A New Report Tells What Makes People Subscribe

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What makes people subscribe? Apparently, a good visual rather than your logo, and speaking positively about the benefits you can offer vs. what people would miss by not subscribing. A new report simply titled Subscription Messages from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin studied different ways news organizations proffer themselves to potential subscribers.

Here are some takeaways from the study:

Tell customers what they would gain, not lose. When soliciting subscriptions via email, messages emphasizing what you'd lose without news frequently resulted in lower click-through rates compared to other strategies, such as telling people what they'd gain from a subscription or just giving them details about the subscription. The wording of the subscription offer should then be more positive. ("Get the news you need to stay informed..." vs. "Don't miss out on the news you need to stay informed...")

Use visuals. The study supported the importance of visuals in your outreach. Pictures of journalists working and of major news events drew far more clicks than the logo of the publication. Across 10 tests, the logo reduced the chances that someone would click on the subscription message by 16% compared to an image of a journalist at work (hopefully yours). Previous studies have also shown that the credibility of text increases when accompanied by a photo. One example pointed to a quiz that asked if a celebrity was dead or alive. A photo made more people guess alive.

Email still wins out. The most successful means for signing up new members is direct email paired with multiple channels (e.g., integration of social media, Facebook ads, and direct mail). An email with a set appointment that people can change is better than an open-ended one asking what time might be convenient. They don't have to take action to schedule. But they would have to take action to get out of it—much less likely. It's why free events are often over-booked but under-attended.

Build relationships with your audience. Not unexpectedly, the study found that people agreed to subscribe more after a relationship had been built. That relationship can start in many ways including through social media. The study showed the importance of building a "ladder of engagement" (Facebook "likes" and newsletter sign-ups followed by news subscriptions). "We think about what's readily available to us, what's relevant," consultant Nancy Harhut once told us. "You want to get people to think of a time in their past where they could have used your product or service or think of a time in the future when it would it fit into their lifestyle."

Show that your content is unique. Major barriers that prevent individuals from becoming subscribers, members and donors include:

  • Free-of-charge options to read news offered by other organizations;
  • Low levels of engagement and competition from other digital subscriptions sources (reflecting audiences' limited budget for digital subscriptions).

To combat this, add urgency to your message. Urgency can provide a 34-36% lift in open rates. Flash sales are now also doing well in B2B. "If I don't move quickly I will lose out."

Pay attention to your landing pages. The study found that there were many clicks to the subscription websites that did not convert into subscriptions. This begs, they wrote, for more attention to the subscription pages. Can it be designed in ways to increase conversions? And does the combination of techniques yield a better rate of return? Determine the bond between what brings visitors to a page and what they're trying to do. You may need many landing pages. The people you drive to your site from your print publication are going to be different from those who come there from search or social media.

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…