In many ways, publishers and media groups are the original Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) brands. For decades, magazines, newspapers, and other mediums have served as consumers’ main pipeline for product reviews, recommendations, and ads.

However, in the digital age, today’s most innovative D2C brands are taking their cue from publishers to create more valuable, relevant, and engaging content focused on building customer relationships and driving loyalty — not simply sending another generic, one-size-fits-all sales pitch.

And in industries like retail, for example, this shift is already resulting in overwhelmingly positive returns. Now more than ever, media companies can learn a thing or two from other D2C brands about the power of personalization — and how content can be a key tool that keeps readers coming back (and clicking through your emails) for more every day.

Now more can learn a thing or two from D2C brands about the power of personalization for creating engaging content that keeps readers coming back (and clicking through) for more. 

If you’re looking to bring the power of a D2C marketing strategy to your media brand, here are three things any publisher should keep in mind when creating new, exciting ways to connect.

Build better customer experiences through the power of first-party data

One of the most powerful tools D2C brands have for improving the customer experience and building meaningful buyer relationships is first-party data. Information collected directly from consumers during a newsletter subscription, an email survey, or a gated content download form can give your marketing team the ammo it needs to make every message more effective.

In fact, today’s most successful D2C-driven organizations are using onboarding email series and personalized email elements to not only generate more audience engagement, but to learn more about each individual reader’s preferences, wants, and needs so the perfect piece of content can be identified and delivered directly to them — however they prefer to engage.

For example, retailers like JustFab, ShoeDazzle, Fabletics, FabKids, and Savage X Fenty all send brand new customers a fun, interactive quiz asking for their fashion preferences and celebrity inspirations right away. From there, these D2C brands use this unique set of personalized feedback to accurately segment customers and send the most relevant messaging possible.

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If you’re not already, take steps to collect first-party data about your subscribers in engaging ways that don’t feel overly intrusive or like an ask at all. Then, use the insights you collect for personalized content that focuses on reader loyalty and relationship building. After all, understanding what they’re most interested in — and therefore most likely to engage with — is the first step toward a successful, long-term relationship with any potential customer.

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When Business Insider wanted to boost email engagement, it partnered with Sailthru to build a robust, personalized email onboarding series that included subscription confirmation, trending articles, and more ways to engage than ever before. By tracking interaction with those robust onboarding elements, Business Insider was able to further customize other elements of its customer experience, creating a feedback loop around building engagement that has made its marketing efforts — as well as several other big-picture business strategies — that much more impactful. 

Think of your emails as mini-magazines

When recipe website-turned-D2C-powerhouse Food 52 wanted to build stronger relationships with its email subscribers, the brand decided to think of their emails as highly personalized magazines. Just like a beautiful, glossy magazine, Food52’s emails have headlines, regular columns, and exciting images alongside thumbnails selling their products. They’ve also got incredible audience loyalty: their emails perform 30% better than industry benchmarks.

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Media companies and publishers should remember to create emails that mirror the excellence of their publications. When National Review wanted to revamp its high-volume, low engagement email marketing results, the publisher worked with Sailthru to reformat and test its templates to not only build dynamic, personalized subject lines, but also send story links based on readers’ interests.

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This small change enabled the brand to make its email experience feel like opening a magazine tailored specifically to what each reader most enjoys about National Review. Emails are now delivered at personalized send times based on when individual readers are most likely to open messages — leading to a 387% increase in pageviews per thousand emails sent in addition to click-through and open rate increases of 142% and 96% respectively.

Make sure readers still want your content 

While many media companies saw record signups and growth rates for their email lists during the early days of the pandemic, most have since seen that spike in engagement drop. When Refinery 29 wanted to boost its email engagement rates, the company started by suppressing sends to any subscriber whose promotions were going directly to their trash folder.

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By working with Sailthru’s team to develop its suppression strategy and remove disengaged subscribers from the mailing list, Refinery29 was able to focus more of its time, energy, and attention on its Everywhere newsletter’s most engaged fans. And after just a few months, the brand was able to boost its open and engagement rates as a result.