SUBS SPECIAL 

Prospecting & conversion to paid subscription

Welcome to our first subs special, an extended feature taking an in-depth look at the world of subscriptions. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers of subscriptions services to publishers and from senior subs experts at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Prospecting & conversion to paid subscription

This subs special consists of four separate sections:

Prospecting & conversion to paid subscription

Onboarding & delivering subscriber satisfaction

Renewing & maximising lifetime value

Suppliers Spotlight

 

“The ultimate objective for publishers today is to use the combination of high quality content, intelligent technology applications and first party data to provide readers with highly personalised access to the right content, at the right time and at the right price point to ensure that the reader converts and remains a loyal subscriber for many years to come,” says Ana Lobb, VP, business development, EMEA at MPP Global.

CURRENT THINKING

The Covid opportunity

“2020 has delivered a whole new audience to publishers – a market of potential readers / consumers who may never have previously considered a subscription – in any format,” says Jamie Wren, commercial & marketing director at InterMedia, describing the considerable subs opportunity that the pandemic has presented publishers with.

dsb.net managing director Angus Chenevix Trench agrees: “Unlike many other industries, Covid-19 has had a positive impact on subscriptions. People stuck at home doing more gardening; cooking; knitting; decorating … are taking out subscriptions for the first time.”

And the pandemic has struck at a time when “consumers are becoming increasingly more reliant and comfortable with direct sales,” says Mark Judd, managing director at CDS Global.

Feeding the funnel

To a certain extent, successful prospecting is a numbers game and publishers won’t enjoy sustained success unless they can unearth new prospects in sufficient volumes on an ongoing basis.

For Immediate Media’s Jess Burney, managing director, direct marketing and business development, this means “using social media and brand websites to capture prospect data through content marketing.”

Seema Kumari, Digital Marketing & CRM Director, Hearst UK

The thinking at fellow B2C publisher Hearst UK is similar: “Prospecting is key to feeding the funnel. If you only focus on conversion to paid,” warns Seema Kumari, digital marketing & CRM director, “this will soon dry up as fewer customers feed the pipeline. The key is in the detail – look beyond the channel and into customer segments. Then build a plan to find more of those customers.”

To give yourself the best chance of success, she continues, “it’s worth carving out a role dedicated to prospecting with specific KPIs; once the leads are acquired, it’s down to the subscription team to convert.”

Key to prospecting, obviously, is identifying then mining the best sources of new names. “Where are your subscribers coming from?” asks Alistair Wood, ESco’s operations & development director, “If you are seeing that 30% of your orders are coming through Facebook and you’re not advertising on that platform, invest in advertising and continue to monitor response to make sure your money is well spent.”

According to Alan Leech, CRM Australia’s founder & chief architect, “Facebook advertising has proven to be very effective for consumer magazines, even those with print editions. Facebook users span such broad demographics, so there is a way to make it work for any target market, even those in very niche publishing.”

Testing, testing

“An incremental test and learn approach can pay dividends given time and effort by first driving one-time visitors and then working hard to convert those occasional readers into registered users and then habitual consumers of content, creating the opportunity to convert them into loyal subscribers over time,” says Zephr CEO James Henderson.

“Understanding how best to convert a prospect is based upon an endless process of testing,” agrees InterMedia’s Jamie Wren; “Testing the price point, the sales message, the proposition that is presented to the customer – and through what channel.”

“When I think about our product portfolio, we have a mixture of approaches,” writes Infopro Digital’s Ben Wood, managing director of its Risk.net division; “we’ve run a requested free trial model (RFT) for many years. We’ve spent many hours discussing – and testing – whether it should be time-based, article-based, pre-vetted, restricted product access etc. There are so many variations and factors that impact it that only you can determine the best approach for your business by testing different ideas.”

Increasing engagement through personalised customer journeys

Dan Heffernan, Vice President & Chief Product Manager, AdvantageCS

“Start with a registration wall,” suggests Dan Heffernan, vice president & chief product manager at AdvantageCS; “Then move to a free trial with premium content, then renew that to a low monthly cost with auto renew. Then step-up the pricing over a long period – even over several years!” – there emphasising a key recurring theme of subscription acquisition – you’re playing the long game.

