During its first four years as a daily digital newspaper, Denmark’s Zetland used several marketing methods to build its audience. Despite using Facebook ads, events, outdoor advertising, and television commercials, the upstart could not identify any single form of advertising that appeared to be most effective in attracting readers.
In 2018, the company’s research indicated more than 40% of subscribers, or members, credited “word of mouth” with how they found the publication.
Based on that response, the company decided to focus on referral marketing and build a membership drive around it. To create the campaign, it borrowed from successful political campaigns as well as community marketing ideas in other industries to create a strategy that was certainly not the norm in a newspaper environment.
Kicking off the “members get members” campaign in 2019, Zetland opted for complete transparency with readers and showed where the newspaper stood, what it needed, and what that meant for its future. In June, Zetland published an article about its financial situation, showing readers the crossroads it was facing. In a population of 5.6 million people, Zetland had 10,500 paying members and needed some 3,500 more members to reach financial stability.
“Right now, our expenses are greater than our income — in other words, the amount in our bank account is shrinking every month,” CEO Jakob Moll said in a report to members. “If we had 14,000 paying members instead of 10,500, our expenses and income would balance.”
To get there, Zetland estimated that if one out of every three current members could convince just one of their acquaintances to join, it would reach its financial goals.
The idea of the campaign was to attract voluntary ambassadors for the publication to encourage them to share the word. Ambassadors could share a personalised link with friends, family, and colleagues that allowed them to sign up at a pay-what-you-can rate.
By the time that campaign kicked off nearly two months later, about 15% of Zetland’s members had signed up to become ambassadors, and the media company had shipped more than 2,000 posters and 20,000 ambassador cards to readers across the country.
Throughout the time leading up to the campaign launch, Zetland sent out weekly e-mails to its ambassadors to offer instructions and encouragement. Rather than rely on formal communication, it took an unfiltered, personal approach in both its wording and visuals to connect with ambassadors. In doing so, it continued building the kind of one-on-one feel it offers on its Web site.
Finding its audience
In setting goals, Zetland thought it was realistic to be able to get 1,400 new members. That estimate was half right; in reality, 2,806 new members signed up as a direct result of that campaign. In addition to the membership boost that could be directly linked to the campaign, at least 1,500 additional members joined as a result of the attention given to the campaign on social media and through word of mouth.
To keep engagement and enthusiasm high, Zetland asked ambassadors to share photos, videos, and tips; members of the newsroom also called 200 of the most active ambassadors to personally thank them for the work they were doing.
The campaign surpassed Zetland’s recruitment goals and was successful in strengthening the relationship between the newspaper and its readers. Not only did the campaign push Zetland into profitability, but it led to more members jumping on board to become full-time ambassadors.