Lee Marc Stein

Article Summary:

What's the difference between skim and penetration strategies when planning for a direct response print media mix?

Print Media Planning for Direct Marketing: Skim vs. Penetration

Someone makes the decision to include print in the direct response media mix. Presumably that decision is based on the strengths of print (relatively low cost per thousand, tangibility, quality of response) as well as drawbacks of other media for the particular product or service. If you have a very inexpensive product, for example, or there are no clearly-defined lists available, you probably would rule out solo direct mail. If your product requires a lengthy explanation or is not demonstrable, you probably would not test broadcast media.

Once print is decided upon, the next series of considerations involve the specific publications to be tested. These considerations require a projection (on virtually a publication by publication basis) of the percentage of ideal prospects in the total readership. Of course you must factor in the history of responsiveness of the publication for similar types of offers.

Now you have a list of publications worth testing. The next decision is what the unit of space should be. Generally, this should not be solely a creative decision. It should be based on the projection of prospects to audience& and on the selling proposition. To cover the latter first, if you're selling from the page you generally need a larger unit of space than if you're generating leads. But that rule takes a back step to the skim vs. penetration strategy decision.

Example 1
Suppose you're in the business of marketing military arms replicas and collectibles. You sell through a catalog. Your media plan would probably include military magazines, retired veterans publications (American Legion and VFW), oddballs like Soldier of Fortune (this is not a political judgment), and some general editorial publications that pull well for virtually any collectible or catalog.

In that last category would be Smithsonian. With a circulation in the 2 million range, there are plenty of subscribers who may be interested in this catalog. However, because the number represents a very small percentage of circulation, you want to take a SKIM strategy.

Run a 2" ad (for practical purposes, the smallest unit of space), practice audience targeting, and keep your cost per response low.

With the military and veterans magazines, a much higher percentage of the circulation will have an interest. Here you should employ a PENETRATION strategy, and the space unit should be much larger. Even a full page may be worth testing, especially if there are other collectibles advertisers running regularly. Why run in Smithsonian at all? To attain reach the other magazines don't have, particularly to get at those who would use the catalog to buy gifts.

Example 2
You're marketing a back brace to consumers. It helps prevent lower back pain, and if you're already suffering it provides relief. You want to sell it for $29.95.

Among your best and most easily identified prospects will be active mature adults, gardeners and health conscious individuals. So your test media plan might include publications like Modern Maturity, Flower & Garden, Fine Gardening, and American Health. Duck soup so far. But again with these specialty publications you may be missing a lot of prospects who don't subscribe. So broader-based media need to be tested as well - Sunday supplements and perhaps TV Guide.

Because you're selling off the page you can't really get away with 2" ads... but in the broad-based media, a skim strategy might call for the equivalent of a 1/6 page to 1/3 page magazine unit. Let's back up for a moment: since something like a third of adult Americans suffer from low back pain, you don't have to skim as much with a back brace as you do with a catalog of military collectibles. And in the specialty publications considered for the back brace, you're not as sure about affinity as you were in Example 1, so your penetration strategy should be tempered in your first round of testing.

Lee Marc Stein is a direct marketing consultant and copywriter with 40+ years experience in strategy and creative development. Lee creates lead generation programs, writes direct response advertising that generates orders and traffic, and advises clients on how to increased lifetime value of a customer. He has extensive experience in insurance and financial services, publishing, software and nonprofit marketing. Lee taught at NYU and Hofstra, and has spoken at 100+ industry conferences. His web site www.leemarcstein.com offers a free eletter and additional articles.

Read all advice by Lee Marc Stein; Find more Direct Marketing experts

More advice on Direct Marketing
» Direct Marketing Success
» Generating Qualified Leads
» all Direct Marketing articles