Focus on the customer and circulation will take care of itself


Dear Marketing Guru,

I publish a prestigious daily title. Thanks to my circulation director, our paid circulation number is in the cellar. I want to sustain my number and then grow it. Everyone loves my newspaper (I think), but the numbers don’t show it.

What’s your advice, Marketing Guru?

Please help,
Panicking Prestigious Publisher


Dear Panicked Publisher,

First of all, congratulations! It sounds like you’re quite proud of your newspaper, despite your anxiety. You’re not alone. Publishers everywhere are struggling with their circulation numbers.

Don’t worry, Marketing Guru is here to help.

To stabilise your circulation number, I want you to think about three things.

  1. People are procrastinators.

    The reason hundreds signed up on last month’s telemarketing or direct mail special is you gave them a knock-out deal with NO commitment. They bought with no strings attached. Your customers are procrastinators, and they know it.

    Sell with the end in mind. Set the expectation for what’s next. Long after your introductory, limited-time, new-subscriber-only, deep-discount special ends, you’ll be working hard to sign up the same customer again. With what? A deeper discount?

    All new promotions should be written to include credit card or some other form of automatic monthly renewal and payment. We call ours EASYPAY. Whether it’s a free, introductory sample or a full-price offer with a newspaper umbrella, get the monthly renewal agreement.

    Job No. 1 is to get the agreement with the sale, not after. Sending renewal statements in the mail to discounted promotional starts is a tough game to win. So use the power of procrastination to work with your renewal practices, not against.

    On a monthly, recurring, auto-bill agreement, your customers call you if they want to quit. You’ll find that using procrastination to your benefit keeps down the number of cancellations of promotional starts. That’s good news: You won’t have to call them with yet another sales pitch to renew.

  2. Make it easy to do business.

    Whenever I go shopping online or off, I always marvel at the science behind packaging. How much time or energy have you put into packaging your product?

    If you were to give your packaging a score, how well does it communicate to your customers and prospective customers? The answer is to think about measuring sales response by channel: push and pull.

    First, you need data. Set up a spreadsheet with pre-defined codes for every offer, promotion, and sale you push to the public.

    It is vitally important to understand which consumer segments are attracted to your offers. Across the spectrum of direct mail, telemarketing, social media, e-mail marketing, and free-standing inserts, you must have at your fingertips sales data that defines return on investment.

    But you’re not done yet.

    Do you measure response channel, also? This is the pull side of the packaging equation. Some customers prefer to complete your online order form, others prefer telephone or e-mail response, yet others would rather mail back the order form to your office.

    You might learn that online forms drive response for your outbound e-mail channels. Or your older customers prefer to do business with you via the mail. Make it easy for customers. Give them what they want.

    The old marketing adage is true: Choice breeds value. Presenting your customers multiple options to place the order adds value to the buying experience.

    Confused minds say, “No.” Get them to say yes by improving your packaging. Get creative with your pairings of push and pull marketing.

  3. Understand why your readers do business with you.

    In general, this is a key measurement for newsroom management and reader satisfaction. It becomes fundamentally more important when determining strategies to acquire new groups of customers.

    Chances are your next home-delivery customer will resemble your current customers. Birds of a feather flock together. The likelihood of your next 100 customers looking dramatically different, as a whole, from your best customer is slim to none.

    So what can you learn from your customers to acquire new ones?

    Simply analysing your last 250 voluntary starts would be a good place to, well, start.

    Nobody twisted their arm or sold them a bill of goods to take your newspaper. Remember, they called you. Analyse and score their zip code, age, and other meaningful sets from your consumer database. In short, what is their consumer DNA?

    Once you’ve sampled and retained their consumer DNA, to find other prospects that resemble your best customers is a process of targeting.

    To catch fish, start by fishing where the fish are. Your sales will produce lift by arming your efforts with the proper customer attribution and targeting of your best prospects. Think of it as cloning prospects, based on your most profitable customers.

So relax, stop panicking, and keep publishing.

The Marketing Guru

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