Personalisation – another recurring theme – enables publishers to maximise conversion, says MPP Global’s Ana Lobb: “Dynamic strategies can target the broadest range of demographics and increase overall conversions.”

ESco’s Alistair Wood encourages publishers to “engage with their readers. Generate an online community that they want to be part of. Build and grow online brands using social media; delivering compelling content then funnelling your traffic towards further engagement (a newsletter for example) or straight towards a subscription.”

Zephr’s James Henderson adds: “Typical audience engagement efforts include social media content promotion, smart orchestrated onward journeys through content recommendation engines and dedicated newsletters.”

In the B2B world, the engagement mechanics are likely to include “evidence of thought leadership through taster white papers,” says Patrick Lidstone, managing director at The Engine Shed.

Edwin Bailey, Director of Marketing & Product Strategy, Publish Interactive

That is because, says Edwin Bailey, Publish Interactive’s director of marketing & product strategy, “in the world of higher value B2B content and data products, the publisher needs to demonstrate the value of the content by highlighting proprietary data, expert comment, or opinionated forecast. The publisher content could well be used to make business and investment decisions so needs to have integrity. To draw attention to the brand, the publisher needs to highlight its deep expertise in the sector. Whitepapers and thought leadership on niche industry / market sector topics are useful in generating awareness. Offering free market size data and forecasts is even better as firstly, it generates a lot of awareness from search traffic, secondly, data is referenced by third parties, for example in conference presentations, and thirdly, executives may use the data for internal purposes thereby implicitly starting a ‘dependency’ on the publisher’s content.”

Emphasis on first party data

“The introduction of registration walls and the collection of first party data is a key theme,” says Ana Lobb: “The data driven insight this allows is increasing understanding of customers, conversion points and ways to develop customer revenue.”

CDS Global’s Mark Judd agrees: “Data acquisition from sources such as email newsletters and online visitors is also being prioritised, streamlined and improved to support subscription acquisition strategies.”

“Sign-up is a great opportunity to learn more about your subscriber on a non-intrusive basis,” adds The Engine Shed’s Patrick Lidstone; “you have an established relationship with the subscriber, and they have demonstrated an interest in your sector. Publishers can collect data via simple questionnaires. The information received is also more likely to be accurate than that gathered anonymously or pseudo-anonymously.”

James Henderson says: “A strong registration approach allows publishers to move users from unknown to known – ie anonymous to registered – and to then use this data to ensure they’re targeting the right offers and the right products at the right users.”

Jorma Ainassaari, CEO, Jaicom

Data collection is an incremental process, and it’s increasingly common to start small, collecting an email address perhaps, and then to subsequently build a fuller profile over time.

Jaicom CEO Jorma Ainassaari suggests one such data accumulation journey: “Step 1: One-click article (or first five articles) from a banner by giving / storing only mobile phone number (or even only Apple-ID etc) • Step 2: Send an SMS offer to mobile number and offer free partial content, like daily e-paper for one week, free only by registration. Get additional contact information, at least email address. • Step 3: Send an offer to customer’s email address and offer a short period of e-paper or printed paper delivered home with discounted price. Customer needs to pay and give some additional information. Home delivery needs delivery address. • Step 4: Offer additional components to package (digital version + printed version, extra give-aways) • Step 5: Send an offer for renewal subscription using easy recurring payments – Apple Pay, PayPal, Direct Debit • Step 6 onwards: Keep the customer informed with add-ons and reminded of the benefits of being a permanent subscriber.”

It should be noted that progress is not uniform across all publishing sectors. “One challenge facing B2C publishers”, says dsb.net’s Angus Chenevix Trench, “is that “UK magazine readers have not embraced digital with any vigour, so the behavioural tracking that enables us to monitor engagement is still not there for most consumer magazines.”

Encouraging trial

“Trialling and sampling are an ideal way to introduce brands in an accessible way to an unfamiliar audience, or to re-engage former readers who are not currently actively engaged with a brand,” says Kevin Hickman, emap’s head of marketing.

The offer has to be attractive: “Offering free gifts as an enticement to sign-up is still a valid strategy,” adds Patrick Lidstone.

