Building Audiences For Online Products

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Got online news?

Would any publisher today dare admit not having an online newsletter? Or not being about to launch an electronic version of the flagship print product?

Putting egos aside, let's briefly review the main reasons to offer electronic products along with your traditional print:

• Brand expansion

• Additional revenue

• Relationship building

• New advertising opportunities

• Web traffic building

• New product testing

• Database prospecting

But are these products accomplishing all this, or are they just cannibalizing sister products and hurting revenue? Let's look at this from the visitor or subscriber's viewpoint - what a novel idea!

Your readers recognize your company as the authority in your field - finance, footwear, fasteners, fashion, whatever. They want breaking news in the form of headlines or short bursts; thus, the online newsletter. But they also want to gain an in-depth knowledge about subjects of special interest; thus, the full feature in periodicals, be they print or electronic. And they want the information packaged in formats they are comfortable with.

So after editorial and IT decide what and how to disseminate the information your target audience wants, the audience development manager must figure out how to build circulation across the board.

It is not my place to say to charge for premium content or an online newsletter. My mission is to discuss increasing subscriptions without cannibalizing readership or getting a reputation as a spammer. Basic good practices apply to any product:

• Dedupe - by e-mail address if that's all you have got.

• Offer opt in/opt out and comply with the regulations in every promotion.

• Offer opt in/opt out by product, not by your company's name.

• Have the reader designate delivery method and distinguish between first- and third-party solicitations. At Cambey & West, we capture eight options for each subscriber, such as postal mail, e-mail, telephone and fax and whether from the publication or third party.

The biggest challenge is compiling all records, which probably began life in various databases, into one corporate database for prospecting and cross selling - perhaps the greatest benefit today of having cross-medium products.

Most free online newsletter offers ask only for the e-mail address and perhaps first and last names. You have two choices.

First, force the visitor to give complete name, address and company. Second, collect just the minimal data needed to deliver the product, then dedupe by e-mail address and go back to new people to get the rest of the data needed, usually more successful if you are offering something in exchange.

Take advantage of every chance to capture additional data, especially e-mail addresses. Readers will give their e-mail addresses if you provide the opt-out options aforementioned, promise not to sell their data unless they have opted in and offer them something of value, such as breaking-news bulletins.

Promote the electronic products along with the print ones on all paper and Internet subscription forms so the subscriber's record reflects all products. This makes for easier analysis and cross selling. Or use the free digital editions as trials in promoting paid subs for the print edition.

If your company pushes out several online products, doing online renewals and so on, vary the "From" address in the e-mail to try to get around the filters. And coordinate the blasts or stagger one blast if you have deep penetration into large companies.

As mentioned, we are finding that prospecting and cross selling are now among the major reasons to offer multiple print and electronic products. Forget the old days of limiting the number of decisions a person must make. Bundle products together and send the visitor to one Web page to order them all - paid or free or a combo. Make it easy for the reader to fill out one Web form, and you will capture much more data that you can use for targeted promotions.

Publishers, after the embryonic stages of maintaining separate files for the fledging electronic products, now see the merit of getting the circulators involved and entrusting them and their fulfillment centers with the entire database of print and electronic products. It's given the publisher a much clearer picture of the audience and a very inexpensive prospecting tool.

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