ALERT: Media Subscriptions Summit registration deadline tomorrow

6 shared subscription lessons from eMarketer and Business Insider

By Brie Logsdon


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States


During a two-day study tour as part of INMA’s Media Subscriptions Week 3.0, Axel Springer-owned companies eMarketer and Business Insider shared lessons learned in building a subscriptions business but from different perspectives—eMarketer is a B2B company while Business Insider is B2C.

Despite this difference, the lessons learned were the same at their core.

1. Aggregation can be powerful and worth paying for if you wrap value and context around it.

eMarketer is built on aggregated data and aims to become the world’s leading research company focused on digital transformation. The company has built its business model on aggregating, filtering, organising, and analysing information, Geoff Ramsey, co-founder and chief evangelist, said.

There is no one version of truth, he added, calling the information aggregation a prism.

“Every piece of data or information provides a different kind of lens or light through which you can view what’s going on,” he said.

At Business Insider, value and context lie in the content distribution. The company works to bring value by thinking hard about how and where content is distributed, Claudius Senst, member of the executive team, said.

“We always focus on distributing our stories across relevant channels, with emphasis on the relevant,” he said. This also creates various entry points to the subscription product.

Geoff Ramsey said transparency and trust are vital to success for media companies.
Geoff Ramsey said transparency and trust are vital to success for media companies.

2. When content is your product, trust is vital.

eMarketer invokes trust with a multi-sourced approach, Ramsey said, and also aims to be completely transparent about the process. If new information comes in, eMarketer will openly make adjustments and create updates to previous predictions.

“We do not have a monopoly on the truth and nobody does,” he added.

As a brand, Senst said Business Insider has risen in trust amoung investors according to recent data. This indicates that the brand, which started as a blog in 2007, has established itself as a trustworthy sources of information.

3. Great content lends itself to the best form of marketing.

By using a “piggy-back” approach to get forecasts and analyst quotes featured in articles by top-tier press outlets, eMarketer becomes part of the story without making it about itself. Ramsey said the company gets more than 7,000 mentions per month in top-tier outlets.

This exposure is enhanced with free, ad-supported products, which he said drives leads to paid products. One free product, a podcast, has 17,000 listeners every month.

“That’s not huge in the consumer realm, but in the B2B realm, it’s pretty good,” Ramsey said.

Business Insider uses great content to inform and inspire readers, and has the same strategy for ad clients, Senst said. The company leverages various communication channels, great content, design, and style for its ad clients in the same way it does for its own content.

Claudius Senst, member of the executive team at Business Insider, said a friction-free experience has value for the customer.
Claudius Senst, member of the executive team at Business Insider, said a friction-free experience has value for the customer.

4. Important information should be as accessible and friction-free as possible.

Information is power, Ramsey said, but it is more powerful when more people have access to it instead of a few gatekeeping it. In mid-2014, eMarketer shifted emphasis from selling “limited seat” subscriptions to “open access” subscriptions.

The gatekeeper model is inefficient because people cannot know the full spectrum of what information exists if they are only making specific information requests to the subscription gatekeepers. There is also more likelihood of churn if someone leaves company or switches roles. In an open access model, everyone can go in and get what they want, and discover information they did not know they wanted.

By deploying a graduated pricing plan over the span of a couple of years, the open access model overtook the old model and the company rapidly increased the number of individual users for eMarketer Pro.

The friction-free environment does not necessarily have to be free, Senst said: “We’re laser focused on creating an environment where users don’t waste time with us, but at the same time creating a fair value exchange.”

A meter model is not right for Business Insider, Senst said, because it creates an environment where a loyal reader is not rewarded for loyalty. The foundation of the company’s subscription product Business Insider Prime lies in emphasising the value the brand creates for users.

5. You need to understand what metrics drive your business and relentlessly optimise.

Ramsey said 75% of new eMarketer customers opt for the open access subscription option, emphasising that everyone needs access to make digital transformation work on an organisational level.

With more individual users accessing eMarketer’s subscription product, the company developed a customer “health” score based on engagement levels which divided into five tiers by renewal likeliness. There is a 63% upsell rate for those at the highest segment, but the bottom tier has a 47% downsell rate. This knowledge informs efforts in churn reduction.

The uncertain outlook for future of online targeting is apparent to Business Insider, which recently launched a first-party audience data tool. This new tool helps address privacy concerns and better serve ad partners.

6. Never stop innovating. Make it part of your DNA.

When he could not get people on board his innovation efforts, Ramsey changed his business title to chief innovation officer. This encouraged others to jump in. eMarketer created a customer advisory board of about 100 clients, and then tied that to the product team. Then, the product team became tied to the content team. All of these factions needed to work together to create success in the long term.

Business Insider applied leverages platforms as partners, learning what works best and adapting quickly to change, Senst said.

Innovation is crucial, Ramsey said, but not every innovation works.

“If you think everything you’re going to do is going to win, you’re sadly mistaken.”

About Brie Logsdon

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