanted to have more flexibility than the set way subscriptions are currently offered.

Retail subscriptions and gift subscriptions packs have seen massive growth and support from retailers over the last two years, and this has helped with consumer awareness of giving a subscription as a gift. The research highlighted how choice and flexibility were especially important to gift donors where buying a subscription can seem a difficult choice.

"I know that my uncle loves classic cars, but I don’t know which specific magazine he likes best and there are quite a few to choose from," was one quote from a focus group.

Giving a choice of brands is a key decision maker in the "donor subscribers" purchasing behaviour.

Launching the Mix

Following on from this research, in October 2007, we launched the Mix – a ground-breaking new form of subscription, giving customers the opportunity to sample a mix of magazines over a 12-month period. The Mix perfectly accommodates situations like the above example from the focus group, where the donor avoids buying a gift subscription because they don’t know which magazine to choose.

In a first for the industry, the Mix was launched in two highly competitive markets: Homes and Fashion. The ‘Mix: Homes’ gives a three month taster of Homes & Gardens, 25 Beautiful Homes, Ideal Home and Livingetc; while the ‘Mix: Fashion’ gives three months each of Marie Claire, Look, In Style and Now.

As part of the IPC Christmas campaign, the single largest gift-led marketing campaign we do at IPC, one of our core objectives every year is to test new activities to provide us with future growth opportunities. The research clearly demonstrated that there is still huge potential in the gift market and it also highlighted what consumers were looking for. It was this realisation that led us to focus on the idea of flexibility and choice. We wanted to respond to the demands of the market, and after a number of ideas we came up with the concept behind the Mix.

Objectives of the Mix

Through the Mix we wanted to achieve the following:

* To be able to offer a 12 month magazine subscription package that is formed of a number of titles, not just one magazine.
* To offer flexibility and variety, clustering markets and subject areas into "Pick ‘n’ mix" subscription choices. The IPC-wide portfolio of titles lends itself well to mixing titles in market clusters.
* To lock subscribers into IPC brands in highly competitive and fickle markets such as Fashion.
* To increase retention and the life time of a gift subscriber, who potentially is ‘trialling’ a number of magazines.
* To be able to have a multi-title / effort renewals series to encourage renewal and multiple purchase.

So, why did we choose these two markets - Homes and Fashion? Both are highly competitive, but also have brands that are popular gift titles. In principle, the concept of the Mix was easy to understand – consumers would receive a three month taster of four pre-selected magazines and would then have the opportunity to continue receiving any or all of the titles on a full subscription. Although this concept seemed simple to us, as we briefed our fulfilment house on this new product we knew it would be a challenge for them! A number of potential almost ‘deal breaking’ questions were raised by them, and various customer care issues were also flagged up.

But we all rose to the challenge. The format and fulfilment of the Mix had to be pre-defined, but this is something that undoubtedly we will develop. All customer service issues were well thought-out and the final product was the result of careful consideration of customers’ views.

Up-selling and cross-selling!

At IPC, we see the Mix as the perfect platform to generate more subscriptions.

It offers a fantastic sampling opportunity for our key brands and as we know that our customers are our best prospects, we have set ourselves challenging targets to convert readers of the Mix to subscribers to one or more of the titles they will sample during their annual subscription.

To that effect, we have created a bespoke renewal series. In this, the reader of the Mix is given the chance to keep receiving each magazine on subscription through a trial direct debit offer. The letters are sent after the subscriber has stopped receiving the three issues of each of the magazines. The Mix simply gives the subscriber a three issue taster – so the offer of receiving more issues at an exclusive price is simply irresistible!

Marketing the Mix

During the 2007 Christmas subscriptions campaign, the Mix was exclusively available through our subscriptions shop, The Mix was tested on a relatively small scale, providing the opportunity to roll out the promotion after reviewing performance. Initial results are promising – it has already generated 20% more sales than the last time we tested an initiative that gave customers choice with the IPC vouchers. The voucher scheme was promoted with more marketing support. No doubt we will be developing the product further and increasing the level of promotions.

We will continue to take advantage of the web and as the key platform to roll out and continue testing all aspects of the Mix. There is still much for us to benefit from including upselling, renewal and new acquisition strategies for the Mix.

The launch of the Mix has been a huge achievement for IPC and for the subscriptions industry as a whole. The Mix has generated lots of PR coverage not only because it is new and different, but it challenges the norm of what a subscription is.

The Mix is ground-breaking across all areas:

* We have responded to customers’ demands by reviewing in detail the results of extensive research in the UK market and delivering what respondents wanted.
* We have brought flexibility to consumers in the gift subscriptions market.
* We have worked with the fulfilment house to deliver a brand new concept in a relatively short period of time.

As we continue to analyse results on the Mix, both from acquisition and retention, our understanding on how to develop and market the concept will continue to grow. The IPC portfolio is perfectly suited to continue rolling out the Mix concept. So, for now, we are all really pleased with all aspects of the Mix and no doubt you will see where we go next with this industry first concept.