Is your circulation flat? Are you having trouble attracting new subscribers? Do you want to expand your offerings to new markets? If yes, then consider launching a new paid subscription product. However, success in your vertical doesn’t always equal an easy launch, even with your existing customers. But you can thrive with a concrete action plan that depends on quality market research. Below is an 8-step guide to launching a new publication that includes the circulation-marketing areas you need to consider.
Step 1) Strategy – define your targets and their needs
Many B2B publishers focus on a certain type of content for a specific sort of customer. This can prove quite lucrative within a defined market, but can be frustrating if you want to move into other niches. You’re effectively trapped in your silo. To figure out a strategy for generating more revenue, you have to choose between:
A) Focusing on the niche you already service, but with additional products
B) Breaking out of your vertical and selling a version of your content to a different industry
With A) you know your customers, or can get to know them. You have an inkling of the content they may want to buy in the future. And you have a ready list of industry professionals who already trust you enough to purchase from you.
For breaking into a new vertical (B), consider hiring a “connector”, someone who knows the ins and outs of customers in the industry that you want to target. This person will know who to call to gather information for your product launch.
Selling new content to existing customers will be easier but, in either scenario, you must identify an emotional need for your prospects and define how your new product satisfies that need. Call it a hypothesis for now and, in step 2), you’ll start testing that hypothesis.
Step 2) Market Research
Before you launch a new publication, talk to your prospective subscribers to answer the below questions…
- Is your product viable? Is there demand for what you want to launch?
- What are your prospects’ needs? Which pain points will shape their buying behavior? Does your new content help them solve any pressing problems?
- How do your prospects identify themselves? Do they call themselves “pulp and paper marketers” or “litigators in southern California”?
- What specialized language do your prospects use to describe the problems you want to help them solve?
- Where are your prospects? What do they read? What groups do they join? Which events do they attend? What do they visit on the web?
- Who are your potential competitors? Do they possess any weaknesses or strengths that you should be aware of?
You’ll want to talk to your prospects by calling them, going to the events that they attend and posting questions on social networks. This part of your research, while valuable as a first toe in the water, is not a systematic analysis. Before developing your publication, you’ll need to create a more comprehensive look at your prospects, which you can get from:
- Focus groups: This is a good start to more methodical research. The open discussion format lets your prospects brainstorm ideas for you, and will help you define which questions to ask in a survey. Make sure you have some objectives and open-ended questions in mind so you get the most out of your group.
- Online surveys: If you possess a quality email list (the best being your own customers), then conduct your survey online. Formulate questions about your new publication that will also answer the 6 questions you have above. With the report you compile, you’ll know where to find your prospects, which content will excite them, the copy that will peak their interest and where your publication’s strengths will lie relative to the competition.
- Phone surveys: Without a pre-existing relationship to your prospects, online surveys won’t generate a lot of responses. For launching into a new vertical, you may need to conduct phone surveys to get the data you want. It will be costlier, but well worth the price when you launch your successful new publication.
Step 3) Develop your publication
Once you know your target audience and their most pressing needs, your content team can begin developing an editorial calendar to meet those needs. As part of the process, your company must determine…
- What information you will publish to satisfy your prospective subscribers
- How you will collect this information (examples below):
- Interviews with industry contacts
- Agglomeration of other news
- Analysis of existing public information
- How you will present this information:
- What will be the unique brand of the publication?
- How will this brand fit into your company’s family of products?
- How long will the publication be (how much content is needed)?
- How often will this information be distributed?
- The overall value this new publication brings to your company. Consider:
- How many potential subscribers exist in your target market
- Reasonable price points
- How quickly you can reach your optimal market share
- Whether your new product will cannibalize any existing business
When developing the product, editorial will take the lead, but marketing must provide insight from the customer’s point of view and finance will help determine the overall net present value. Make sure your teams work together, have clear objectives and take all possible factors into account.
Step 4) Marketing copy and strategy
Marketing must now decide how to bring your new content to market. In doing so, focus on what you learned in your research, which will help you:
- Formulate copy
- Buy lists
- Advertise in other publications
- Attend events
- Purchase the right search-engine-marketing keywords (SEM)
- Optimize your site for organic search (SEO)
Know who you are targeting, why they need your content and where to find them. If the market research done in step 2) didn’t answer these questions, formulate another survey or focus group so that your strategy is defined by customer needs.
Step 5) Marketing funnel
What does your funnel look like? How will prospects learn about your publication, try it out, subscribe, renew and tell their colleagues?
Your initial marketing will likely offer prospects a free trial to your product, and you will try to sell them on the value of a paid subscription. Upon conversion, you bill your new customers and start renewing anywhere from 3 to 9 months before their subscription expires. You should also consider a formalized referral program to give subscribers incentives to market for you.
A few different trial options are available, and all of them are appropriate depending on the content you’re offering and the niche you offer it to.
