The marketing team at The Wall Street Journal Online (formerly known as the "Interactive Edition") wanted to find a way to take advantage of last year's holiday buying season. "The thought was, what a great gift giving item!" explains Executive Director Sales & Marketing Randy Kilgore, "But part of a gift is presentation. Wrapping a note that says I bought you a subscription seems difficult."
The solution was to create physical packaging for a virtual product. Kilgore says, "We came up with a box that Amazon could deliver. The offer was $49 for one year plus one month free. Amazon had it in three different gift sections."Buyers also paid for shipping.
Kilgore also negotiated a deal with Staples to test selling two boxes, the full-year box for $49 and a smaller-sized 60-day trial box for $4.95. "The deal was a challenge. A lot of stores don't want to deal with us directly, they'd rather go through 3rd parties. So we had to find chains that were willing to make exceptions to work with us. It takes three-six months to work out a deal like this."
Physical packaging and display development was done in-house. Kilgore says, "We evolved displays over time. Made them look better, easier to stack. We experimented with the contents of the larger full-year box. The first one was fairly empty. We held focus groups to ask if people would buy it in a store. They said it seemed to be too light, they expected to have something that weighed more. So we added a mousepad which helped them remember to visit the site, and a printed site map which made it easier to get your bearings."
WSJ Online's VP, Editor & Publisher Neil Budde has said that 8,000 copies of the box were sold that first holiday season. Since then Kilgore says "tens of thousands" more have been sold. 65% of the units sold in Staples store have been the trial size. "It's successful. The costs are relatively low. Renewal rates for one-year folks are pretty consistent with our regular 80% renewal rate."
Sales partners are also pleased by results. Amazon has continued promoting the package as a gift item in email campaigns for Father's Day and suggested presents for new graduates. Staples, which started by just testing the idea in a few stores, has given the display a permanent spot in all 800 of its stores across America. In addition, Barnes & Noble has just begun selling the boxes in 550 brick & mortar stores (although not on its site.) Kilgore notes, "We get an additional branding effect by having nice looking boxes in stores."
NOTES: Since launching four years ago, the Wall Street Journal Online has confounded industry fears of print subscription cannibalization. Only 31% of Online subscribers also read the print issue. Most new online subscribers never subscribed to the print edition. Budde says, "People choose what's useful to them. We're not seeing a lot of people choosing to move from one to the other."
In addition to the box package, Kilgore uses an impressive array of tactics to sell subscriptions, including direct response TV ads, print ads, direct mail, broadcast email, online sponsorships, buttons and banners.
This September he began testing a new soft offer for the product -- 30 days free. In the past respondents had to enter a credit card number in order to get a free trial. Now they don't. Kilgore promises to report on results in an upcoming issue of MarketingSherpa!
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