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Publisher Mistakes Undermine Online Subscription Efforts

Subscription marketing is a goal for most of our B2B and B2C publishing clients, so we wanted to pass along a recent Publishing Executive (PE) magazine article warning of some common online errors by publishers that are undermining circulation marketing investments.

Use Premium Content to Lure Subscribers

Access to premium content should be online but limited to subscribers, urges PE author Eric Shanfelt, founding partner of eMedia Strategist. After all, why subscribe if you can go to the website and see all content for free? Unfortunately, some publishers are so baffled by the technology of locking down content as subscriber-only that they don’t even put their premium content online–losing a big selling point with digital traffic. Others are worried about reducing Google search traffic or ad impression dollars by limiting content access, but they are not factoring in the cost of lost subscribers, argues Shanfelt. Of course, for success with subscriber-only premium content, the website must then prominently promote that premium content and its subscriber-only status via clear incentives and calls-to-action, he adds.

Quick, Easy Subscription Pages Need to SELL

A website or mobile subscription page should not be just an order form, Shanfelt advises. Remember that most people who visit a subscription page are just considering subscribing. They need to be sold. Visitors should clearly see the benefits of subscribing and what they get (deliverables). Plus the page should generate a sense of urgency to sign up and use FOMO (fear of missing out) to push orders. Equally important, the subscription process should be quick and easy.  Make the subscription link easy to see and navigation simple by putting an obvious menu item and widget on every website page, with a link directly to a single-page subscription form, not a multi-step process. And finally, make sure the subscription page is not only secure but loads quickly on desktop or mobile. If it doesn’t load in 2-3 seconds, up to 50% of potential subscribers could be lost, warns Shanfelt.

Invest in Data Tracking and Integration

In order to test and adjust marketing tactics, online subscription and confirmation pages should use Google Analytics for e-commerce conversion tracking and cross-domain tracking to see how people get to subscription pages and how well they convert from different sources. Subscription/confirmation pages should also use tracking pixels from Facebook, Google, Bing and other digital sources, as well as from customer data platforms and e-mail systems.  More important, circulation data needs to be integrated with the website subscription pages and any e-mail or marketing automation systems. For effectiveness, that circulation data should be updated automatically in real-time or, at a minimum, manually once a month. If the website is synchronized with the circulation system, people can log into the site by authenticating against subscriber data to get access to premium content, for example. Integration also allows for conditional content blocks in follow-up e-mails to upsell non-subscriber leads, for sending of automatic renewal reminders, and even for a sync of subscriber lists with programmatic ad networks.

For more tips, see the full article.

Arts Marketers Need Digital CTAs That Drive Subscriptions

While direct mail continues to be a sturdy workhorse for AccuList USA’s performing arts marketing clients, digital campaigns–via online display ads, e-mail and social media–are required in a multi-channel world. Digital subscription drives offer cost-effectiveness, off-season branding, audience segment targeting, and synergy with direct mail. (Check out our Digital2Direct program to see we help mate mail with e-mail and social media ads.)  But with more competition for attention in the crowded digital space and with less room for persuasion than “snail mail,” digital promotion success is especially dependent on a well-designed and targeted call-to-action, as pointed out in a recent blog post by strategists at MogoARTS, a digital marketing agency for arts and cultural organizations.

Customizing CTA by Audience

An effective call-to-action will differ by targeting, the post points out. With renewals, the targets are lists of current season subscribers, so the CTA messaging can be direct and should highlight an incentive like a discount or savings for renewing early or by a deadline. For acquiring new members or reactivating lapsed subscribers, targeting includes lists of previous season ticket buyers and e-mail opt-in prospects, who need to be shown the benefits of subscription (or reminded). The CTA messaging for lapsed subscribers and multi-ticket buyers should give a reason to come back or upgrade to a subscription by promoting package savings or special benefits, such as free parking or early access to add-ons. CTAs to entice new members will need to spell out subscriber benefits, either across ad units or on a landing page, and showcase varied package options.

Tips on CTA Creative

The blog post also lists some CTA creative suggestions for arts marketers, whether the decision is to leverage programning/events or benefits to drive action. In pushing benefits in digital ads, listing one benefit per banner maximizes message impact and avoids overcrowding with too much text; patrons will see multiple banners over the life of the campaign after all. If the decision is to push programming, then other formats such as video or Facebook/Instagram News Feed Carousel ads may spark greater engagement than a static ad.

General CTA Best Practices

MogoARTS cites three best practices for any CTA: 1) customization for the different audience types, meaning renewing, lapsed or new members; 2) emphasis on the benefits of a subscription package over a single ticket purchase; and 3) highlighting of the savings/special rewards available for subscribing now. For CTA examples, see https://www.mogoartsmarketing.com/blog/subscription-campaign-best-practices-2018

2018 Offers New Growth Opportunities for Publishing Marketers

There’s no doubt that AccuList USA’s business and consumer publishing clients face some pivotal audience- and revenue-building challenges in both print and digital marketing, but there are also growth opportunities in 2018. We note three potential positives recently highlighted by Publishing Executive magazine.

Quality Content Over Free Content

Audiences are increasing their demand for quality content, and advertisers are seeking publishers who can deliver that quality. There is a lot of untapped revenue potential for publishers who commit to quality, especially since the free-information era is ending as readers become wary of free but low-value content and increasingly willing to pay for reliable quality. For digital publishers, the downside of a shift to paid quality content can be a shrinkage of circulation, forcing them to balance potential gains in subscription revenue against lower page-views for ads. The Publishing Executive article offers various mitigating tactics: leaky paywalls; metered paywalls; charging only for premium content; allowing only paid subscribers to comment or participate in an online community; early access to certain articles for paid subscribers; access to paywalled content for subscription to a free newsletter, etc.

It’s All About Niches

With consumer access to vast amounts of information spewing into print, online, media and social every day, mass-market-oriented print and digital publications have been struggling, and niche publishers proliferating. Readers want to focus on what’s relevant to their specific interests, and many advertisers want to reach the right pool of people more than just the largest pool of people. The trick for publications is to embrace niche demand without sacrificing too much circulation. The Publishing Executive article offers some suggestions. Digital publications can create a product-within-a-product on the website, for example, with content targeted to a subset of the normal audience and attractive to new sponsors who want to reach that specific audience. For print publications, there are niche-targeted inserts, bonus sections, customized covers, polybagged special reports, or ad packages that combine a full-page ad in the magazine with a more in-depth cover wrap or insert for a special event or audience.

Demand for Brand Safety Grows

Brand advertisers have become concerned about aligning with publishers who tolerate fake news, violence, extremism, or other offensive content. The Association of Magazine Media recognized the danger and the opportunity in 2017 and released an ad campaign (“Better. Believe it.”) to highlight magazines’ quality content and brand safety. This means that respected publishers can court advertising revenue (and circulation) in 2018 by stressing brand quality and safety in their promotions. On that point, Publishing Executive quotes from an Advertising Age piece in which Shelagh Daly Miller of AARP declared: “Only when brands partner with reputable publishers can they have full confidence in where their ads are being placed. That’s a message that should be all over our industry’s media kits. And tattooed onto the foreheads of our ad reps.”

For more on publishing growth opportunities in 2018, read http://www.pubexec.com/post/6-growth-opportunities-publishers-2018/