Building a long-term relationship with your readers

A recent survey from Reuters found that 52% of media executives will focus on reader revenues this year, and we know that leading publishers invest more in engagement than acquisition. So how do you build a long-term relationship with your readers?

Today as a Valentine’s Day’s special, we take a look at what has worked for Xavier Van Leeuwe, current Director Consumers at Telegraaf Media Groep, and Matthijs van de Peppel, Director of Marketing, Data and Customer Care at NRC Media. Along with Matt Lindsay of Mather Economics, they’ve written a book “How To Succeed in the Relationship Economy.” Going against conventional wisdom, they have novel recommendations for building long-term relationships with readers inspired by the process for building personal relationships.

“Start dating your readers.”

While no one is recommending actually dating your readers, it is key to understand the relationship you do have with them! Indeed, Xavier Van Leeuwe recommends switching your focus to the type of relationship you actually want to be developing with your readers.

You should start thinking of your reader relationships as you would a romantic relationship. In the beginning phase you might be flirting with readers, trying to get them to discover what you can offer. Then you start dating, your readers start to come back more often and realise the value in paying for a subscription. Then comes engagement, your readers make the decisions to incorporate the newspaper into their daily routines.

Marriage isn’t the end of the story however, you have to keep working on your relationship, listening to your reader, and developing products with them in mind in order to retain them and avoid churn or divorce.

“Longer contracts build stronger relationships. Trials don’t.”

When Xavier Van Leeuwe joined Telegraaf Media Groep in the Netherlands, he analysed the churn rate for their different subscription offers. The clear takeaway was that shorter subscription offers did not result in long-term relationships while still incurring a high acquisition cost. In a bold move, they stopped offering their short term subscriptions, and focused on only their longer subscriptions.

With a 24% decrease in their marketing and acquisition budget, the team at De Telegraaf has seen a year-on-year subscriptions growth of 66%.

NRC Handelsblad, another quality newspaper in the Netherlands, has also had success with this strategy. Now they do not offer any type of trial, and have just three subscription offers: one, two, and three years.

“He showed me the only time he had heard from us: a yearly invoice.”

When did you last sit down at a reader’s kitchen table and discuss the role your newspaper played in their life? Probably never! But for Xavier van Leeuwe, he can tell you about not only the last time but all the other times he’s done exactly that.

Visiting readers in their kitchens

While you might think it would be difficult to get readers to agree to this type of visit, Xavier van Leeuwe tells the story of one reader who asked why they hadn’t done this before, in any of the 25 years he had been a subscriber! Indeed, while your readers receive a newspaper from you every day, when do they receive personalised communication from you? Often it is only the invoice.

It doesn’t always have to be a kitchen visit, there are other ways to listen, and engage, with your readers. When Xavier van Leeuwe was working with Matthijs van de Peppel at NRC, they launched a “Welcome Pilot”. In order to improve the experience of new customers, their team called new subscribers, checking if the delivery of the newspaper was going as planned, and trying to engage them with their digital products. For this pilot program to earn back the cost of these calls, it needed to result in a 2.6% decline in cancellations of new subscriptions. The program was clearly successful, resulting in a 3.8% decline in cancellations. Expanding the pilot to their standard operating procedure would mean they would save 1,500 more relationships, which would be a gain of 50,000 euros.

They’ve also tried smaller initiatives, such as automated emails thanking subscribers on their subscription anniversary, and even handwritten notes after a subscriber faces a delivery issue or has to stop their subscription because they lost their job. The team knows the importance of thinking long-term for relationship building, as well as the significance of the small actions!

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe
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