‘The Content That Drives Frequency [Must Be] Highlighted’; Thorough Onboarding Is the First Step for Successful Renewals

To ensure reader loyalty, Michael Silberman, senior vice president of strategy at media consultancy Piano, emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive “onboarding” process for new subscribers with messages that highlight exclusive content and website navigation. He also urges emailing daily round-up newsletters to subscribers and making sure that the content that drives frequency is highlighted. “Putting all those pieces together is really important,” he said.

In the Medill study that I wrote about a couple weeks ago—Reading Frequency Outweighs Page Views and Intensity—some of the success of the business publication being studied stemmed from their popular political columnist and additional restaurant content they were experimenting with. But Silberman tempered this a bit.

“Somebody who is only looking at article pages and not going to the home page, they are less likely to subscribe. They probably got there from an email they read,” he said. “Because of the way paywalls work, you may have very limited ability to read even if you’re visiting several days in a row. They may look like they are loyal, but they are just trying to read. They may only be loyal to clicking on the website.”

Instead, he pointed to the importance of thorough onboarding. Medill Spiegel Research Center research director Edward Malthouse agrees, adding that the onboarding process should “show subscribers how to get the most out of their subscriptions. If they receive value from the subscription, then they will continue to pay for it.” As publications move further towards reader-supported models, engaging subscribers early becomes increasingly imperative.

Here are 5 onboarding successes I’ve come across:

Monitor early. “If a subscriber doesn’t have at least 10 page views a month, we run campaigns to engage with them, send them letters from the editor and the CEO, try to understand what they are looking for, and make relevant changes,” said Vaibhav Khanna, former product head, BQ Prime (formerly Bloomberg Quint), a multiplatform, Indian business and financial news company. In a retention study last year from the American Press Institute, the biggest gap between what publishers deem valuable and what they aren’t doing well is in identifying at-risk subscribers—83.5% to 19%. The next two are using metrics to evaluate churn—82.6% to 28%—and track what subscribers read—75.7% think it’s important but only 30% believe they are good at it.

Perfect your welcome letters. I recall one open-rate survey that had welcome letters far ahead of any other type of communication. When it comes to onboarding, welcome emails are by far the most effective at 77%. The more value you can throw into a welcome letter, the better. And the more people you can get involved from a member/subscriber organization will also help you come renewal time. Almost everyone (90%) encourages new subscribers to sign up for their newsletters. However, only some publishers send educational information about how to use their products (46%) or send personal notes from a person in the newsroom (43%).

Dedicate specific space on your site. The Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) created a new member guide and a special page on their website with practical tips for new members. During the pandemic, HIDA went away from sending out physical packets but then heard from members who preferred receiving something tangible in the mail. Perhaps you could get a sponsor for that.

Provide the breadth of what you do. Especially during the pandemic, customers/subscribers/members may have come to you for one special thing, be that COVID coverage, ways to move forward or how others are dealing with this crisis. So it’s important that you expose them to everything else that you do. “If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to our COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you?” asked Jeremy Gilbert, then of The Washington Post, now of Medill, early on in the pandemic. “What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?”

Show and tell. In the personalized onboarding webinars that Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, conducts, she “shows a short promotional video from ABA’s tradeshow, providing a testimonial about the value of the event. Zegeye said she often gets thank-you notes from those webinar attendees who say, “Wow, I had no idea you guys did all of these things!” “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members,” she added. On their website, there’s a pdf guide titled How to Access and Utilize My ABA. The webinars immediately put a face with a name, and members are more likely to reach out to her directly with questions.

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