Digital publishing and the art of achieving audience loyalty

newspapercollageNewspaper and magazine publishers have always been rather more than pure media companies. Look back a hundred years and you’ll find a multiplicity of reader promotions and clubs designed to keep readers loyal.

For most of the twentieth century these promotions were usually tucked discreetly away in back pages and seen as a nice additional revenue stream. The real business of audience loyalty was driven by the quality and tone of editorial and by a lack of media choice.

The last decade has of course seen the print publishing status quo ripped to shreds. As eyeballs move away from print, media loyalty programmes are playing an increasingly prominent and integral part in the publisher business models.

Publishers have diversified beyond media to offer a host of services such as dating, holidays and insurance in a bid to deepen relationships with readers. The catalyst for this change and the driver of the future evolution of media loyalty is big data analytics.

Marketers have always known that an existing customer is more valuable than a new one. Now publishers have the means to find out who’s loyal, why and to understand what they can do to keep audiences stuck to a media brand.

So what are media brands learning from the rapid integration of customer loyalty strategies into their traditional content businesses?

Over the last six years, digital agency Clock has been involved in developing two very different loyalty programmes, Times+ and Sun Perks for News UK. Times+ has been geared to editorial values and an audience that wants exclusive access to people, views and experiences, while Sun Perks has maintained an unrelenting focus on enabling readers to save money on the products and services they really value.

However, both share three core attributes which point to the future of publisher loyalty programmes. Firstly, sophisticated audience data collection and optimisation is the engine that is driving an ever-closer relationship between media brand and reader/customer. Across initial subscription, every login, viewed offers and redemptions as well as content accessed, publishers are now able to see how individuals in their audience behave, what they appreciate and engage them with relevant content and rewards in real time.

Secondly, the user experience is proving a powerful factor in the effectiveness of loyalty programmes. There must be a frictionless flow for loyalty programme members from editorial to loyalty content and on to redemption.

Thirdly, media loyalty programmes should be seen as brands in their own right, with a look and feel that strikes a balance between distinctive and in tune with the master editorial product. A critical part of the brand experience is the creation of a sense of community. Really valuable products and experiences can become part of a shared experience integrated closely with social media platforms.

Rather than wondering why anonymous, fickle readers come and go, loyalty programmes have the potential to transform publisher/audience relationships. They enable media brands to truly know their readers and think of them not simply as subscribers, but as members, even offering direct access to the editorial team through the likes of the comment wall on Times+.

Nina Gilbert is an account director at Clock