Especially in the B2C markets, “low intro and cheap acquisition / free issue deals are prevalent across the publishing sector at present. These are well suited to social media marketing platforms and tempt cold or cool subscribers to the brand or product,” says Stuart Lacey, managing director at Air Business Subscriptions; “Examples of this are 3 months for free with a gift, 10 weeks for the price of one or maybe even freezing a popular low intro offer rate eg. £4.95 per month for the first 6 months and then increasing to the normal subscription offering once brand investment has deepened.”

Growth of account management & enterprise subscriptions

“For high value subscriptions, assign a dedicated account manager to the subscriber,” advises Patrick Lidstone.

Of course, there are high value subs and then there are really high value subs.

“Where the price point is £2-3k,” says Infopro’s Ben Wood, “it is a much more considered buying decision as it takes prospects much longer to make a decision. In these instances, we’re spending lots of time with the prospect, working out what their objectives are, how they’d use the content and then matching pieces of content that subscribers in similar roles to them value. We’re then walking them through the buying process, doing lots of objection handling through an experienced enterprise sales team, and ensuring we make it as easy as possible for them to buy.”

And for the really high value ones, Ben has this to say: “On other brands where it’s more of a team or institutional sale, we’re offering trials at scale. We often give prospects one or two months as a group to use the content so that we can build it into their workflow, get them hooked, and then work with them to demonstrate the value of a team licence. You simply aren’t going to ‘get lucky’ on contracts over £20k – it is a detailed buying journey, involving users, gatekeepers and often procurement, and there are bumps in the road along the way. There are no shortcuts here, so it is all about pipeline management, and making sure you have enough prospects in the funnel given it may take three to four months to convert.”

“Staying on the team model for a moment,” Ben continues, “one thing we’ve tried to do here is to flip the funnel on its head. Rather than expecting large numbers of £20-£30k new business contracts to come through the door, we know that our current subscribers are our biggest advocates, so our best route to enterprise is to use them to hook their colleagues. We have a mantra of turning single subscribers into 2’s, 2’s into 3’s, 3’s into teams. On both a value and volume basis, we know that our renewal rate for enterprise is significantly better than for individual subscribers, so this is a key part of our long-term prospecting strategy.”

Creating multi-faceted brands

It is now widely accepted, if not uniformly practiced, that the delivery of a single item, say a monthly print magazine, is no longer sufficient.

Publishers need to, says Alistair Wood, “create a multi-faceted offering. Subscribers enjoy being part of a group of like-minded people. Their subscription should carry additional benefits and access to premium content, benefits, online events or groups.”

Giving choice and removing friction

According to Mike Halstead, managing director at HH&S, “customers should be able to choose how they receive their publication, whether that be digital, picked up in store or delivered direct to their home.”

“Now more than ever”, adds Jamie Wren, “the frictionless process of an online sign-up is key; this journey is at the heart of the prospecting, the conversion, the onboarding and the retention.”

It’s all about “simplicity” agrees Jaicom’s Jorma Ainassaari: “it must be extremely easy for a potential subscriber to get the first sample for free from any preferred channel, using a minimum number of clicks.”

Poor tech is no longer an excuse

Successful subs marketing depends on having the right tools and processes in place. These include, says Jorma Ainassaari, “customer centric database, subscription management including front-end interfaces and back-end processes, API for integrating CMS, web, mobile, payment operators, single-sign-on for registration and authentication, marketing automation and a business analysis solution.”

If that all sounds a bit daunting, the good news is that fit-for-purpose tech is so available that “poor-tech” should no longer be an acceptable excuse for poor performance.

“Paywalls and acquisition techniques are becoming more advanced providing publishers with the ability to quickly and easily test, learn and fail fast,” says Ana Lobb.

WHAT OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE LOOKS LIKE

“I think we spend too much time searching for ‘the silver bullet’ when it comes to conversion; the reality is, you need to be experimenting with small optimisations over time to maximise performance,” says Michael Mendoza, CEO at Lineup Systems.

If you can tick all the following boxes, you are heading in the right direction:

Continuously replenished prospect database

Without a policy of feeding new prospects into your sales funnel, acquisitions will grind to a halt. For Immediate’s Jess Burney, “building a significant list of engaged prospects” is central to their strategy, with, crucially, “high levels of sign up for marketing, the target being 80%”.

