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Winning Online Circulation Promotions

Subscriptions sold and paid for online have a lower acquisition cost than those sold via direct mail. Realising that is the easy bit; adjusting your marketing to capitalise on this fact takes a little more thought. Here, Anne Kottler reveals how US publishers are driving the subscription process online.

By Anne Kottler

Online and e-promotions are the most cost effective way to test new creative to sell and renew magazine subscriptions. Results are quick, responses are fast, and online tests are far less expensive to execute than print promotions. In addition, paperless transactions are another way in which you and your customers can do your part to “Go Green” and help the environment.

Your website is the natural place to solicit online subscriptions. People who order a subscription online are more likely to respond to e-promotions than those who typically respond to print promotions. Plus, it costs you virtually nothing to sell a subscription online, other than the initial cost to create effective communications, such as eye-catching banner and button ads. Your website is also a great place to test out a partnership offer before spending money on printing costly mailings.

Banner ads work best if they have quick call to action messages. For best results, place your online ads above the fold and use actionable words on click through tabs, such as “Renew Now & Save” or “Click Here For Best Savings”.

For effective email promotions, the key is cultivating a strong in-house list of deliverable email names. To help collect email addresses, US publishers are offering a variety of online promotions including downloadable freemiums, sweepstakes offers, and free e-newsletters.

Offering a digital edition of your publication is also an effective way to collect email names — by requiring online sign-up for delivery. In the US, Texterity offers free companion digital versions of both B2B and consumer magazines. The beauty of their Coverleaf programme is that the entire magazine can be viewed with a simple click through from an e-mailed link. This service will soon be available in the UK and Australia. In addition, offering a digital edition may give a boost to both new business and renewal mailings. People aren’t that eager to pay for digital editions, but US publishers are finding digital editions work best as an add-on or as extra value.

Add e-renewals to your renewal series to reduce costs and boost response

Renewals, your most profitable source of subscription orders, are even more profitable when generated online! Plus, you can read the results within just a few days of launching your promotions.

To some extent, the same best practices that work in print also work with e-renewals:

* Keep your message simple and to the point.

* Remind subscribers of your key benefits.

* Give readers clear instructions on how to renew online.

* Alternate the look of your emails from effort to effort.

In addition, be sure to use an urgent sounding subject line, such as:

“Final Issue Notice, Your LAST ISSUE is in the mail.”

As far as the timing goes, many US publishers have found two key spots in their renewal series that seem to work out best: early in the series (around effort 2), and just before expiration. Note: The best time to send e-renewals is approximately ten days prior to the corresponding print effort.

Another strategy to boost e-renewal response is to offer a downloadable premium or freemium by re-purposing edit pages from your print edition. For example, Cooks Illustrated offers a “FREE” downloadable freemium in conjunction with the e-renewal sent out before effort 2. Their easy-to-use Buying Guide to Supermarket Ingredients is a bonus that gives subscribers a very positive feeling — since they are getting valuable information at no extra charge!

Another key to the success of e-renewals is to design your landing pages so that they deliver clear and simple directions for submitting your renewal order.

Use e-bills to train readers to do business with you online

Using e-bills saves on paper, printing, and mailing costs. Plus, it creates an online transaction that provides you with email addresses while putting immediate cash into your account.

Many US publishers offer their readers an incentive to pay their bill online, such as bonus issues or a price discount incentive. In addition, downloadable freemiums similar to those being used with renewals and acquisitions can be tested. These offers are best communicated with a buck slip inserted into your standard print invoice package, as well as via e-bills to those subscribers who have provided their email address.

Hot Tip: Include an up-sell offer in your e-acknowledgement confirming that the e-bill transaction has been completed. Typical up-sells offer additional term to the order (renewal at birth), gift subscriptions, or links to other profit centres at your website, such as a cover store.

Use print promotions to drive online activity

Another goal of your online marketing programme should be to increase traffic at your website. One simple thing you can do is to add an insert to renewals and bills telling readers to go online — and giving them incentives to do so!

For example, Consumer Reports’ Money Advisor uses a simple one-sided insert with invoices that shows visually how paying online saves on trees, cheques, and postage. Other US publishers use more elaborately designed inserts to get the same basic message across.

Another thing you can do to encourage your subscribers to pay online is to list a dedicated URL in three different places on mailed packages — on the forms, on the flap of outer envelopes, and on the BREs. Doing this will not only save you money on postage, but will also help you collect your revenues faster.

Advertise your website in the pages of your magazine

Often overlooked, print ads in your magazine are a powerful way to drive web traffic and online e-mail data collection. One approach is to offer a free companion digital edition that you simply need to sign up for at the website. Another is to offer sweepstakes prizes or other contests that to enter you have to go to the website as well. Both strategies have the benefit of providing publishers with a concrete way to increase their email database as well.

Doing business online is the “green” way to subscribe

Another benefit of training your readers to conduct their subscription transactions online is that it plays into growing environmental awareness — and is a small thing people can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Whether you are buying your subscription, renewing, or paying your bill, all of these actions reduce paper usage and enable you and your readers to help keep the earth green!