Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Old News Is Good News for Businessweek

Bloomberg Businessweek is using five-year-old news to sell subscriptions. The practice isn’t as crazy as it sounds and provides insights into direct-mail marketing and how consumers think about magazines.

“When we recently announced that Bloomberg L.P. had purchased Businessweek the business world was taken by surprise,” begins a flyer headlined “The business magazine, reinvented” that was distributed last month. “NEW: Behind the merger of Bloomberg, L.P. and BusinessWeek” proclaims the flyer’s other side.

“Recent” in this case means October 2009. The piece I saw was inserted into an envelope with a subscription offer, which was polybagged with the May 12-18, 2014 issue of the magazine. Did someone mistakenly use an out-of-date insert? I don’t think so.

Sophisticated, high-volume direct mailers are constantly testing – trying, for example, an additional insert, a different envelope size, new copy, or even revised color schemes. But they always compare the results to those of their “control” – the direct-mail piece that has recently had the best response.

Logic says that “The business magazine, reinvented” piece should be replaced by something more up to date. And in fact some people may have received BBW’s May 12-18 issue polybagged with a different message.

But direct marketers care about data, not logic. As long as the control gets better response than the test packages, you can be sure Bloomberg Businessweek will continue using it, no matter how dated it seems.

Perhaps the piece works because consumers aren’t aware of, or forgot, how long ago Bloomberg bought the magazine. Or perhaps they don’t care. Maybe what really resonates with them is that Bloomberg Businessweek has a deep-pocketed owner with a demonstrated willingness to invest in reviving the once-struggling magazine.

Consumers, after all, have this nasty habit of defying both logic and expectations.

Related articles -- in this case, other Dead Tree Edition attempts to probe the thinking of magazine circulation departments, even though some of my production colleagues claim that any phrase involving “thinking” and “circulation department” is an oxymoron -- include:

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