- Pure free trial: This lets someone receive your content without any promise of paying for it in the future. A pure free trial will last anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks depending on the value of the content. If you offer a downloadable directory, you’ll want to avoid using any kind of free trial. But if your information is ongoing news and you’ve just launched a product, this will enable your prospects to sign up without too much commitment.
- Credit card free trial: Here you offer a trial period where the subscriber doesn’t pay, but she must submit her credit card to secure access to the information she wants. The credit card is billed at the end of the trial unless the subscriber cancels beforehand. The barrier to entry here is higher, but you’ll end up with a much better conversion rate.
- Soft offer: An easier method to fulfill, a soft offer simply follows on the billing cycle of the product. You tell a subscriber to sign up for a year, send him and invoice and let him know he can cancel before the credit period runs out, which is usually 1-2 months. The advantage is that, once the subscriber pays, he doesn’t have any non-revenue-accruing time on his subscription.
- Hard offer: Here you don’t even offer a trial. This is best for a database-based product where the subscriber could submit a form, download all your content and walk away without ever paying. In this case, you’ll want to give some sample or demo to showcase your content.
- Recurring monthly offer: This takes the sting out of a whole year subscription, making it feel like less of a commitment for your customer. But beware. While it may seem like these folks will renew forever, customers change addresses, move jobs and cancel their credit cards. Have a system in place to catch them when they stop paying. And make sure you know the local legislation on “’til-forbid” renewals.
- Pure free trial with custom upsell: Use this when you want to charge your customers a different price based on their demographics. For example, say you sell access to a resume database (non-downloadable). One of your customers is Manpower and the other is a small, 20-person company that rarely hires. You give them both the trial and, during the trial, you judge that Manpower places far greater value on the information you’re selling. So you adjust their price upwards and the small company’s downward before converting them to the paid version of your database.
Step 6) Fulfillment
Fulfill your product so that your subscribers never fall through the cracks, either in terms of content delivery, renewals or payments.
- Delivery: How will your product be delivered? Will it live online on a gated website? If so, then you need a real-time-updating database that allows access upon subscription and cuts it off upon non-payment, expiration or cancellation. If it is a print publication, who will print it every week? Who will mail it? How will your list of active subscribers make it to your printer and mailer?
- Frequency: Fulfillment systems use frequency to know how often they need to report on your subscribers, how often ongoing marketing efforts are batched and when to cut off unpaid or expired subscriptions. Usually the batch frequency will be the same as the publication frequency.
- Reporting: Think about what kind of reports you want your fulfillment house to do. Which data are necessary for you to know that your marketing is successful? What time periods are important? For examples, see my article on the 11 essential metrics for circulation marketers.
- Free trial, billing and renewal efforts: Outline which efforts you plan to send to renew your subscribers. How many and how varied will depend on your publication’s price and profitability. For example, if you have a publication that costs $10 per year, you won’t want to include two telephone renewal efforts that may cost $4 per call. But if you’re a specialized publisher selling your newsletter for $1,000 per year, you will want multiple emails, direct mailings and telephone calls at different points in the subscriber’s free trial, billing and renewal schedules.
Generally, marketing is about offering…
- The right product
- To the right person
- At the right time
- For the right price
- In the right place
If your product is profitable enough, offer renewals that reach out by email, phone and direct mail over 6-9 months, possibly even including a discount a couple months after expire. Free trials, being harder to convert and therefore less profitable, will require less effort.
Step 7) Marketing channels
How will you reach your customers? Do you hope they will search on Google and find you? Are your existing customers the best source of leads for your new publication? Do you have direct mail or telemarketing lists at your disposal?
A good strategy will combine market research with your overall campaign plan. If your target market uses LinkedIn, make sure to post snippets of your content as LinkedIn discussions. If they search for needed information on Google, you may need an SEO specialist and some AdWords campaigns.
Be sure to follow the marketing principle outlined in step 6). Your prospect needs to be the right person, want the right product, at the right time, for the right price in the right place. So play with your offers, try promotions on various lists and approach them in different ways, including (but not limited to) events, social media, search engines, advertising in other publications, over the phone, in the mail, over email, on webinars or other areas where your niche is active.
Spreading out your offers along different lines of communication will also remind prospects that your publication is right for them. Though we tend to track promotions on a one-by-one basis using ROI, there is an art to marketing where people need to trust you before they buy. So a first direct mailer may flop in terms of ROI, but also serves to prep your audience for a later email or phone call.
Step 8) Launch
Put together steps 1) through 7) and you’re ready to launch your product. Keep to a strict editorial and marketing calendar, make sure the fulfillment processes you’ve set up are working well, and keep asking your prospective subscribers questions about how they relate to your new offerings. Keep up with marketing, even if the initial results aren’t promising. Some brands take time and critical mass to build. Most importantly, keep an open dialog with your customers by using surveys and social media to fine tune what you’re offering and how you market it.