Stay sane — and profitable — by shaking up the status quo with your subscriber acquisition strategy


While perhaps a cliche, this phrase does ring true: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

In light of that definition, why would a publisher that continues to lose audience year after year operate the same way? But many publishers do still conduct business in much the same way they have for years, “hoping” each year brings better results than the last.

That’s not our plan, and that’s not what we are doing at The News Tribune and The Olympian this year.

I mentioned briefly some programmes we have started this year in an earlier post, “News Tribune looks beyond print to grow audience, revenue with 5 building blocks,” but I wanted to delve into these a bit further and share some other growth ideas, as well.

  • Variable, single-copy insert marketing: Every week, we insert a promotional subscription offer into single-copy newspapers. We do this on a rotation basis, with a different piece going in each day of the week. Over the course of a month, a purchaser would see a different piece each week they purchase the same day’s newspaper. For instance, every Sunday in a month we insert a different looking piece.

    The strategy behind this approach is two-fold. First, it allows us to reach the audience with different types of art, but with the same price point on every piece. This allows us to measure performance without having to figure price elasticity into the equation. Second, we are able to move a piece out of rotation if it has a high cost per order, and replace it with something that might do better.

    We have been doing this for several months now and wanted to share a little glimpse of our results.

    We have one piece that is bringing us a cost per order of less than US$5, but another piece that is costing around US$32 per order. Next month, we will be swapping out the US$32 piece for a new one that should produce a better return on investment (ROI). 

  • Dynamic sales at the kiosk: Members of our kiosk team for The Olympian recently have changed how they sell, and it has had an immediate effect on closing percentages. 

    No longer are they just passing out free copies of the newspaper, which tells customers our product has no value. And no longer are they waiting for the customer to come to them.

    Instead, they are employing a new technique they call “dynamic sales.” The points of the presentation at the kiosk are these, according to Judy Kidd, owner of Circulation Growth and Retention, our kiosk vendor for The Olympian. These key points motivate the team members, reminding them they are there to sell and should be enjoying it and equipped to succeed at the same time.
    1. Client service, not customer service.

    2. Identify your strengths, then use them.

    3. Instigate the interaction, rather than waiting to be noticed.

    4. Insist on being seen, not ignored.

    5. Avoiding the “no.” Don’t do the dirty work for the customer!

    6. Professional versus pest — annoying or dynamic?

    7. Letting go of the burdens that keep you from enjoying yourself.

We also have equipped the team with connected iPads, and now the representatives have a response when a customer says, “You aren’t relevant to me,” or “I read you online already.” They now can let the customer know we don’t just have a Web site, but iPhone and Android apps, as well as custom iPad apps. Not only can they talk about the apps, but show them off, as well.

We developed a custom home screen with our logo on the iPad, as well as downloads of all our apps for quick reference for the sales team. Over the last few weeks, the team has improved sales by 160%, and 80% of that improvement has resulted in seven-day, auto-pay sales. 

  • Streamlined price points on all channels: Something else we have done for years is roll out new pricing programmes constantly, which can only serve to confuse our sales people and always keep the potential subscriber looking for the next deal.

    This year, we rolled out streamlined pricing across all sales channels. At the end of 2013, as we were developing new strategies for the coming year, we decided to set price points that could be used on all channels of sales.

    What this means is that if a customer gets a phone call from one of our telemarketers, they get the same offer at the kiosk representative pitched to them in front of their local grocery. The same price is also on any printed piece that we put out there, whether it’s a single-copy insert or direct-mail flyer.

    So far, this approach has worked very well for us this year, and retention is at an all-time high. More than 70% of our orders are being written as auto pay, as well, which only helps to further aid in retention over the year.

  • Carrier sampling . . . with a twist: Publishers have utilised samples for carriers for years, but the common problem with these programmes is that no follow-up is done, or the sample is not delivered as hoped.

    We think we have solved both of these issues with a new plan we are launching this spring. Using the MMS tool from Marketing Solutions Group, we are able to use market intelligence to identify who among our non-subscribers would be more likely to subscribe, and if they are the best household for us to be targeting.

    From there, we are going to download a list of addresses from the tool, and start these as 10-week-long sample starts in our audience system. This is designed to allow us to monitor the activity of the sample subscription, and to also have this pass through to the field as just a normal start to the carrier.

    During the sample period, we have four touchpoints lined up:

    1. Within three days of the start, the sample household will receive a direct-mail piece from me, thanking them for trying us out and giving them an option to opt out. The piece will also make clear this is a no-obligation sample.

    2. At four weeks into the sample subscription, we will reach out to the household again with direct-mail and e-mail, letting them know again that they should be getting this sample and reinforcing the value of the newspaper content, as well as the digital media we offer.

    3. At seven weeks into the sample subscription, we will reach out for the last time via phone, e-mail, or direct mail, and offer a special rate for the household to continue receiving the newspaper.

    4. After the sample period has been completed, we will give these lists to our door crews as hot prospects and have them follow-up to see if they can close the sale.

We are optimistic this approach will lend itself to some solid start production and also reinforce the value of the newspaper in households across our region. 

While not all of these approaches are tried and true, and certainly not ingenious by any means, they are one thing . . . different.

Different should be what we are striving to do on levels of interacting with our audience, whether it be our paid print product, our digital app, or our social media pages. While tried and true might work in some cases, in today’s shifting audience dynamic, that is rare.

Do something different today, or plead insanity tomorrow.

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