We discover how innovative thinking and a focus on e-commerce have helped Samaritans to create the Feel Good Book Club
“One of my favorite stories was the December box: [the subscribers] all got the boxes before Christmas, but they wanted to wait and open them together, virtually, on Christmas day, which I thought was just lovely,” says Neil Gilbert, Head of Supporter Insight and Innovation at Samaritans. “It just shows that we’re...really tapping into something.”
At a time when many people are more isolated and lonely, Samaritans have tapped into our need for human connection and created a community based on books, togetherness, and, as it says on the tin, feeling good.
The Feel Good Book Club uses a subscription model. Subscribers can sign up for one-off, three, six, or 12-month subscriptions, priced between £16.49–£18.99 per month, to have a box delivered regularly to their chosen address. In its first year, the club gained over 1,000 subscribers and the majority opted for longer subscriptions.
Innovation Portfolio Manager Ella Geraghty, who runs the club, explains that members receive “a really carefully selected book, which then has some gifts or treats that...fit alongside a wellbeing theme each month”.
“We have a little roll fold leaflet in there that explains how everything fits together,” she continues. “We just want it to be a nice little treat for people that comes through their letter box each month, that just boosts their wellbeing.”
Samaritans are very invested in the process of innovation. They recognised that there was a gap in their income generation portfolio for some audiences and used a design sprint process to rapidly develop and test product prototypes that could fill the gap.
As part of the design sprint, the team dug deeper into their audiences. Geraghty describes how they developed ‘user personas’ to sketch out the target audience. For the Feel Good Book Club, the initial persona was “a woman...35 plus, who’s interested in her own wellbeing, and potentially the wellbeing of her family and the other people around her”.
During the sprint process Samaritans developed a number of prototypes. Gilbert says that they “explored some wild and wacky ideas” but ultimately settled on the Feel Good Book Club, even though it had been the second favourite idea internally.
A key part of the product development path at Samaritans is using rapid-testing techniques like “smoke testing” to determine which prototype is most popular with the target audience. In this project, they used Facebook and Instagram Ads to promote the prototypes and gain insights from the target audience. It was the testing process that bumped the Book Club into the top spot.
There are other brilliant charity book clubs out there, but Gilbert, Geraughty and the team didn’t feel that any of them had such a strong focus on human connection – a core brand value for Samaritans.
The Samaritans brand is powerful and well-trusted but from a commercial perspective it comes with some weighty expectations around support and mental health in a moment of crisis. Geraghty talks about the work of Samaritans as a “spectrum from the really light touch stuff, which is where the book club falls, right through to that moment of crisis”.
Being clear that the role of the Book Club is to help with wellbeing rather than crisis – and that it is a commercial, not a donor, experience – drove Samaritans to create the Feel Good Book Club brand identity.
“It was the first new identity that Samaritans had launched in that way,” explains Gilbert. “But it’s also one that just completely makes sense. And because of the power of the Samaritans brand, we felt we could be quite confident in using it in an understated way. People know that they’re supporting Samaritans through it, absolutely. But also know that it’s about the experience first and foremost.”
Geraghty is quick to point out that the Feel Good Book Club is not an alternative to regular giving. She says “managing a subscription product is quite different”. It is a commercial, e-commerce product for customers, not donors, where the profits are invested into the work of the charity.
With the high street in crisis, e-commerce is an area of opportunity for charities hoping to give their retail operation a boost. Gilbert adds: “Looking at the high street and bricks and mortar versus e-commerce, if you were to start fresh now... you would go down the e-commerce route.”