The phrase "it all starts with the customer" has gotten so much lip service that it has virtually lost its meaning. Yet, if publishers would like to see their digital edition circulation thrive beyond international distribution and accommodating the "green" option, they could start by clearing up the confusion still faced with the digital magazine experience—and offer a choice that makes the best sense from the customer’s perspective.
Questex Media, a b-to-b publisher, has begun to market its digital edition brands in a decidedly proactive way. Rather than offering them as a passive choice, the company is training telemarketers to educate subscribers on digital edition benefits and target valuable segments that would otherwise fall through the cracks.
"When we talk to someone, our approach now is ‘what kind of information are you looking for and how would you like to see it," said Heidi Spangler, audience development director at Questex.
The question acknowledges an important turning point for any publisher—that a customer may not want the print edition, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. "Refusals are rarely that they don’t want the [print] information, but they get too much of it," said Spangler.
Telemarketer rebuttal scripts are now written to offer digital editions as a choice that might be more appropriate for the prospect’s needs—and not just for customers that are backing off a subscription. "We’re having them understand what the digital edition is and its benefits. In the past it’s just been considered a mode of delivery. Rather than trying to only track down international customers, we’re explaining it to everybody and letting them make their own decisions," said Spangler.
Customers that sign up for the digital edition are given the option to switch back at any time, but the approach signals a shift towards a broader definition of audience, one that levels the playing field for each brand. "Our whole goal has been to re-engineer our audience approach. For our audience to remain engaged we have to stop telling them what they want and give them what they want," Spangler said.
So far, initial test scripts have converted historically print subscribers to digital at a 10 percent rate—and these are direct request subscribers who have turned down digital edition offers in the past. "So many people don’t know what [digital editions] are, so they don’t take them," said Spangler. "We’re taking away the mystique."
The up-front primers from the telemarketers are not only improving conversion rates, they’re boosting open rates too. Specific metrics were unavailable, but Spangler cited "stronger" open rates among the converted "because it’s an educated decision. We tell them what they’re getting into. When they get their first announcement, they’re comfortable with what they’re getting."
Everyone Is Still in Play
Just because a customer is not responding to a renewal notice doesn’t mean they want to drop the brand entirely. Moving them to digital allows Questex to better monitor their behavior and keep them longer. "We’re hanging on to our 2-year names," Spangler said. "Some will respond to the digital edition, they just weren’t responding to the renewal marketing."
And when it’s time to weed out the inactive records, the digital editions can reveal engagement levels that print can’t. For these folks, a switch to digital can determine if retention is still a possibility. "When we sent them print magazines we knew it was mailing, but didn’t know if they were reading. If we send them a digital edition we can tell if they’re reading it. When it’s time to remove records we’ve basically tested them on both. If they’ve opened the digital edition we can keep them. It lets us analyze their behavior better."
Borderline qualifiers—students and other demos that aren’t pursued through standard marketing channels—are also good candidates for digital editions. "If they come into the form on their own and request the information, we don’t want to lose them and they’ll get bounced to a digital offer," said Spangler.