Gannett CMO Andy Yost says 2018 is “the year of brand appraisal,” and the time to focus on growing memberships.
“Subscription’ sounds transactional, ‘membership’ sounds like a two-way relationship that gives you access to things you can’t get elsewhere,” Yost told Publishers Daily.
Gannett has a number of paid membership products. It released an ad-free mobile membership in October, in which readers can pay $2.99 a month to access USA Today without ads on its mobile app.
“It is part of our digital-subscription growth strategy,” Yost said. “One of the things we will continue to do in 2018 is other digital subscription product opportunities that might make sense to offer.”
Yost noted there is “an appetite” for consumers to pay for experiences that meet their needs. Some readers may want an ad-free experience, and others may want “every sports story possible and a premium product around that.”
Getting more readers to sign up for memberships requires showing them why a brand and its offerings are worth the outlay. Yost said a big part of that is giving readers content tailored to their preferences.
Most readers come to publisher’s sites from social platforms. The challenge is to convert those audiences to paying members. If a reader comes to a Gannett site for sports news, target the reader with a digital subscription that includes sports content.
“We need to really lead with why our brand has what you need from a benefits perspective, and that’s a way to help us more effectively convert our audience to a paid subscriber,” Yost said.
The CMO, who has been with Gannett for about three years, says his focus is “showing the value [our local brands] are delivering beyond the journalism we are known for.” Gannett’s Insider Loyalty Program is another membership program, which give deals and premium content to subscribers, as well as offers from retail partners or special edit-led event series that subscribers get preferential access to.
Gannett owns 109 local outlets, as well as USA Today. That means Gannett is looking for ways to tap into local communities, such as through hosting high-school sports awards and food and wine events.
Yost said these experiences “create access and connections for our consumers in new and different ways.” Next year, there may be opportunities to expand into healthy living or business networking events.
Gannett has added more features to its digital subscriptions as well this year, updating its sites and apps. The publisher underwent a massive redesign of its 110 brands, rolling out a new design, layout and brand logos, across all platforms, to unify its portfolio.
Gannett also experimented with more 360 degree and VR video programming. “Our digital properties are bringing [readers] experiences that they might not get through just our print platform itself,” Yost said.
Digital subscribers means new subscribers, and the goal is to engage visitors to Gannett’s sites to make them more likely to sign up for paid programs. “The digital-only subscription is about reaching new audiences.”
Yost also believes 2018 is the year to focus on customer experience.
“Traditionally in our industry, we have thought of customer experience as the delivery of your print newspaper and how we manage you in our call centers. But every interaction is a customer experience,” he said. “That's everything from an app working to advertising not being viewed as intrusive.”
Such programs are important to Gannett, and to other publishers hoping to make more revenue from digital efforts. In the third quarter, total operation revenue for the USA Today parent company fell 3.6%, from $772.3 million in the same quarter last year to $744.3 million this year.
While print advertising and circulation revenue declined, Gannett’s digital advertising revenue rose 4.1% to $102.9 million.