As print declines, publishers dive into data

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Hearst Digital Media uses data to target specific ads to current subscribers and search visitors
Hearst Digital Media uses data to target specific ads to current subscribers and search visitors

Amid declining print magazine sales, some publishing companies are turning to database and CRM solutions to drive subscriptions.

Marketers at Meredith Corporation and Hearst Corporation agree on the importance of knowing how to reach prospects, the recency of the last correspondence or transaction, and customer responsiveness to various marketing efforts. And if a title has a niche focus such as weddings or babies, key life events can help with customer targeting, says Janet Donnelly, VP of consumer marketing at Meredith.

Meredith, which publishes special interest magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, American Patchwork & Quilting, and American Baby, uses a Teradata Solution for its customer databases. “The biggest initiative we have here is migrating the consumer online,” she says. “Once we get consumers to subscribe online, we have an immediate opportunity to cross-sell and upsell them, too.”

Because of Meredith's niche audience, there are usually additional titles that complement a reader's subscription. Donnelly says there are events in every woman's life that affect her interests—a pregnant woman might want to read American Baby; a new homeowner might want Better Homes and Gardens. This information, which can be gathered both online and offline, is invaluable, she says.

Ultimately, about 41% of customers who subscribe to a Meredith title online also take on a secondary subscription. “That's big,” Donnelly says. “Across all our brands, we're bringing in a lot of orders.” At the same time, about 54% of customers who receive a direct mail offer visited the title's website. “That is phenomenal,” she says.

At Hearst Digital Media—which includes Esquire.com, Cosmopolitan. com, and ELLE.comintegrating data on online and offline customer behavior is key, says Elyse Lindsey, the publisher's executive director of marketing and audience development. “It gives us a more holistic view of a user who comes to our website,” she says. “We're able to do a real-time lookup to see: Do we know this person? And, if we do, what do we know about them?”

The most important data point is whether the customer is already a Hearst subscriber. If a visitor to one of Hearst's Web properties arrives via Internet search, Hearst might position ads selling subscriptions; by contrast, visitors with an existing subscription may see ads prompting them to renew or purchase additional Hearst products. Hearst uses a combination of services and solutions from Acxiom, e-Dialog, CDS Market Research, Experian, Market Well, Jigyasa Analytics, and its own internal expertise.

Lindsey says that publishers ultimately don't use CRM or databases differently from retailers or other companies. “Whether a person is buying a car, or a sweater, or a magazine subscription, the intention is the same,” she says. “That is to collect as much data from that user as possible, and to make an experience that is rewarding and relevant to them.”

Even general interest titles like Newsweek reap similar benefits. For its direct mail promotions, Newsweek uses services from Worldata to measure results and find its most responsive segments, states acting circulation director Charles Mast. “We're definitely getting an increase in response,” Mast says, though he declines to provide specific numbers. “The economics of that more than pays for the extra step of doing the modeling.”

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