Growing subscriptions requires evolving strategy with changing reader needs
Conference Blog | 15 February 2022
As audiences change, news media companies are evolving the way they attract and keep those audiences engaged with digital products.
On the final day of the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit, executives from News Corp Australia, The Philadelphia Inquirer in the United States, Folha de S Paulo in Brazil, and Le Journal du Dimanche in France detailed strategies in digital growth, audience funnels, niche content, and transitioning a print audience.
News Corp Australia
News Corp Australia has a dual-growth strategy:
- Growing subscriptions through core businesses.
- Identifying new growth strategies through niche products.
“It’s the complementary nature of these two growth modes that leads us to a much more significant growth outcome by FY25,” said Brendan Collogan, director of subscriptions, as he walked INMA members through News Corp Australia’s growth playbook.
Collogan also went step-by-step through five phases of News Corp’s playbook for growth. Using this approach has allowed News Corp Australia to launch four new brands since November 2021. The company identified that during COVID, sports became a lifeline for Australians. They wanted to create a product that served the needs of the sport-obsessed.
News Corp Australia launched a product called CODE, which is aimed to the sports lover, not the casual fan. They recognised a lack of in-depth storytelling from competitors and saw an opportunity, so they created a premium sports subscription.
“Before going to market, we needed something to guide what we do, to guide how we develop our brand, how we design the product but more importantly, who do we hire, who do we ask to contribute, what’s the content proposition for this new product,” Collogan said.
With CODE, they wanted to deepen the connection through storytelling: “We kept coming back to this to ensure that we were staying true to the research and equally ensuring we’re meeting the needs of the audience that we’re targeting.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
As what works to attract customers has changed, The Philadelphia Inquirer has transformed its approach to the funnel, said Darya Ushakova, vice president of consumer marketing. Now, instead of focusing its efforts in the mid-funnel and targeting heavy readers, it is taking a different approach entirely.
“We're looking holistically at awareness and engagement and conversion and loyalty,” she said. “And then through all of that, we're building the best-in-class marketing organisation.”
A focus on mid-funnel marketing has resulted in diminishing returns for publishers; however, most are not in a position to pivot from this practice, she said. The Inquirer has moved from a transaction-centric model to a consumer-centric one, putting its attention on customer wants and needs. And, rather than enticing customers with low-cost offers, which typically have poor retention, it is working to show its value and provide customers with a different experience in the sales funnel.
“This means that every single stage of the funnel is equally important,” Ushakova said. “We’re focusing a lot of our efforts in feeding into the top of the funnel and increasing our addressable marketing, engaging our light readers, and only then moving on to converting them in the mid-funnel.”
This has included changing the mindset as well as the structure. From the top down, every employee has bought into the idea that every stage of the funnel is equally important. Then, the company did a team reorganisation to transform its marketing organisational structure, bringing in audience development and top-of-funnel expertise.
Folha de S Paulo
Having had a paywall model since 2012, Folha de S Paulo in Brazil continues to adapt and evolve its process. The company uses an inverted pyramid concept when analysing and focusing its efforts.
“The more you evolve in the previous stage, the more you must direct efforts to the next level,” said Anderson Demian Lopes de Souza, executive director of consumer marketing and digital strategy. “This is essential to continue growing.”
The company uses an inverted pyramid of acquisition, involving technology, experience, clustering, and content.
He is focused on clustering: “You can improve the conversion rates of the customers you already have but can also bring in a new audience to your base,” Lopes de Souza said.
Right now, Folha has live offerings and content for niches that include lawyers, health professionals, teachers, students, and business professionals.
“We have specific content and strategy for different kinds of niches,” Lopes de Souza said. “You must offer something more than your regular offer.”
Le Journal du Dimanche
Le Journal Du Dimanche in France has always been a Sunday newspaper, with the name literally translating to “Sunday Newspaper,” and has worked hard to keep its audience engaged in the digital world through a subscription model.
But how do you keep an engaged audience with content only printed on Sundays?
This is the question Lisa Boucher, head of digital marketing and business development, tackled with INMA members.
The print version of Le Journal du Dimanche has become a more fragile product, with Boucher saying its because more point of sales for the newspaper are closing on Sundays, along with the slimming of the distribution networks in France.
“Digital is a key growth lever for a few years,” Boucher said. “The fact is, what makes us really strong in print is a real challenge because with digital, you have very specific behaviours from readers. When you go onto a new site, you want to have information at any time. But, we are still a brand committed to Sundays.”
Currently, only a limited number of articles are published on weekdays, and the majority of paywall content come from the print version.
“The direct consequence of this is lower engagement rates: 89% of our users are only coming once a week,” said Boucher. “If we really want to develop our digital subscription, this is something we have to take care of.”
With COVID-19, digital subscriptions rose at Le Journal du Dimanche, but now, they have stayed steady with less growth. The question is how to creating real value proposition that can be published on days besides Sunday, she said: “We have to find a way to keep going [up] with digital subscriptions.”