AOL may have scaled back its Patch.com presence in 2013, but the market opportunity for regional publications is still alive and strong.
Community newsletters and magazines are timeless concepts, and they’re gaining in popularity in the digital ecosystem, too. Just take a look at the following study from Havas PR UK: local newspapers took the lead for most trusted and popular local news source. Despite this, print has been declining as a percentage of total revenue for local magazines since 2005. For local publications to hold their place in the minds and hearts of readers, a change in direction is a must.
Media brands like 5280 in Denver and D in Dallas have built strong followings in their local markets by experimenting with personalized newsletters, content marketing for their advertisers, and more channels for monetization. They’re riding the line between news and entertainment and have an opportunity to explore new monetization and engagement opportunities—And it’s not so daunting to do the same if you know where to start.
Regional publications face a lot of competition to stand out, and there’s lots of room for improvement. Many of these initiatives will require long-term planning and experimentation. Here are some tips to guide you:
Keep a Clean Database
Even though you’re a local publisher, you’re still attracting readers from around the world. You’ll want to pay attention to this distinction: it impacts the monetization channels that you choose for each audience segment.
With local readers, for instance, you have many creative ways to drive revenue. You can sell tickets to local events, sponsor your own events, and work with local advertisers. It doesn’t make sense, however, to target these same offers to outsiders who are looking in and observing.
When building your lists, keep track of who lives where. Account for the fact that people are mobile: in your sign-up process, ask whether your new subscribers ever visit your region. Here are some tips to help you facilitate that process:
- Run a sample survey among your audience base
- Use LiveChat software to reach readers in the moment, with specific questions
- Collect some data in the sign-up process, and let audiences know that you might be asking some follow-up questions in the future
- Cross-check your lists with a third party data provider, if there is one available (it will vary by region and industry). Note: This does NOT mean you should purchase lists for mailing
This perspective will help you keep things organized and improve the efficiency of your monetization efforts.
Build Audience Profiles
When it comes to ad targeting, demographic data is only one piece of the puzzle. Marketers also need access to psychographic, behavioral, and interest-based data—and when it comes to using data to build campaigns, accuracy is the ‘name of the game.’ It’s critical to be reaching actual people with buying intent.
As a media company, it pays to have this data in-hand and to be able to execute campaigns efficiently—the more ROI you’re able to deliver, the more likely your readers are to come back. Advertisers will want to know audience preferences around nightlife activity, restaurant preferences, and general habits around town. With this data, you can also build custom audience profiles—which means that you’ll be able to target your readers off-platform, through channels like Facebook or Twitter.
With the right information, you can help advertisers write better sponsored content and offer more relevant promotions. With true audience profiles, everyone in the equation wins: readers get better offers, advertisers improve their targeting, and publishers can offer more value.
Gate Local Promotions
Chances are that your company attracts awesome advertisers who have great local promotions to share. As a middleman, you’re giving away value—and your audience knows it. It doesn’t hurt to ask for something in return.
The most valuable asset that your audiences can provide is information. What local events do the enjoy attending? What advertiser offers would they find valuable?
Identify four or five questions that are relevant to your team and advertisers. Then, gate your free offers. Give your audiences full transparency into your decision for gating your content. Create a win-win scenario for your audiences and advertisers, making sure to emphasize the value that you bring to the table as a regional publisher, too.
Plan to Segment Your Marketing Efforts
As you collect more data about your audience, you’ll start to build clearer customer segments. With this information in mind, you can better target your list-building efforts and marketing campaigns. Along the way, you’ll offer more value to your advertisers: you can guarantee that you’re reaching local audiences and share data around reader interests too.
It may take some time to create a long-term segmentation strategy, but the key is to just get started. Collect information about the articles that subscribers are reading, and make sure you know each account-holder’s geography. This approach will help you implement the bare bones of a segmentation strategy that you can use to test and refine different versions of your newsletter. And don’t wait until you’re segmentation strategy is “perfect.” You can start now.
Many local magazines, for instance, already segment their websites by news, dining, politics, music, and other content categories. These topics can be powerful starting points for pairing online activity with information that audiences volunteer during the data collection process. The goal is to pair online activity with data and then connect specific advertisers to ‘smart content’ that is interest based.
This process will become more refined over time. Start collecting data sooner rather than later to refine your targeting process.
Focus on Delivering Value
Running a regional publication, you’re in a position to deliver unique value to your audiences and advertisers. The key to success here? You need to build comprehensive audience profiles so that you can better serve them with high-quality content and marketing messages.
Unlike larger, broad-scale media companies, you have instant access to (and a close rapport with) a niche, local community. In a world where advertisers and publishers alike are tackling the complexities of ‘marketing at scale,’ you don’t suffer from the same pain point. It’s your advantage—your gem. Harness it to build an amazing media brand, and monetization will fall into place.