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Circ / Subs: our changing role

No publishing discipline has been left unaffected by the new media world we now work in. The change experienced by circulation and subscriptions teams, says Georgina Rushworth, has been every bit as earth moving as the upheavals experienced by editorial, sales and production.

By Georgina Rushworth

“We’ve got the facts and figures to back us up, so push off” – that was our team’s mantra when I first started out in subscriptions marketing!

Back in the previous millennium, we were a close knit subscriptions team, creating and sharing best practice together in the corner of the office, and, when challenged, would reel off our facts and figures and expect our replies to satisfy the Publisher. Would we survive in the 21st Century? Perhaps not.

Way back when

Today’s publishing environment is a long way from where I first started. I am not criticising how we used to work; I loved it, we created and established tried and tested techniques and promotions to grow print subscription volumes and revenues, we had fun and we were successful. But today we are dealing with a much better educated and savvy customer who will not tolerate inconsistent messages or unsatisfactory customer service, a customer who decides how and when he wants to consume information, who can communicate with other customers and who is one click away from reinforcing or damaging our brands. Alongside this customer revolution is the much documented media evolution, online, offline and face to face resulting in multiple choices and opportunities to communicate with customers. To be successful in this environment, we need more than a channel focused circulation marketing strategy, we need a new approach.

I have often wondered why marketers without a background in circulation were responsible for managing email newsletter circulations, driving audiences to our websites and getting visitors to pre-register and turn up at events. To my mind, this activity is ideally suited to circulators, whose primary goal is to efficiently grow quality audiences and demonstrate ROI off the back of lifetime value. Perhaps previously, management has perceived us as systems and process specialists with our heads buried in our fulfilment database, and not innovators nor a team that relishes change. We were masters of a direct marketing discipline but did management believe we could apply this core skill to any publishing objective, even one outside of print circulation?

Period of change

My employer, like most B2B publishers, is going through a period of significant change; it’s had to, our customers and our business model demanded it. Change however is a difficult pill to swallow particularly by groups of individuals who are experts in their field and have already benefitted from a long successful career in print circulation. But we, along with the rest of the business, particularly editorial and production, have had to move forward with our understanding and assumptions of the job we now find ourselves in and embrace new business objectives, skill sets and language, but most importantly, change the way we think.

A great opportunity

So, as print circulations enter a long term decline and our established roles come under threat of redundancy, we have been thrown a lifeline and entrusted with a new set of objectives and responsibilities, and with our new identity ‘Audience Development’, the business is demonstrating its expectation of and confidence in us as a professional group of data and direct marketing specialists.

We’ve been handed a great responsibility, and entrusted with building multiple audiences across the business (including those I often wondered about), and this I truly believe is our opportunity to claw back the ground we may have lost to other marketing teams, apply our core skills to wider business objectives and restate our purpose and value. So all we need to do now is listen to what our publishers are asking us to do, understand why, apply the hard and fast rules we live and die by to go out and embrace the techniques and skill sets of a new generation of marketing specialists. Audience development is a reflection of where our business has taken us and where we want to grow. Audience development is simply developing audiences to convert into revenue and profit – we can do that – can’t we?!

Tools for the job

To be successful in today’s climate, there are a number of skills and attitudes we should expect audience development teams to deliver on. But before I expand on this, we should acknowledge that it’s not only a one way expectation. In return, the teams have a right to expect to have efficient and user-intuitive tools and systems to work with, to receive training and guidance with new software, new marketing techniques and new concepts such as user persona profiling, to pick one new tool from a long list. And they have a right to get the support and encouragement each individual needs from their manager and from the business’s senior management team. Once all this is in place, it’s up to us to support the business, push our personal boundaries, be experimental, be flexible, have a sense of adventure, focus on results and have a desire to be successful. We should not be afraid of making mistakes, as long as the same ones are not repeatedly made and we should lean on each other, share our experiences and create standards for best practice. All of this will ensure our efforts and careers are moving in the same direction as the business in which we work.