Continuous incremental improvement

“Optimum performance is always doing better than your previous benchmark. There’s always room to improve and so many ways to optimise performance,” says Hearst’s Seema Kumari.

There are a number of key components to this:

  • Test & learn culture: Without a test and learn culture, progress will be haphazard and unplanned. James Henderson says: “A test, learn and iterate approach is key to identifying and driving towards the optimum.” Ben Wood adds: “The only way to determine what optimum performance looks like for your business, is to test a variety of approaches. What works for one publisher might not work at all for others.”
  • Robust measurement: A programme of ongoing incremental improvement is underpinned by robust and reliable measurement systems informed by publisher-set key performance indicators covering all the main variables.
  • Mark Judd: “Publishers need to continually monitor results comparing previous, to current and projected results and to then adjust activities accordingly. The biggest challenge is with the volume of data available to marketing teams today. Having to wade through so much to find the relevant information to act upon can cause delays or at worst ill-informed decisions. Machine-learning is something that would greatly assist here, and we have seen ML work incredibly well.”

  • Planned programme: The acquisition programme should be continuous and planned, not occasional or the result of a panic-induced reaction to a drop in subs numbers.
  • “Each publication needs a comprehensive acquisition strategy,” says HH&S’s Mike Halstead; “campaigns should appear regularly and take into account the readership of the title both creatively and in terms of the offers. Key dates and events such as Mother’s Day, Black Friday, January and summer sales should be used throughout the year, maximising the opportunity for recruitment.”

  • Constant ongoing review: Another key aspect to achieving a culture of continuous improvement is to keep everything under constant review. When, for instance, was the last time you reviewed your creative?
  • Mike Halstead says that the “creative treatment should be reviewed regularly (the frequency depending on whether it’s a daily, weekly or monthly title) to ensure a balance of a campaign having reach without becoming ‘wallpaper’.”

  • Marketing self-sufficiency: marketing teams need the tools to be able to create and modify offers and create landing pages, amongst other things. For Ana Lobb, “the ability for non-technical teams to test, learn and optimise” without the need for service suppliers or tech teams to get involved is central to creating a fast and agile marketing culture.

Increasing use of personalisation & marketing automation

Marketing automation covers everything from “automatically sending a subscriber a receipt,” says CRM Australia’s Alan Leech, to “using customer behaviour data”, says Jorma Ainassaari, to trigger highly personalised communications depending on their activity on your site.

A particular area of focus is on the automated response to cancellations and abandoned baskets.

For Ana Lobb, “an optimal service offering will be able to effectively segment readers using a combination of anonymous and first party data to profile the readers most likely to subscribe.”

Emphasis on simplicity

Central to boosting conversion rates is creating a simple, easy to understand offer and a frictionless user journey. For Alan Leech, “it starts with easy signup forms, then creating a smart portal that takes away a subscriber's need to be calling up or emailing your subscriptions department.” He continues: “Your goal should be for the subscription to be completed in as few keystrokes as possible. Complicated forms that ask subscribers to make an account before completing their subscription is painful and creates a huge roadblock.”

It’s important to avoid distractions agrees ESco’s Alistair Wood: “A clear and easy user journey, no distractions or complications culminating in a streamlined checkout with all payment options available” is a minimum requirement.

When mapping the user journey, it also helps to have a clear idea of the optimal journey – the journey which, if followed, represents the lowest possible CPA (cost per acquisition) and to then work towards maximising the number of new subscribers who subscribe via that route.

For Publish Interactive’s Edwin Bailey, that equates to a “new customer buying a subscription, with no trial, off the page from a promotion such as a press release or email or a Google search. No salesperson is required and billing is via a credit card.”

Subs growth with improved lifetime value across the file

“The key metric over time will be the lifetime value extracted from the consumer,” says Jamie Wren.

There are two types of subs growth: growth that enhances LTV and growth that reduces LTV. Anyone can grow subs in the short term using overly generous offers but what publishers should be aiming for, says AdvantageCS’s Dan Heffernan is “low churn and real growth”. Furthermore, “it can be slow and steady”.

Air Business Subscriptions’ Stuart Lacey agrees that the ideal is a “consistent increase in subscriptions with minimal peaks / troughs and low churn of promoted acquisition offers. Distilling it all down, increased subs quantity, VPI (value per issue) and LTV (lifetime value) with a lower CPA (cost per acquisition).”

