Listen to your subscribers

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To keep subscribers aboard, publishers must identify their preferences. Whether it is asking how they want to be contacted during the sub renewal process—e-mail, snail mail or telephone—or finding out if they want to receive a title digitally or in print, it is imperative that publishers pay attention to their customers. Deb Walsh, director of audience development at Tabor Communications, said her company collects preferences for e-mail messages during registration and assigns specific fields within a subscriber database: “Usually, it's just a yes/no response [to opt in or opt out], but it should be programmed as a required field.” Walsh said some publishers offer two permission levels: one covering subscription-related e-mail messages, the other for third-party business offers such as list rentals. “I've found that offering two levels improves response for in-house messages, but the publisher must respect that decision and make sure that whoever has database access respects it as well,” Walsh said. “It just makes good business sense, since we all know that if permissions are abused, the subscriber will likely unsubscribe from all mail, which just costs more money.” Gloria Adams, corporate director of audience development at PennWell Corp., said there are two different sets of preferences that are important to her department: whether subscribers want to receive the magazine digitally or via print and how a subscriber wishes to renew. However, PennWell has stopped asking about the latter. “We found that it really didn't matter, so we quit asking,” Adams said. “We just work through the different types of efforts based on cost.” Efforts include such things as cover wraps, e-mail solicitations and telemarketing. Hanley Wood has made a similar discovery. Nick Cavnar, VP-circulation and database development at Hanley Wood, pointed out that people don't always behave the way the company thinks they will. “People are strange,” Cavnar said. “Sometimes you really can't predict what will work.” He added behavior is a much better indicator for audience developers to watch than actual requests. Initially, Hanley Wood contacts subscribers via e-mail. If they don't respond, the company moves on to another form of renewal, such as a cover wrap. “You don't want to say we're only going to contact you X way because if they don't respond, you don't want to give up on that subscriber,” Cavnar said. However, he said, anytime a subscriber actually shares his or her e-mail address, it is a good sign that the subscriber is more likely to respond to e-mail. “Because it's so inexpensive to renew people via e-mail, most companies are just going to try everyone with e-mail very early in the cycle to see what happens,” he said. “But the best guide to how people will renew is their previous behavior.”
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