No subscription goal for your digital content? Only if you wish to be ignored

by JOE PULIZZI, CONTENT MARKETING INSTITUTE

June 2016

I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting with over a dozen of the largest companies on the planet. These companies are some of the most innovative in the world. However, not one of those companies was focused on subscriber growth. This has to change.

According to Content Marketing Institute/Marketing Profs research, fewer than one in three organizations have subscription growth as a content marketing goal. And recent Association of National Advertisers findings on native advertising didn’t even list subscription growth as a possible metric.

Metrics used to measure native advertising

Source: 2014 ANA Native Advertising Survey Charts

Now, I’m not sure if this is a failing of the research, but the mindset is clear … building an audience is not even on the minds of most large enterprises today.

Best chance at measurement

Let’s take a step away from the dark side of the force for a moment. I want to share two examples of why I believe that subscription, or the idea of building groupings of valuable audiences, is the present and future for enterprises.

The first example comes from traditional media.

As you may or may not know, I grew up in business-to-business publishing. The metric that dominated every publication I have ever worked on was the subscriber. Originally called circulation development, and now audience development, no revenue was possible without a targeted group of buyers who subscribed to one or many content offerings the media brand provided.

Think about that … without subscribers, revenue was absent.

That is media yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Look at the leading trade publication in your industry, or ESPN, The Wall Street Journal, or The New York Times. None of them can function without subscribers.

The second example comes from a group of entrepreneurs.

My book, Content Inc., features countless examples of individuals who have built multimillion-dollar brands by:

While larger enterprises are fighting silo battles, engaging in politics, and tearing each other apart focusing on (sometimes) meaningless metrics, small players with patience and passion are building audiences and winning.

Without subscribers, revenue is absent.

Lead generation is not the same

You may think that if you have a lead generation strategy you are building a subscriber base. While you are getting permission to reach out to someone, it is different than having someone opt in to receive ongoing communication from you – be it an email newsletter, a digital magazine, or any of the other subscriber-based content vehicles.

What might help is to first think about building an audience through subscription, then mine that subscription list for leads (as they engage in your pieces of content). I think you’ll find the leads you generate will be MUCH more valuable.

All subscriptions are not equal

Whilst I’m a firm believer in building our digital footprint as brands, we need to be wary of building our audiences on land we don’t own.

Jeff Rohrs, Vice President of Marketing at Salesforce and author of the excellent book Audience, is adamant that no company “owns” its audience. “The reason that the audience is in different places is that no audience is owned. Regardless of whether you’re a major television network, pop star, or professional sports team with rabid fans, you simply do not own your audience. They can get up and leave – mentally or physically – at any time.”

Yes, we cannot own our audience, but there are different levels of control. If you are able to choose, email subscription is the most important type of relationship you can have with your subscriber, simply because we can control that connection the most.

Our fans on Facebook or our followers on Twitter should be viewed as they are – temporary subscription opportunities with whom we can try to build relationships. Those connections are controlled by Facebook and Twitter, and the platforms can do whatever they want with them. We’ve obviously seen the changes Facebook has made, and the millions that brands have lost by focusing too much on these types of connections. Tread carefully.

As you employ your subscription strategy, you need some kind of amazing email offering. And to you, enterprises, this is not a six-week lead nurturing program to get them to sales. 

This is an ongoing, compelling piece of email communication that can cut through the clutter. This could be a:

Once you build an audience, anything is possible.

Call to arms

My goal for you is simple. Set audience-building and subscription as a key goal in your organization.

Yes, you have many audiences, and to be successful at content marketing, you’ll have to focus on just ONE audience for each audience-building initiative.

You cannot target 18 personas with your blog. You’ll never be relevant or valuable enough for it to be successful.

To go big, you need to ultimately go small.


This is a revised version of the article 'No Subscription Goal for Your Content Marketing? Prepare to Be Ignored.' This article is published with the author’s consent.