An important part of this is getting the highest possible number of new subscribers using continuous payment methods. Auto-renewal is a key aim.

According to Angus Chenevix Trench, B2C publishers should be aiming to get: “All personal subscriptions on continuous payment accompanied by a comprehensive set of online self-service tools that gives customers full control – including cancel; restart; redirect; pause – supported by a range of product and services up-selling opportunities.”

COMMON REASONS FOR UNDERPERFORMANCE

“Make sure you are highlighting the value in a subscription. Customers should want to give you their money; in fact, they shouldn’t even baulk at a price increase because they should feel confident with the value your title brings,” says Alistair Wood.

What then are common reasons for falling short in the prospecting arena?

Confused strategy

Whilst tech and processes are important to optimising outcomes, the first step is coming up with the right strategy.

Lineup Systems’ Michael Mendoza: “Having the best tools on the market is not enough. I’ve seen some of the best technology out there underperform when the company’s overall strategy is lacking.”

Part of this is having a clear-sighted view of the strengths and weaknesses of your offer allied to a clear understanding of your customers’ needs. According to Edwin Bailey, one of “the most common reasons for underperformance is the lack of perceived value the subscriber gets from the content.”

Having a platform-agnostic offering has proved particularly important this year, due to the pandemic. For B2B publisher emap, “a seamless transition to a digital proposition is how engagement and prospecting has been maintained through this period,” says Kevin Hickman.

Lack of consumer insight

Mark Judd, Managing Director, CDS Global

According to Mark Judd: “Consumer habits are changing at a quicker rate now than we have seen in recent times and publishers need to be clear how this is impacting their business and individual brands.” Standing still is not an option, he continues: “Adjustments will need to be made, quickly and continuously as doing nothing will only amplify underperformance. If something is working now, that does not mean that it is (a) fully optimised and (b) will continue to perform at this rate in future. Test, deploy, optimise, adjust, and then repeat!”

Part of the reason for this, says Jess Burney, is a “poor understanding on the part of some publishers of the tech to track and understand consumer behaviours.”

Seema Kumari says the ability to “understand and appreciate the full customer journey” is essential, otherwise you run the risk of misreading the signs. “Your conversion rate might have dropped,” she continues, “because of a huge influx in traffic which will subsequently impact media and costs. Or your conversion has peaked because you’re targeting the warmest prospects and searches but this leaves little room for growth.”

Only by having a complete understanding of the customer and the journeys they are taking, can you make informed decisions.

Poorly constructed offers

The construction and communication of the offer will have a big bearing on response and there are a number of common mistakes:

  • Too much choice: “Too many offers just confuses your potential customer. Give a maximum of three price points, with clear differences and highlight the best value for the customer,” advises Alistair Wood. Alan Leech agrees: “Anything too complicated, and offering too many options, can stand in the way.”
  • Not enough choice: consumers now expect to be able to specify which parts of your offering they want, and how they want to receive it. Jorma Ainassaari: “Subscription systems must have the ability to handle new digital product types as separate products or as bundled packages – packages that can include a mix of products like printed and digital papers and also other products, like cinema tickets or other products that the media company might like to add to the subscription.”
  • Basic hygiene factors: Alistair Wood: “Be careful not to set up offers that don't match the linked landing page.”; Ana Lobb: “Ineffective payment options can typically hinder conversion rates.”; Edwin Bailey: “The prospect customer does not have the budget to subscribe and therefore promoting to them is a waste of time,”… because, ultimately, if your targeting fails, everything fails.

Unrealistic expectations

Experienced subscription marketers, through in-depth knowledge of customer behaviour and working within a ‘test, learn and iterate’ culture know not to get too excited by a large spike in new subscriptions. Others are not always so wise.

According to Stuart Lacey, one of the most common misconceptions is that a, “healthy spiked uplift in active subscribers due to free or low intro marketing strategies equals guaranteed ongoing subscriptions for the full price payment at anniversary / renewal.”

“Such campaigns,” he cautions, “require close monitoring of churn and retention – uptake of the original offer is not indicative of a guaranteed subscriber after that offer finishes.”

