Anatomy of a successful subscriber acquisition e-mail campaign


While the success of any direct response campaign – regardless of channel – depends on reaching the right audience with a meaningful offer and a compelling call to action, there are several important things to keep in mind when implementing a subscriber acquisition e-mail campaign.

The right audience: The best prospects for a subscriber acquisition e-mail campaign are those who have subscribed in the past, followed by non-subscribing classified advertisers.

Every circulation sales manager worth their salt wants to expand audience reach by signing up those who have never subscribed before. But, when it comes to e-mail marketing, the sweet spot is reaching those who are familiar with the brand.

We’ve spent untold hours building lists of those never subscribing to newspapers across dozens of markets with the same dismal results. After suppressing active and former subscribers, what you have left is a list of individuals who don’t read newspapers. Most of those “non-readers” will never subscribe, even if you are giving away a car with every subscription.

Stick to former subscribers and those familiar with your brand (classified advertisers, non-subscribing contest entries, etc.) if you want to acquire new subscribers at a fraction of the cost of other sales channels.

A meaningful offer: Regardless of how you position your offer – percent savings off the newsstand price, buy four weeks and get four weeks free, sign up and receive a US$30 gas card – it must be perceived as being meaningful by the prospective subscriber.

You can improve your response rate by providing prospective subscribers with more than one subscription option, but ideally no more than three.

You can further help your cause by helping prospects understand the relative value of each offer and reinforcing that they will more than pay back the cost of their subscription as a result of the coupons and sales flyers they’ll receive each week.

Don’t forget that prospective subscribers are just as smart as you are and are capable of quickly researching your standard pricing to arrive at their own conclusions concerning the value of your offer. Help prospects help you by clearly communicating why your offer is meaningful.

A compelling call to action: If I can get your deal anytime I want, then why should I order it now? Even if you are targeting the best prospects for your publication and have a fantastic offer, your e-mail campaign results will fail to reach their true potential without a compelling call to action.

You need a “limited time offer” or deadline for response to persuade prospective subscribers to “act now.” This is especially true with the e-mail marketing channel where prospects spend less than 10 seconds deciding whether to open, read, and respond to your e-mail.

Who is this from? What do they want? Do I care? That’s about as much time as your subscription acquisition e-mail will get even from “readers” who are familiar with your brand.

And unlike other sales channels, when it comes to e-mail acquisition campaigns, your deadline for response should be within the next four days. Any deadline that is more than four days out fails to provide the necessary motivation for the prospect to respond now.

You want prospects to respond immediately to your offer as they won’t be saving your e-mail for future reference.

A study of more than 200 e-mail campaigns with varying offer deadlines revealed that a deadline of one to four days generated the best response. Conversion rates fell off dramatically when the deadline was more than four days out.

Building a successful e-mail: I’ve seen some beautiful e-mails that were never delivered, opened, or read, let alone generated a response.

Always remember that your first priority is getting your e-mail delivered. While it is so much easier to load an image of your direct mail piece or advertisement and blast it to whoever doesn’t subscribe, realise that spam filters rank e-mails based on the percentage of text to graphics. Sending one big fat image in your e-mail – like most spammers – is like asking to be blocked or put in the prospective subscriber’s junk e-mail folder.

Your second goal is to have your e-mail read. Not opened, but read. Design your e-mail message so that prospective subscribers can read it in their e-mail client preview pane without having to open your message or download graphics. E-mails that consist of one or more images (and little or no text) appear as one or more red Xs in message preview mode.

A well-designed e-mail allows prospective subscribers to not only understand who the message is from but also what it is all about before they even open the message. Send both html and text e-mail message formats (multi-part messages) to ensure that your message reaches prospects in their preferred format. 

A significant portion of your prospective subscribers have their e-mail clients set to not download images without their consent and most will never see that beautiful .jpg you’ve sent.

Your e-mail message should clearly communicate your offer, including the term and price. Sending e-mails that don’t include this basic information may generate a ton of clicks on your e-mail message link from curious prospects, but do little to help you improve your e-mail campaign’s conversion rate.

This is no time for cuteness. There are no “teaser” campaigns in the world of e-mail marketing. Deliver the goods now or your e-mail acquisition campaign is destined for failure.

And just because you are sending an e-mail doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer multiple response options to prospective subscribers. In addition to a link to your online order form – hopefully a one-page, mobile-optimised form that pre-populates with the prospects’ contact information – your e-mail message should include a local or toll-free phone number and e-mail address a prospect can use to respond to your offer.

Follow-up e-mail to non-responders: There is a reason advertisers don’t run their ads one time in your publication. They understand that their success depends not only on reach but also frequency.

The same is true for subscriber acquisition e-mail campaigns. Send your acquisition e-mail to non-responders a day before your deadline or with a new extended deadline no more than four days out.

We find that nearly 40% of total campaign orders are generated from follow up e-mails. Don’t leave four in 10 orders on the table by only sending your e-mail one time.

Subscriber e-mail acquisition campaigns that incorporate all these elements generate new subscribers at a fraction of the cost of other subscription sales channels. And companies that consistently plan and execute e-mail marketing campaigns as part of their overall subscriber acquisition strategy are generating 10% to 15% of their total starts from e-mail marketing. 

As a result, they have been able to lower their average cost per order across all subscription sales channels. 

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