Even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought a surge of new customers, news media companies have been evaluating their marketing, communication, and even cancellation strategies to improve subscriber engagement and retention.
McClatchy, News UK, South China Morning Post, and The Financial Times shared some of their experiments and findings during the INMA Master Class on Digital Subscriber Retention last month.
By the end of 2021, digital subscribers will make up 75% of subscriptions, said Phil Schroder, head of retention and engagement for McClatchy. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity to encourage digital subscriptions.
With the e-edition, McClatchy has found new ways to engage readers and, by promoting them in print, has increased digital activation. And it continues to find new readers — even those who have been long-time subscribers.
“Every week, we get an e-mail from a customer who says, ‘I just discovered Extra, Extra’ or ‘I just discovered Sports Extra, I didn’t even know this existed and it’s the best thing ever!’ That’s why we’re constantly doing marketing,” Schroder said. “I guess one example would be Coca Cola never stops marketing, even though everybody knows who they are. So we want to keep marketing this product, even if we think everybody knows about it, because we find out that people don’t.”
To better understand its customers across segments, News UK’s team began looking at what happens on that first day to make the difference in engagement.
“We found that lots of people who are going dormant are landing on an article, which they want to access,” Dan Gilbert, director of data at News UK, said. “They’re signing up for a subscription. They’re using search to get back to that article, reading it, and then we’re not seeing them again.”
Based on that discovery, they changed what the customer saw when they signed up. Instead of taking them back to the home page, it took them back to the article they had been reading.
“So the people who were coming in to find an article were no longer having to search for it afterwards. From a user friction usability perspective, it was an improvement,” he said. “You can also then showcase important relevant content that may be similar to the stuff that they are interested in reading more about.”
Over the last eight months, South China Morning Post in Hong Kong has changed the way it targets and manages its globe of subscribers. In August of 2020, the company launched a digital subscription service, with free and paid subscriptions.
“When we were thinking of starting a subscription service, we realised that we needed to shift our thinking,” Adrian Lee, senior vice president of marketing and events, said. “We needed to think about how we could materially transform our e-mail communications in particular from a transactional content relationship to something that was more long term in nature. Something that nurtured ongoing reader behaviour, in which ultimately leads to reader revenue growth.”
To transform its e-mail communications, the company created an entirely new content strategy called “e-mail lifecycle marketing.” Tailoring a plan for each subscriber type has allowed the company to speak to its audience in a sustainable and valuable way, and allowed communication on an ongoing basis to loyal and potential subscribers.
There are many reasons why the Financial Times shifted its cancellation journey online — but ultimately, the move was motivated by improving the customer experience with a focus on retention management, Ajay Shah, the company’s senior customer marketing manager of retention, said.
“In the modern world, not all of us need to have a [phone] conversation,” Shah said. “We want to be able to manage our account and ask to cancel a subscription with ease.”
The cancellation moment is an opportunity, he added. “It’s not something to shy away from, and any interaction with our brand we felt should really be a great experience.
“The experience they leave on is actually quite important in terms of their likelihood to return,” Shah said. “In looking at the feedback we got from customers, we realised that there was actually an opportunity to build a frictionless account management function — and there were loads of opportunities, therefore, to engage and retain our customers.”
For more information about upcoming INMA Master Classes, visit here.