Think Like a Media Company with your Newsletters

Trivia question #1: How many different email newsletters does the New York Times put out? (I realize that I might have lost some ardent Trump supporters at this point who don’t like referencing a so-called fake news outlet. Sorry about that. I guess.)

Think about the answer to this question ……

The answer is 50 different niche newsletters. If you answered correctly, tweet me and I will give you a virtual fist bump! If you didn’t answer correctly, you can also tweet me and I will give you a pat on the back for trying.

Trivia question #2: What percentage of these New York Times’ email subscribers become paying customers?

Answer: individuals were twice as likely to become paid New York Times subscribers after they first signed up to a newsletter.

I learned this information while listening to a recent episode of the This Old Marketing podcast with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose (they came across this information via a Publishing Executive article). I found this information to be quite interesting and another application for brands on how developing a media mindset is important for content marketing.

Pulizzi is the Founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), an interesting example for higher education professionals as part of their business is tied to education through training and events. According to the CMI website, they have over 180,000 email subscribers. Their major annual event attracts thousands.

“We know that someone who subscribes to a CMI newsletter and then subscribes to other things – like webinars and Chief Marketing Officer Magazine – are way more likely to pay for our conferences,” said Pulizzi on the podcast. “So our first thing is let’s get them as a subscriber. Let’s not sell them anything to start with. Let’s deliver valuable information on a weekly basis. And then we can put offers in front of them that we think are relevant depending on their subscription patterns.”

I subscribe to many schools’ email newsletters and notice many opportunities to adopt this approach. Here are a few:

  1. Build a list by offering a compelling lead magnet. For starters, let me clarify the definition of a lead magnet. A lead magnet is offering a compelling piece of content to a particular audience in exchange for an email sign-up. This is not about buying lists, but rather earning email subscribers on your own. This is also a bit more nuanced than requiring prospects to provide their email address in exchange for a brochure. Technically, this is a way of capturing emails that you can then market to in the future. But in my opinion, this tactic is a bit like proposing marriage during a first date. Here are ideal types of lead magnets that might be of interest to higher education marketers and communicators:
  • Assessments or surveys. Any content that gives users feedback about their performance makes for an interesting lead magnet. IMD, a business school in Switzerland and my former employer, does this particularly well via its Global Leader Index. You can reference a podcast I did in which I interviewed one of the leaders behind this project.
  • Tickets to attend a live event. Many schools in the business education space offer an “MBA for a Day” type of event in which prospective students can experience case studies, meet faculty and students in person and generally get a feel for the school. To attend such an event, prospective students need to provide their email address.
  • eBook. For a higher education audience, I like to reference online marketers who are successful in offering education (similar to how I noted the Content Marketing Institute example). Michael Hyatt offers online courses for different audiences and on different subjects. When you go to his website, you have the opportunity to subscribe to up to four different compelling lead magnet ebooks that each clearly link to one of his key audiences.
  • Online course. Chris Ducker is an online marketer who sells a membership site in which he provides new content each month to paid subscribers. He builds up his email list by offering a free online course that he calls “Launchpad”. This lead magnet is prominently featured on his homepage.
  • Research. Social Media Marketing World is an annual event held in San Diego, California that draws some 4,000 marketing professionals. The event is organized by the company behind the popular website, South Media Examiner. According to its website, Social Media Examiner has over 500,000 email subscribers. Their lead magnet is its annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report. The language associated with the lead magnet is as follows: Wondering how your peers are using social media? In our 8th annual social media study (56 pages, 90 charts) of 5000+ marketers, you’ll discover which social networks marketers most plan on using more (hint: it’s not what you think), how much time they spend on social media and much more! Get this free report and never miss another great article from Social Media Examiner.
  1. Don’t send generic content to everyone. The key is to provide relevant content to your list. It is very difficult to accomplish this if you are sending the same exact content to a large list that includes different buyer personas. For example, let’s say you are an undergraduate program and your email list includes prospective incoming freshman, prospective students’ parents, alumni and prospective transfer students. As opposed to sending these four audiences the same exact content, think instead about customizing it. This might impact the content you are featuring and your different calls to action. It might sound like a lot of work, but if you are strategic about this, you can take the same piece of content and just tweak it to show how the content addresses their particular pain points.F0r what it is worth, I am revamping how I approach my email marketing as a consulting company. It is important to practice what I preach! Previously, I was sending the same exact content to different audiences: academics and marketers / communicators. I am now creating separate lead magnets for each group and then in my follow-up content, I am nuancing the language to make this applicable to the particular challenges facing these two different audiences.
  1. Let your content sell. When selling a particular program, think about taking your prospects down a journey. So let’s say you want to sell an executive education program focused on how managers can be more productive at work. You define HR managers and CLOs as the key buyers. A path to consider would be offering a valuable survey or white paper focused on productivity as a starting point and way of capturing email addresses. You can then follow-up with related content. At some point, you can integrate sales messages, either within the same email but separate from the thought leadership content or as the occasional stand-alone message. From the various email newsletters that I sign up to, I see quite the opposite: a barrage of sales messages before providing any relevant content.

Pulizzi succinctly summarized the above on the aforementioned podcast. “Create a digital platform,” he said. “Have a very valuable email newsletter component. Do things to get people to subscribe to those email newsletters. Then from the newsletters, you can give them offers to different things.”

It is not rocket science. But I know – easier said than done. Consider this approach as you think about your integrated marketing communications operations. I am confident that you will be able share successes similar to the New York Times.

Kevin Anselmo is the founder and principal of Experiential Communications.

Found value in this article? If yes, download Kevin’s free ebook entitled “The Higher Ed Marketing Communications Assessment“.