How digital is changing direct marketing: my top ten trends

The digital publishing revolution is bringing the oft-neglected subscription marketing discipline into the limelight, as media owners struggle to grow ad revenue, and the importance of direct customer relationships across print, web, and mobile grows.

I spotted these top ten trends in the new subscription marketing at the PPA Customer Direct conference recently…

1.     Learning from gaming

Publishers planning magazine apps should watch the gaming industry, says James Tye of Dennis, as they are most adept at charging for digital content.  Content will turn into software, and be judged, probably harshly, by the standards of professional developers.  So publishers need to learn the skills of bug testing and minimising file size.

2.     Managing a hits business

Not all magazine-driven apps will work, so it pays to be frugal on initial development resources, but be prepared to use PR and marketing heavily, in bursts, plus test short term price promotions, to move up the charts.

3.     Treating new channels like retailers

Yes, the mobile space is complex with many digital newsstands, but publishers need to take the same approach as to traditional retailers, and make sure they are available in as wide a selection as possible, and work as closely on joint promotions with Amazon as with Tesco.

4.     Digital brings the customer closer

Digital publishing brings the customer right up close, so your customer service has to be spot on.  Dennis invested heavily in mapping and simplifying customer journeys, and the Times monitors app review feedback carefully.

5.     Treating apps as gateways

Tablets aren’t stand alone readers, they are a gateway to extra information.  So Estates Gazette’s app links into news feeds, maps and jobs sites and also premium databases.  Subscribers get a seamless service, and non-subscribers hit a payment page encouraging them to upgrade.

6.     The global consumer

Around half of Dennis’s app sales are outside the UK, and the Week now sells 2500 in Russia, a territory it never cracked in print.  Publishers in different territories are experimenting with their own individual pricing structures, but increasingly consumers are looking for similar content and experiences.

7.     Stand alone pricing

The days of the free digital edition as a perk for print subs may be numbered.  The Economist charges the same subscription for digital as it does for print and the Week charges print subs extra for a digital version.

8.     Using free trial to build a habit

It takes time for consumers to get used to a digital publication, so offering a free trial (as The Week did) gives them time to build a habit.

9.     Engagement trumps volume

The Times’s move to subs-only across its digital channels has meant changing editorial mind-sets; instead of focusing on volumes of readers, they concentrate on quality of engagement, via comments, online webinars and discussions, so subscribers get real value from interacting with journalists.  Recent campaigns have generated exceptional responses.

10. Converting browsers to subs

AutoSport has successfully persuaded a tiny proportion of their audience to subscribe to premium online content, working hard on exclusive material and top-notch customer service.  Recent tests of a metered model are working well; after 50 pages viewed per month, the paywall descends till the next month.  So far acquisition numbers have doubled…

So subs marketers must learn from games developers and raise their customer service game to succeed in digital, but there are global rewards to be gained.

A version of this article previously appeared on the Specialist Media Show website.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan works with niche publishers to develop practical digital strategies.  She regularly speaks and writes on digital publishing strategy, programmes the Specialist Media Conference and moderates the Specialist Media Network on LinkedIn, where over 1200 niche publishers swap ideas and network.  If you’d like a no obligation discussion about your digital publishing strategy, please get in touch.