Mutant Digital Offspring: Why Are Publishers' Newsletter Promotions So Lame?

By: E. Eadward Tree

OK, my digital friends, you can stop snickering now.

My post last month about how some of my fellow print dinosaurs are marketing their magazines set some tongues wagging on the digital side of Magazine Media Land. But in the Stupid Marketing Olympics, direct-mail pieces that look like something out of the Pleistocene Era can’t compete with a type of promotion that’s become common on publishers’ websites.

Several times a week, it seems, I follow a link to a website I’ve never visited, only to be greeted by a huge ad asking me to sign up for the publisher’s newsletter.

If I’m on my smartphone, the promotion obnoxiously blocks my ability to see the article. If I try to close the ad, chances are 1 in 3 nothing will happen when I click on the “X” and 1 in 4 I’ll be taken to the newsletter’s sign-up page. And the odds are about 50-50 that I’ll just abandon the site – no newsletter sign-up, no paid ad impressions, no repeat visits.

Fellow publishers, let me ask a couple of impertinent question: How many people sign up for your newsletters without actually having seen any of your articles? And wouldn’t newcomers to your site be more likely to sign up if the newsletter promotion were served to them after they had a chance to see how great your content is?

Don’t plead ignorance. Within a second of me landing on your site, it serves ads targeted to me based upon my age, gender, interests, and recent Amazon browsing. Is your first-party data so poorly managed that you can’t tell this is my first time on your site?

What always seems to amaze publishing people is how difficult it is to get sign-ups for their wonderful newsletters.

What always amazes me is their amazement – as if they had thought all they had to do was throw up some interstitial ads and the masses would come calling. Did they think people would say, “Oooh, what a deal: a free newsletter?! I’ve never seen an offer like that before! I don’t know what’s in the newsletter, but sign me up!”

It’s 2017, folks; every website has a free newsletter, or newsletters. Why should readers sign up for yours when they’ve passed over 20 other newsletter offers in the past month?

The typical newsletter promotion is a mutant digital offspring of the worst magazine direct-mail pieces. At least once a year for more than a decade, a B2B magazine I have never seen mails me a subscription promotion that doesn’t show me any of the magazine’s content. That same mindset now inspires newsletter promotions that are full of marketing copy but don’t give people a chance to see what the newsletter is actually like.

The response from consumers to such pig-in-a-poke marketing is, “Don’t tell me – show me. If I’m going to pay for your magazine, I’ll need to seewhat it has that I can’t get for free online. And if your newsletter is so great, why won’t you let me see an actual issue before I give you permission to invade my already-overcrowded inbox?”

In other words, our marketers need to stop writing so much marketing copy and do more sharing of our content – to use our products to sell our products. Give potential magazine subscribers a link to see the digital version of an actual issue or maybe a best-of compilation. Post the current issue of your newsletter on your website for all to see – along with a sign-up promotion, of course.

If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, having respected magazines and popular newsletters are two major keys to the prosperity of magazine media. Our actual magazine business will continue to shrink, but putting ink on paper has a magical impact on our online CPMs, our credibility, and our performance in search engines.

Newsletters enable our websites to build a loyal base of readers whom we can reach directly, rather than via the crowded cacophony of social media and search engines. Readers’ repeat visits give us rich data about them that make them more valuable to advertisers. And our newsletters are among the few places where people who use ad blockers see digital ads.

(Tip: Advertising Land’s recent emphasis on viewability hasn’t extended to newsletters. Advertisers still calculate CPMs based on how many subscribers a newsletter has, not how many people open a typical issue – big difference. But let’s keep that a secret among ourselves.)

We publishers need to get the marketing of both our magazines and our newsletters out of the backwaters and into the 21st Century – applying the latest advancements in targeting, lead nurturing, and testing. Plus, some good ol’ common sense.

By: D. Eadward Tree

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