In the past year, the company increased year-end digital subscribers by 31 percent, decreased average weekly churn by 9 percent, and “most importantly, we increased our average weekly subscriber revenue by 67 percent,” said Darya Ushakova, Tribune’s Digital Marketing Director.

How did they do it?

Applying the funnel concept, Ushakova took participants of WAN-IFRA’s recent LATAM Media Leaders eSummit through the five stages and described some of the actions that Tribune emphasises for each.

Tribune’s flagship news brand is the Chicago Tribune but the company also includes several other major news publishers, such as the Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News.

Boosting awareness with help from 12 million email addresses

At the top, or widest part of the funnel, is the awareness stage, and Tribune’s goal is to increase the number of readers and their knowledge of the company’s product offering.

“We have over 12 million unique email addresses in our database,” Ushakova said. “It’s a pretty important number because we can then market to those people and communicate with them.”

The company continues to add to its email database by using email capture campaigns onsite and through paid media, with many coming from promotions for their newsletters.

“We’ve found that the best kinds of leads come to us through newsletter promotion. They have the highest propensity to convert from every other lead,” Ushakova said.

Engagement: Building consumption habits

With the next level, engagement, Tribune’s objective is to build reader habits and connect them with the content in order to drive consideration. To improve on this, Ushakova said, they have launched a new type of email alerts that have substantially increased their subscriber referral traffic.

In early 2020, Tribune also launched onsite browser alerts and now has several million users who have signed up to receive them.

“We know that people who get those alerts visit the site much more often,” she said.

They’ve also revamped their app with personal content suggestions.

“This is brand new,” Ushakova said. “It’s launching gradually in different markets, but we know that app installation is positively correlated with both acquisition and retention of new subscribers.

“Through being able to offer content personalisation in the app, we’re hoping to get more users onto the app and get them more engaged and just keep them coming back because they are going to get news that’s selected personally for them through the app,” she added.

SMS newsletters and alerts

As crucial as newsletters and alerts can be for driving subscriptions, Ushakova also advised participants to audit both regularly and cut out the ones that are underperforming. 

“I would encourage everyone to invest in data and strong analytics for the performance of your newsletters and alerts,” she said. “A lot of the time, we’ve found that a market will have 20 newsletters and in the end, it’s really like five or six that are really doing anything. The others are just a waste of time and precious editorial resources. By doing this audit, we can ensure that we are getting the best of engagement, the best of people’s attention, and they’re coming back.”

Consideration: Converting users mid-funnel

Ushakova said Tribune has had a 52 percent increase in unique paywall hits over the same time last year, which is leading to more subscribers.

“We have learned that people who visit the checkout flow from the paywall are actually several times more likely to convert than people who visit the checkout flow from anywhere else, so it is hard to overestimate the importance of paywall and the audience you bring to the paywall,” she said.

To increase the purchase consideration of users, Tribune is running acquisition and marketing campaigns through organic and paid channels – email onsite, social, search, as well as some digital ads, she said.

She added that this is also a good place to make readers an attractive intro offer to try out a subscription.

Testing, testing, testing

To ensure the desired results keep coming, Tribune runs a lot of regular tests. 

“We are constantly optimising our meter and paywall. We have gone through multiple stages of optimisation of the meter,” Ushakova said.

She added that she does at least five to 10 A/B tests on the paywall every quarter.

Making use of premium articles has been another major project during the past two years.

“It’s been going great for us, and is partially why we were able to increase our paywall hits by this much because we select some content and make it subscriber exclusive,”  Ushakova said.

She said Tribune does extensive testing around premium content as well.

Streamlining the subscription process

At the acquisition stage, Tribune’s objective is to streamline the subscription process to ensure maximum flow efficiency and minimise cart abandonment.

Cart abandonments, which occur when online shoppers / potential subscribers decide not to follow through on purchases, are a crucial thing that all publishers need to be concerned about, Ushakova said.

“Cart abandonment is the number one pain point for a lot of publishers. It is very, very high in the subscription business. It is much higher than it is in retail. We are investing money and resources in completion analysis and checkout flow. We are doing deep-dive user testing, such as user interviews to understand what are the weak points in our checkout flow and how we can improve it,” she said.

Creating a strong value perception

At the loyalty stage, Tribune is aiming to drive virtuous behaviours among newly acquired subscribers to create a strong value perception and promote loyalty.

“What we’re doing is auditing subscriber behaviours constantly with our data team to identify factors that correlate positively and negatively with retention. We’re optimising the onboarding experience during the first 180 days directly after checkout and with a welcome series over time,” Ushakova said.

This process highlights subscriber exclusive content offerings, including exclusive articles and newsletters. For example, their premium articles have a banner that says “This is an article just for you because you are funding our work here.”

Looking ahead

In terms of what Tribune is planning for the future, Ushakova said they are working on a lot of things at every stage of the funnel, such as a revamp of their onboarding and checkout processes.

“We’re going to further mitigate involuntary churn due to credit card decline,” she said. “And then we’re going to continue to do price modeling to find that sweet spot between revenue and retention.”

“You need to be smart about your pricing,” she said. “We have to create our own pricing that works for our different user groups, and no two user groups are the same. We need to recognise that, and cater to that.”

Ushakova urged publishers to keep trying and above all, to keep testing.

“Things are not going to go your way multiple times before you get it right, so I keep repeating this phrase that my old boss said, and it’s definitely important to remember: ‘If none of your initiatives fail, you’re not testing enough,’ ” she said.

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