9 Questions to Ask Before You Advertise in a Direct Response Magazine

The world of marketing used to be simpler for the small business owner.  In the Denver metro, there were the yellow pages, direct mail, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, a few local TV stations and a scattering of radio options.

Not anymore.

In today’s crowded playing field, many marketing experts agree that the best approach to getting your business noticed is a diversified marketing mix that reaches consumers across a variety of channels.  This helps ensure that you not only have an ongoing stream of new customers, but are effectively reminding past customers that your business is anxiously awaiting their return.

With that said, the direct response magazine can be one of the most cost-effective forms of traditional advertising available to a small business.  For example, a business owner can advertise in a direct response magazine for a tiny fraction of the cost of a stand-alone postcard on a per home basis.

But not all direct response magazines are created equal.  Like in anything, knowing the right questions to ask can make all the difference in making a good choice.  Read on for what I believe are some of the most important questions you can ask:

1.“How does your publication reach its readers?”

Depending on the magazine, readers may receive it from rack locations in the community, via direct mail, or even on the waiting room of a doctor’s office or similar type business.  Understanding how the publication reaches an audience is critical to evaluating the potential value of advertising in it.

– Direct mail magazines reach readers in their homes and businesses.  Consumers can be attracted to them because they typically contain valuable offers for nearby businesses.  Some include community news and information as well, which helps create reader engagement and shelf life.  Direct mail magazines may reach every home in a particular area, or may be demographically filtered so as to primarily reach owner-occupied homes with higher than average incomes, etc.

– Rack-distributed magazines only reach a reader when they are picked up either in passing, or to be read while waiting for a service to be performed such as at a medical office or auto center.  True reach is difficult to measure with accuracy.

2.“Specifically, who receives your magazine?”

Direct mail magazines may or may not target a particular audience based on factors such as home ownership, income and home value.  Whether they target or not, however, they should be able to provide precise delivery information and demographics of the recipients of their magazine.  This is important if an advertiser is trying to maximize exposure in a certain zip codes or to reach a certain demographic group, such as homeowners.  Rack-based magazines can usually only provide a total circulation number, or a general description of who they believe reads their publication.  Some may have conducted a readership study, but again, this should be evaluated very carefully relative to methodology.

3.“How much does it cost to advertise?”

It’s not easy to do an apples-to-apples comparison between one magazine and another.  Delivery areas, added benefits and the like can differ a great deal.  With that said, the best way make a baseline evaluation of cost is on a per-recipient basis.  In other words, if a half-page ad costs $880 and the magazine reaches 75,000 recipients via direct mail, the ad has a cost of 1.2 cents per home for each issue.  Once the cost per recipient is determined, you now have a basis for comparing cost between two publications.  You can then subjectively weigh other factors such as whether an advertorial is provided, whether or not the publication has a digital copy available online and so on.

4.“Which of my competitors are currently in your publication?”

It’s critical to know who amongst your competitors advertises in the publication, and what their value proposition and offers look like.  If there is a competitor or two, and you decide to advertise as well, make certain your ad has a well-defined value proposition and clearly shows why your business is different.  If you’re not different, you quickly become commoditized which leads to every small business owner’s nightmare:  the race to the bottom on price.

5.“What added benefit(s) do I receive if I agree to advertise for a full year?”

Publishers are eager to sign advertisers to multi-issue contracts.  Most, if not all, offer a discounted rate in exchange for that commitment.  Some may even offer added incentives in exchange for your commitment to their magazine over a defined period of time.  For example, the opportunity for an article or “advertorial” may be provided in the issue of your choice or categorical exclusivity or other benefits may be gained by asking this simple question.

6.“How does your magazine attract readers to my website?”

It’s important to consider whether or not the magazine has an online version available, and whether or not it is mobile-friendly.   If your website address is in your ad, will it be a “live link” that will automatically link to your site with a simple click of the mouse or touch on the tablet?  Are you able to link your ad and advertorial to your social media pages for additional promotion?  This kind of back linking (driving traffic to your site from another site) makes it easier for a reader to reach your website, and can have a positive effect on your browser search ranking as well.

7.“How does your publication create shelf life?”

Since subscription magazines are geared toward providing content, shelf life is rarely a problem.  Direct mail and rack distribution magazines, however, need to be asked this question.  Factors like the diversity of advertisers (home improvement, retail, restaurants, etc.), community-focused content, event calendars, recipes, feature articles and the like are all ways that non-subscription magazines can create shelf life.  These features create reader engagement, and position the publication as part of the pulse of the community.  The longer a magazine stays in the home, the more likely an advertiser is to reach a reader when they are open to hearing, and perhaps are even actively searching for, their offer.

8.“What other benefits are included in the cost of advertising?”

Some magazines will provide marketing consultation and ad design at no additional cost.   Additionally, if a magazine is providing graphic design services to you, they may be willing to make changes to your ad from issue-to-issue at no additional cost.  This can be incredibly helpful to a time-pressed small business owner that needs their marketing to be on autopilot as much as possible.

9.“How can I track results from my advertising?”

Most small businesses are looking for a direct response from their advertising.   You may want to ask if the publication will provide a method to help you assess results in a quantitative manner, such as a call tracking number.  Call tracking numbers can
be obtained through a third-party that will route incoming calls to your business while providing you with an exact accounting of the number of calls, length of each call and other valuable data.

Coupons or other direct response type offers can also be a good tool to assess the effectiveness of an ad.   Your webmaster or IT person can build a unique URL landing page or mirror site to track the number of website visits you receive because of the ad.

Having staff members ask each caller how they heard about you is almost never a reliable way to truly get a sense of ad effectiveness.  The caller may not remember, or in the hustle and bustle of the day, the employee who answers the phone may forget to ask or forget to record the answer.

Bear in the mind also that the caller may have seen your ad and then visited your website to learn more.  At that point, they may have already forgotten what actually led them to your site, which will skew your reported results.  Combining a call tracking number with a mirror site as suggested above can help capture these results for analysis.

Bottom line:  You should have an automated, quantitative method to track results.  Fortunately, technology today makes that possible.