By Alysa Procida, Publisher, Inuit Art Quarterly and Executive Director, Inuit Art Foundation
Though digital marketing and outreach continue to attract publishers’ attention, direct marketing can still be a powerful marketing tool, especially for small, niche publishers. In 2017, the Inuit Art Quarterly undertook a highly targeted direct-mail campaign that wildly exceeded our expectations: the magazine’s subscriptions increased by 27% overall, thanks to some lists’ response rates as high as 26%. By comparison, past efforts had yielded a 2–3% maximum return. Here’s what we did differently:
1. We got expert assistance.
If at all possible, invest in quality guidance and support. Thanks to funding from the Ontario Arts Council and the Department of Canadian Heritage, we engaged Abacus Circulation to oversee the campaign and hired experienced contractors to help write, design and distribute our packages. This proved invaluable when creating an outreach strategy. Prior to this campaign, we reached out to lapsed subscribers with a no-pressure, no-offer update letter about our recent activities and initiatives. In doing so, we welcomed past readers back, with a look at what they had missed.
2. We got to know our audience.
Before conceptualizing the direct-mail campaign, we undertook an extensive reader survey to better understand our audience. In addition to basic demographic information, we prioritized asking about our readers’ magazine-reading habits, travel, interest in museums and other cultural activities and art collecting. Having a well-rounded picture of our readers helped to more precisely hone the messaging of campaign and target new potential readers.
3. We knew our niche and our value in it.
The Inuit Art Quarterly is the only magazine dedicated to Inuit and circumpolar Indigenous art worldwide. For thirty years, the IAQ has been the only consistent way for audiences to connect with Inuit artists. It is overseen by the Inuit Art Foundation’s majority-Inuit board of directors. The IAQ consequently has developed the reputation of being a community-driven, authentic and trusted source of exclusive information on Inuit art. Our direct-mail campaign messaging highlighted these reader perceptions.
However, we also know that Inuit art is much narrower in popular imagination than it is in reality. To pique potential reader interest, we knew we had to combat this idea so made sure to highlight the diversity of work covered in the magazine. Our tagline “Soapstone is just the start” provided an enticing and welcoming introduction to the broad scope of our content.
4. We targeted lists precisely.
Undoubtedly, the most important element of our campaign’s success was specifically targeting lists that best matched qualities we knew about our existing readers or had an affinity with our mandate. These came from other magazines, but also partnerships with museums and private art galleries with direct relationships with Indigenous art collectors. We also made an effort to target international audiences, which was a successful risk: our international lists had an average return rate of 6%, though several ranged between 23–26%.
5. We didn’t discount our history.
Although we undertake regular solicitation regarding renewals, our biggest jump came from historically lapsed subscribers. By reaching back as far as 2008, we were able to engage a number of past subscribers. This taught us not to assume why a subscriber might have left and not to discount their original interest. If you have a niche, chances are your readers are still interested even without an active subscription. Reaching out again is also an opportunity to learn what can be improved to increase retention rates and create deeper reader engagement.
6. We tracked results and learned everything we could.
To evaluate the success of the campaign, we tracked the results precisely in order to learn as much as possible about our new (or renewed) subscribers, and what elements of the campaign were especially successful. Two-year subscriptions outperformed one-year subscriptions significantly, which was our hope. That offer has come to be a benchmark for our other marketing efforts. Finally, working with an experienced team helped to build capacity and knowledge amongst our own staff. We have developed a more robust sense of our audience and their high level of enthusiasm, which we have in turn parlayed into strategic engagement, such as gift offers and donation solicitations, all tweaked to highlight and support the messaging we crafted with our direct marketing materials resulting in a significant jump in support that we look forward to stewarding for years to come.
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