As a marketer in the magazine industry, do you have an overall strategy to learn more about your audience? How are you leveraging your research to attract and retain subscribers, and to secure more advertising sales? Subscriber research is multifaceted, but we can break it down into four main categories:
- Research to develop a circulation strategy
- Research to benchmark customer satisfaction
- Research to sell advertising
- Research to syndicate and sell to your advertisers
Developing your circulation strategy could mean many things. You may want to grow into a new market, launch a new magazine or develop a core marketing message. With many thousands of subscribers, you are sitting on a veritable goldmine of data, waiting to be collected. But first you need a plan.
Step 1) Define your objectives
What do you want to accomplish? This could be anything from attracting more prospects, retaining current subscribers, keeping subscribers satisfied, discovering new opportunities for content or winning more advertisers. Defining these key objectives will help you focus on the research that you need.
Step 2) What do you already know?
What sort of information do you already have, and what do you need to take action? Figuring this out will help you determine what sort of research you still need. If you have nothing, then begin by doing some secondary research to see what you may be able to find. Compiling research from the web will be a lot cheaper than conducting a failed survey.
Step 3) What gaps do you need to fill?
After you have collected all prior and secondary research, determine where you need to fill in the gaps in order to meet your objectives. Do you have…
- …very little useful information at all?
- …some defining characteristics of the information you would like to collect but no overall quantitative validation?
- …quantitative validation from previous studies?
If you already have the answers you need from a past report, you may not need to do any market research at all, unless you want to verify what you know, or think a time series including past data will allow you to understand trends.
Step 4) Build a research plan based on your objectives and the gaps in your knowledge
If you do not even have a framework around which to build a quantitative study, you will need to do some qualitative research. For example, if you are a specialty publisher focused on a small niche, a systematic schedule of customer visits will help you conceptualize how subscribers think about your publication(s). If your publication is larger and consumer oriented, focus groups, panels or open-ended surveys will prove invaluable.
After building a framework for how subscribers think about your magazine(s), you will use that to formulate a survey. Just because the 20-30 subscribers you interviewed in focus groups believe one way does not mean that the entire universe of your circulation agrees. Quantitative validation in the form of a subscriber survey will confirm what the entire population of your subscribers believes.
Step 5) Rinse and repeat
Over time, you’ll want to confirm and reconfirm your subscribers’ conceptualizations of what your magazine is all about. But the ongoing research must fit into a specific set of goals for your organization. For example, you may want to:
- Benchmark subscriber satisfaction overall, by segment and among various key attributes
- Conduct an ongoing competitive analysis of how your magazine performs in various attributes vs. other similar publications
- Continually explore new opportunities among your current customers to create new content, or launch new magazines
- Create sales materials around subscriber buying behavior that will show the effectiveness of advertising in your magazine vs. the competition
- Syndicate ongoing studies that you can sell to advertisers, helping them understand their potential universe of customers
Knowing your subscribers can prove invaluable. But before you send a survey or conduct a focus group, make sure that your market research tactics fit into an overall strategy, allowing you to leverage your collected data into an overall action plan that you can use to meet your business goals.
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