Dos and Don'ts of Getting New Subscribers/Members

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Over the weekend, I was about to send in $100 for a membership to a group I've belonged to for many years when I decided to look again at the benefits. There really aren't any. The ticket discounts I used to get are now offered to higher-level subscribers. The four free tickets are now two. They've done away with their publication. I had just gotten used to giving them money because I support what they do.

That may not be enough anymore. "What is a benefit?" Jim Sinkinson of FiredUp Marketing has asked on more than one occasion. "A benefit has to have one of two elements—an emotional reward that makes you feel great or a tangible reward. What it is not is information, learning something or news. 'Reminder to take our survey, it's important to us!' is not good. The benefit is not for the customer."

(Sinkinson will be one of three panelists at a Pre-Conference Workshop at SIPA Annual 2018, June 5-7 on Best Practices in Direct Marketing. (Charity Huff, CEO of January Spring, and Craig Huey, president, Creative Direct Marketing Group, Inc., are the others.)

Here are some dos and don'ts for getting members/subscribers:

DO offer creative discounts. In Marketing General Inc.'s 2017 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, several respondents said that their best performing acquisition has been offering an extra 3 months for the price of 12. "We offer it via an emailed campaign as well as a 'looka-like' campaign on Facebook."

"DON'T substitute the word 'interest' for 'value,'" said Gwen Vargo of the American Press Institute in a post on NiemanLab. "People might be interested in a car crash, but don't value it enough to pay for it." She also referenced research on paths to subscription, the types and motives of news subscribers, and the price points of digital subscriptions for U.S. newspapers.

DO stay determined. It takes 20 exposures to a subscription offer before someone typically converts to being a subscriber, according to paywall tech company Piano's Michael Silberman. He also encouraged the organizations to focus on annual subscriptions because of the instability of monthly subscriber churn.

DON'T delete your lapsed subscribers if you don't get an immediate response. Studies show that only about 24% of those lapsed subscribers will open your initial re-engagement email, but 45% will read subsequent ones. One study showed that it was 57 days from when the subscribers got the win back email before they acted. So plan for a multi-touch re-engagement campaign over several weeks.

DO tell stories of impact. In her NiemanLab 2018 prediction, Emily Goligoski, research director for the Membership Puzzle Project, wrote that we need to look outside our industry more for shining examples. She said that Jesse Littlewood, digital director of democratic action network Common Cause, told a group of publishers recently that "we are less used to telling the story of impact than the story of the work. [People in news are] less likely to be braggadocios than some folks in this world."

DON'T hesitate to pick up the phone. From that Membership Marketing Report: "We have a ready database of potential members, available every month, and have refined and streamlined our contact with them... Our conversion rates for [telemarketing] are around 15%." Another respondent said that "lapsed member telemarketing generates at least 5% of our renewals."

DO use current members as ambassadors. One publisher lets their "members bring guests to our Member Mixers, and we then invite those guests to attend one of the events in our monthly series as our guest. This allows people to become familiar with our organization and the work we do." Danish publisher Zetland, lets members share stories with unique links that allow non-members to read the story along with a header that says that a specific member shared the story. An ambassador program lets members share free two-week trials of the site with friends.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…