Lack of engaging content

For Jess Burney, the “lack of compelling content to engage readers” is a common cause of prospecting underperformance.

This often stems, believes Ana Lobb, from “a lack of a clear understanding of how publishers will use their content to serve the various engagement and conversion stages of the customer lifecycle. In other words, which content do you use to build the brand and drive new customers to your digital service, and which of your most valuable or exclusive content do you place behind a paywall to drive conversion in to paying subscribers.”

A common gripe heard by Mike Halstead is the “lack of editorial support.” He believes that “synergy between editorial and circulation / marketing is key. Everyone needs to be on board with one holistic view of the brand, the needs of the customer and the subscriber acquisition strategy.”

Not enough automation

The ability to segment site traffic in real time and serve up personalised messages will drive good conversion rates, at low CPAs.

The converse is obviously true. “The lack of the right tools”, says Ana Lobb, “to effectively use first party data to personalise, segment, incentivise, convert and retain digital audiences leads to underperformance.”

Poor decision making

According to Seema Kumari, there are two areas where confused thinking and a lack of dedicated resource lead to underperformance in prospecting:

  • Attribution: “So many channels are key in assisting the final purchase yet are written off due to a high last click CPA. We need to be looking at blended attribution models to make informed decisions about our marketing.”
  • Mixing prospecting with conversion: “If you widen your reach, you need different comms and targeting. You won’t be able to acquire cooler leads at the same CPA as your subscribers, so try and have a different budget allocation for leads only.”

WHAT PUBLISHERS CAN DO TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE

“Create the habit! Touch base with the customer regularly. Send emails with compelling content pushing them to the website. I experienced this with a special interest publication. They teased me for nearly a year before I had to pay anything. By then, I had built a habit and really wanted to read their editorial content and it had enough value to me to pay for it,” says Dan Heffernan.

Becoming a habit is indeed the holy grail of subs marketing. All of the following will help publishers on that journey:

Invest in your product

When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter how good your marketing is if your product is not worth paying for.

“The value of the offering is,” says Stuart Lacey, “your premier asset in gaining the trust and commitment of a potential customer before converting them into a paying subscriber.”

An investment in “content at the core of the value proposition will help to maintain your position relative to competitors and new entrants,” adds James Henderson.

Get company-wide buy-in

Mike Halstead, Managing Director, HH&S

“Get buy-in and commitment from the whole business. Everyone needs to be working towards the same goal. This is often a struggle with editorial but involving them from the start, giving them regular updates on performance and asking for their views on marketing campaigns can be good ways to make them feel involved,” says Mike Halstead.

Part of getting buy-in from other departments is sharing key information regarding targets, strategies, KPIs and LTV, continues Mike, who urges publishers to “communicate the lifetime value of a potential subscriber to the wider business”.

Be data-led

In-depth analysis of data and the use of data to determine the nature and timing of marketing activities lies at the heart of successful prospecting – indeed at the heart of all subs marketing. It affects almost all aspects:

  • Identifying & profiling prospects: “New technologies are available which can help with the identification of customers and the optimal conversion channel. Using the data from online journeys allows publishers to target more specific offers to most relevant customer segments, leading to a higher conversion rate,” says Mark Judd.
  • Clearly, choosing a tech platform that can enable this is critical. Your “architecture and API must support best-of-breed solutions”, suggests Jorma Ainassaari.

    “The goal should be to know about each reader from the first point of contact. The more you know, the more you can tailor future offers and increase the likelihood of conversion,” says Michael Mendoza.

  • Creating personalised journeys: “The right offer, to the right customer, shown at the right time and in the right way significantly improves the conversion rate,” says Mark Judd; “It is not just about presenting a customer or potential customer with an offer but testing whether offering a newsletter sign-up first would increase conversion rates down the line.”
  • The journey might include content recommendations, newsletter sign-up, access to free content and discounted offers. In B2B markets, says Edwin Bailey, it might be “trials with time limited access to paid-for content and encouraging prospects to share with colleagues to build dependency.”

