Brand Purpose, Price, Content Variation and Exclusivity Help Bring in New Subscribers

Through two years of reader research, The Atlantic determined that people who are familiar with their brand appreciate the content range that it offers. So in marketing emails to prospective subscribers, they emphasize that range. “The reader needs help me stay intentional in how we’re using our readers’ time,” said senior editor Isabel Fattal.

Why do people subscribe? One reason is to jump on a bandwagon such as ChatGPT. Another is if they like a product and want to get even more of it. Axios built a national platform with an elite audience—and then added a high-end subscription business, Axios Pro. Another reason is to get something they can’t get anywhere else.

In The Atlantic’s deep dive into their subscribers’ journeys, they found this: “Our data science team has seen that ‘lighter’ topics tend to appear earlier in a person’s path to becoming a subscriber, and that ‘weightier’ topics tend to be the reads immediately before a person makes a decision to subscribe,” they wrote. “We don’t lean toward one of these over the other; rather, it’s the overall composition of topics a reader spends time with that matters most in driving return visits and subscriptions.”

It’s not B2B, but the Press Gazette reported on a Yougov poll that surveyed American readers to see what makes them pay for a subscription. Lower price won out at 42%, followed by ad-free browsing (33%), exclusive content (26%), group subscription (23%) and better user experience (22%).

Asked what types of content are worth paying for, Americans answered: entertainment (movies, TV, music, etc. (41%), education/learning (31%), news (21%) and lifestyle – food, fashion, cooking, etc. (17%).

And factors that would make readers less likely to pay for a subscription include: high price (60%); too many ads (52%), poor user experience (45%) and lack of exclusive content (29%).

Here are more ways to help gain subscribers:

Embrace the state of the world—brand purpose matters. The Atlantic built on the success of Robinson Meyer’s climate change newsletter The Weekly Planet to introduce a slew of writer-driven subscriber newsletters. As organizations struggle to attract and/or maintain younger readers/members, 62% of marketers “at least sometimes change the tone of an email in reaction to what’s happening around the world.” Sustainability, DEI and climate change are all huge issues today, particularly for young people—83% of millennials say it’s important that companies they buy from also align with their values, and 73% of 35-54 year olds and 60% of 55+ year olds agree.

Know what you’re good at and market that. The Atlantic’s top-performing marketing emails list content examples that demonstrate their topic range: why Down Syndrome is disappearing in Denmark; “how American private schools became so obscene”; how testimonies from formerly enslaved people were almost lost; the dark side of houseplants; “why you should cancel Amazon Prime”; the case against America’s national parks. “These are just a few of the bold ideas you’ll find in The Atlantic…” the letter continues.

Help readers discover new ideas. “We’ve become collectors of stories about how The Atlantic has turned people onto unexpected areas of interest, including natural world phenomena, the history of public education in the United States, and the inner workings of the British royal family.” They also praise the ability of print magazines to immerse the reader “into a story on a subject you knew little about and adjacency (stumbling upon an unfamiliar topic).”

Give your audience a change of pace or pertinent distractions. “When they come to us, they’re not looking to zone out. They’re looking for novel approaches into big picture topics.” So while The Atlantic knows they’re not Saturday Night Live, they’re also not the Congressional Record. I noticed a crossword on their homepage today, articles on tattoos and the rise of gender-neutral names, and book recommendations. What do you have that offers your readers a “meaningful break”?

Become more innovative. Organizations report that they have taken initiatives to focus more on innovation. This has entailed focusing more on communication and collaboration (62%, up from 53% in 2020), providing encouragement to innovative employees (52%, up from 38%), and driving innovation from the top down (45%, up from 41% in 2020). However, only 20% of executives report that their organization has a process in place to encourage innovation and new ideas. More than half (54%) say they do not.

Personalize the experience. According to Litmus, 80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences, and 83% of customers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience. That also means more segmentation. More than 65% of marketers are creating at least two versions of an email on average. Nearly 16% are creating four or more. “Run an A/B test with your subscribers, with and without personalization, then look at your analytics to see how subscribers engage with both emails,” they advise.


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