Experiences Rule. How The Atlantic Is Using Newsletters to Respond to Reader and Listener Needs

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. More than 65% of marketers are creating at least two versions of an email on average. Nearly 16% are creating four or more.

Experiences are in.

In an article in NiemanLab recently, The Atlantic’s executive director of audience research Emily Goligoski wrote about the 5 “Reader and Listener Needs” they found from an expansive survey they conducted. In assessing these needs, it’s clear that The Atlantic wants its readers to have more personalized experiences. Here are some insights from that research—taking a look at each of those needs.

Introduce me to writers at the top of their craft. The Atlantic built on the success of Robinson Meyer’s climate change newsletter The Weekly Planet.  Another is called I Have Notes by memoirist Nicole Chung. “Some look to Asian American stories—which are always ‘timely,’ always worth uplifting—to manifest a worth, a dignity, that should have already been evident,” she wrote recently. DEI, sustainability 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. (Elizabeth Green, CEO of Brief Media, will be talking about her media organization’s commitment to social good at our AMPLIFY conference, June 22-23 in Washington, D.C.)

Give me deeper clarity and context. “Our audience members have wide-ranging passions, from community service to cycling to learning languages,” Goligoski wrote. “A general interest publication like The Atlantic can’t offer the depth of knowledge they find in forums and through communities dedicated solely to their topical interests.” They are now up to (at least) 14 newsletters. Others include Dear Therapist, the puzzle-centric The Good Word and How to Build a Life. “The [B2B] media space has changed, and for that matter, so have the needs of the professionals it serves,” said ALM CEO Bill Carter. “We have to provide context and insight, data and analysis, forums and events that allow our customers to excel as practitioners as well as business professionals. Through this evolution, we strive to be the most trusted information services, data and media company available to our key industries.”

Help me discover new ideas. 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% in 2020), and driving innovation from the top down (45%, up from 41% in 2020). However, only 20% of association executives report that their association has a process in place to encourage innovation and new ideas. More than half (54%) say they do not. And the pandemic probably did not improve this. “Our consumer strategy and growth team used this insight—that people who are familiar with The Atlantic appreciate the range that it offers—in planning recent marketing emails to prospective subscribers,” wrote Goligoski.

Challenge my assumptions. “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,” wrote Goligoski. “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.” The Atlantic’s top-performing marketing emails list content examples that demonstrate their topic range.

Let me take a meaningful break. “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 and a Recommended Reading list. Even meaningful breaks can be experiences, maybe even more so if you consider quizzes, puzzles, This Day in Our History, anniversaries, etc.

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