    The journey can be infinitely varied and depends on the publisher’s proposition. “For example,” says Ben Wood, “we’ve shied away from article-based freemium models – where you can register and use 3, 5, 10 articles free per month before hitting a paywall – primarily because we are a value rather than volume player. All of our content is long-form, in-depth and analytical. The key for us is to demonstrate the value of what we’ve got, and then once a subscriber is on board, they don’t have to read daily; in fact, they often tell us that if they see only 2-3 articles per month that save (or make) them money, then they consider the subscription price well worth the investment.”

    The common thread running through all of the above is the use of data to identify prospects and progress them through the sales funnel. If your operation does not have data at its core, then you’ll have fewer prospects, know less about them and have little choice but to adopt one-size-fits-all comms, which are destined to underperform.

  • Seeing the whole picture: “Track the total lifetime value of a reader – it includes every ad they have clicked, their digital subscription fees, their social media interactions, etc. This not only increases the efficacy of your subscription funnel, but it trickles down to your advertising revenue as well. And ultimately, that’s what we’re all here for: growing publisher revenue across every channel and business model,” says Michael Mendoza.

Adopt a test, learn & iterate culture

Whilst testing does not depend on sophisticated data capabilities, it’s made much more effective by them.

James Henderson says: “We strongly believe this is about testing and iterating on new offers, journeys and acquisition strategies to ensure the best market approach. Using the data and information collected on your users – be that in the DMP, CDP, CMS, ESP, CJO – enables a very deep customer understanding, where you can drive value and the right product or offer shown to a segment of users which will give you the best opportunity to drive acquisition and new subscribers.”

“Make testing and learning a continuous part of this process,” says Michael Mendoza and then don’t be “afraid to make changes based on results”.

As to what should be tested, the answer is simple: everything. A very obvious one is, says Michael, identifying what type of content converts best. Once you’re found that out, then place your conversion points on those pages.

Use content to attract prospects & drive conversions

Jess Burney’s advice to fellow publishers is simple: “Invest in data and analytics capabilities and creative content marketing.”

A good example is BBC History Magazine, one of Jess’s titles. A registration barrier on its website collects email addresses and marketing permission, which leads to regular content led emails pointing out interesting new content on the site, interspersed with eye-catching but unobtrusive subs offers.

Ana Lobb agrees and urges publishers to “ensure they have a very well thought out content strategy.”

To that end, Michael Mendoza cautions publishers: “Don't put all your content behind a paywall, use free high-quality content to attract and convert! This will help create a large top of conversion funnel.”

Keep it fresh; be current

All variables, from the offer to the creative should be constantly tested and reviewed.

Due to time and resource pressures, though, it’s not uncommon for publishers to stick with the same messaging for far too long.

Seema Kumari recommends publishers do a root and branch reappraisal: “Have a reset on all areas of marketing – creative / pricing / testing / copy and place the customer at the heart of the journey.” In fact, fresh ideas, she continues, should be constantly under consideration: “Ensure new ideas and innovation sit at the heart of your marketing KPIs. Fresh ideas and new ways of working should be in the marketing team’s DNA with time allocated to focus on the new (not just the old).”

It’s important, adds Alistair Wood, to be in the moment: “Ensure your marketing is scheduled and targeted for the calendar and the present climate; whether it be Christmas, Black Friday, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or a global pandemic… be current!”

Alistair also finds putting a face to a brand makes it easier for people to engage with it: “Wanderlust is a title that’s mastered this beautifully; Lyn Hughes, the title’s founder, is also the recognised face of Wanderlust on social media and events. Hers is a renowned face in the travel industry who readers have an affinity with.”

And finally, don’t forget:

  • When prospecting, don’t lose sight of how you want them to renew: “The biggest single action that will reduce retention costs, improve renewal rates and take the pressure off acquisition is automatic-renewal.” (Angus Chenevix Trench)
  • Don’t forget retail: “Newsstand remains a key driver for sampling of products and potential subscription conversions. As the retail landscape welcomes back its customer base, all publishers should ensure that any copy bought in any store contains a subscription offer that is too good to refuse.” (Jamie Wren)
  • Get your messaging right: “Attention to detail with messaging is key; the need to cut through a huge increase in competing messages, whatever the channel, has been particularly evident recently.” (Kevin Hickman)
  • Right offer + wrong audience = subs fail: “Ensure that your prospecting and acquisition work is reaching the right audience.” (Jamie Wren)

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.