Digital Data Feed Publishers’ Subscription Growth

AccuList helps business periodicals grow audience via direct marketing, and, as always, good customer and prospect data is at the root of marketing success. Consider a case study from The Economist, named one of the eight best business magazines of 2019 by The Balance reviewers. It isn’t only content that makes The Economist stand out. It’s a data-based audience-building strategy that has quadrupled subscription revenue over the last three years.

Customer Data and Predictive Analytics

Facing challenges in growing subscriber and advertising revenue, The Economist contracted with a customer data platform, Lytics, to shift from a print-focused to a digital subscription strategy based on customer data management, per a recent What’s New in Publishing (WNIP) post. For example, the publisher used data analytics to create content hubs, or individual pages that display digital content based on a reader’s interest for particular news topics. Tactics also included displaying offers based on the reader’s subscription status and predictive engagement score, meaning their likelihood to subscribe, derived from other readers with behaviors like theirs. And the online Economist gave readers featured content based not just on topic interest but also on behavioral scoring so readers got the type of content they wanted in the way they wanted to read it. Yet another example was a campaign for a free “Back to School Megatech” eBook, that produced a 9% click-through rate for targeted audiences.

Payoffs in Acquisition and Retention

In addition to a 4X bump in The Economist‘s subscriber revenue, the data-centric effort decreased cost per acquisition by 80%, tripled digital subscriptions, and increased time-on-site and engagement measures, per the WNIP case study post. The development of ongoing and adaptive customer profiles using machine learning went beyond simple demographics to allow for individually tailored and timed advertising and engagement strategies, such as predicting when a reader is more receptive to certain kinds of advertising or content. Retention strategies also were improved by predicting when subscribers were likely to stop visiting or subscribing.

Leveraging Data and Content for Growth

The Economist is not alone in embracing a digital subscription and data-management publishing model. The New York Times used similar strategies to boost digital subscriptions and revenues last year, even creating nytDEMO (DEMO stands for data, engineering, measurement, and optimization) as a collaboration among members of The Times data, product & design, technology, and advertising groups. The nytDEMO team offers brand marketers AI-based data tools such as “Project Feels” predicting emotional response to content and “Readerscope” identifying reader/interest audience segments. While other print and digital news operations were cutting back in 2018, The New York Times Co. used data-driven strategies to generate more than $709 million in digital revenue, with online subscription revenue up nearly 18% from 2017 and digital advertising up 8.6%. Out of its 4.3 million paid subscriptions for digital and print in 2018, more than 3.3 million people paid for its digital products, a 27% jump from 2017. Those results prompted executives to set a new target of more than 10 million subscriptions by 2025. And since NYT execs believe successful data marketing relies on quality content marketing, the revenue gains will be plowed back into content development via increased investment in newsroom and opinion operations.

 

Despite Doubters, 2018 Direct Mail Ups Response, ROI, Usage

AccuList USA’s direct mail marketing clients received lots of encouraging news in the 2018 “ANA-DMA Response Rate Report.”  Direct mail improved its usage ranking to tie with social media as the second most-used medium (57%), for example, and continued to deliver the best response rates of any medium. In fact, “snail mail” even improved on its response success by doubling median response rates over last year to 9% for house lists and 4.9% for prospect lists in 2018. Mail’s Return on Investment (ROI) also leaped by 12 percentage points to beat out online display this year.

While Marketers Forecast Mail Decline, Usage Tells a Different Story

The only negative in the report is that those surveyed continue to doubt the future of direct mail, with 19% saying they plan to decrease usage in the coming 12 months. But if the report participants follow their behavior after previous surveys, which similarly predicted mail declines, direct mail usage will remain buoyant, which allowed it to rise in 2018 despite planned cuts. One drag on direct mail continues to be its Cost Per Action/Acquisition, which is the highest CPA of any medium and puts budget pressure on mail volume, which did decline for both house and prospect lists compared with the 2017 study.

Direct Mail Usage Dominates Most Industry Segments

However, high response rates, competitive ROI, online tracking and print-tech advances are keeping marketers loyal to “traditional” mail in a digital world. In fact, direct mail usage for marketing campaigns equals or exceeds 50% for most of the 11 industry segments cited in the study. In usage, direct mail leaders were travel or hospitality (80%), nonprofits (75%), publishing or media (71%), and financial services/banks/credit (67%). Only Technology (44%), Retail (44%), and B2B Services (34%) came in below the 50% usage mark. 

B2B, B2C Split on Formats As Response Tracking Goes Digital

When it comes to direct mail creative format, postcards tend to produce the best overall response in combined B2B and B2C data, with a 13% median response rate for house files and 10% for prospecting files. Letter-size envelope formats turned in rates of 10% for house lists and 4% for prospecting, and oversize envelope mail garnered 11% for both house and prospect lists. Format results are different for B2B versus B2C, however. Looking only at B2B, limited data indicates the letter-size envelope format outperforms with a combined median response for house and prospect lists of 15%-40%, compared with postcards’ 14%-16%. For B2C, responses show oversize envelopes actually turning in the best 9%-12% median response for house and prospect lists combined, compared with postcards at 9% and letter envelopes at 4%. In tracking those response rates, marketers have definitely gone digital, with over half of surveyed marketers (53%) saying they use online tracking capabilities, such as PURLs, followed in popularity by the use of codes or coupons (45%) and call center or telephone inquiries (41%).