There are a number of tools we need and should become proficient users, supporters and developers of:

* Marketing database / CRM system

A central repository of transactional, promotional and information consumption (engagement) data across all touch points within the business (user / advertiser / prospect). A one-stop shop for everything we need to know about any individual customer or group of customers. The data has to be unique, accurate with relevant data protection permissions, up to date, easily accessible, and straightforward to interrogate and intuitive to work with by the teams who need to use it.

* Lead nurturing management system

A system to collect and store information about a potential customer, from their very first interaction with our brands, right up until they are deemed ‘qualified’ and ready for passing on to our lead-hungry sales team for conversion to high value customers or until they are ready to hit the [Buy Now] button. A management system which will deliver targeted, timely and relevant messages and offerings (such as relevant site content, white papers, video downloads, invitations to events, and expert recommendations) to every one of our potential customers depending on their demographic profile, their ongoing interaction with our brands and their information needs.

* User engagement programme

A mechanism to ensure that once our customer has committed to our brand and invested in our services, they then go on to have their business objectives fulfilled and enjoy a return on their investment. Typically this means helping the key decision maker disseminate the benefits and value of our service to the rest of their team. In short, to influence people who have not necessarily had the opportunity to engage with us before, to accept us into their working lives and get them to change their behaviour.

* Analytics software

To understand, measure and bring together customer behaviour and activity analysis across editorial, advertiser and user-generated content – including email deliverability and click through activity, search, entry and exit points of a site and across multiple conversion funnels in place for each brand objective.

* Email client software

The most effective way to secure deliverability of bulk broadcast email and multiple targeted messages to segmented customer groups.

Top ten skills to be effective

1. Technical understanding of SEO

How to apply simple SEO techniques to ensure potential customers find the information they need on our site, through keyword analysis, creation of optimised landing pages and inbound link building.

2. PPC optimisation techniques

After building costly order forms and customer service pages we need to help our customers find them.

3. Integrated direct marketing communications

A solus email message or direct mail shot is no longer acceptable; we know that integrating our message across all channels will ensure consistent communications, added impact and optimised response.

4. Customer-centric planning and implementation

With integrated marketing as its vehicle, customer-centric planning is about working with audience segments (personas), identifying their needs and delivering relevant and powerful messages, building trust and optimising customer conversion and retention.

5. Marketing insight

Deep customer insight from surveys, interviews and user review studies to inform and guide us with a communications strategy.

6. Analytics

The identifying and tracking of relevant metrics across multiple systems and platforms to help us better understand our customer segments and devise appropriate strategies.

7. Video / podcasting

Okay, so we don’t need to know how to produce a video but we do need to know how to apply this marketing tactic to draw in and engage an audience. When we have the audience in place, we then need to apply our messaging strategy and focus on conversion.

8. Html

Simple techniques to update an email template or advertisement will help us react quickly and relevantly to changes in objective or customer behaviour.

9. Relationship building and affiliate programmes

To ensure our messaging reaches as many people as possible, to seek and work with partners who already have relationships with our potential customers. We need to harness the value of this relationship and introduce our messages through these trusted third parties.

10. Social media communities

We should be experimenting with community site forums, Linked-in and Twitter as effective relationship tools, but we do need to be mindful of how we can measure and justify this activity as part of an integrated communications plan.

These new competencies combined with our legacy core skills, including a solid understanding of customer data (who they are, how to cut and slice, how to collect demographics, how to grow), direct marketing communications, significance testing methodology and data analysis will equip us for the challenges ahead.

Today, circulation / customer direct / audience development teams – call them what you will – play a crucial role in the recruitment, engagement and retention of customers, across multi-media platforms. If we can capitalise on the opportunities provided to us by the changing media landscape (a landscape of accountability, sustainable income streams and the need to demonstrate ROI), we can do anything.

And, as one man born 200 hundred years ago said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin (1809-1882)