Since most of us are doing our shopping, working, and reading from the comfort (and the confines) of our own homes, there has perhaps never been a better time to be a subscription-based company. In fact, digital news and media subscriptions have tripled during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent analysis from Zuora. However, subscription growth is one thing; retention is another.

Without retention, a host of new subscribers isn’t all that beneficial. Luckily, publishers are currently finding audiences that seem to be in it for the long haul. According to a study by Piano, pre-pandemic subscriptions dropped by 34% in Europe during January and February. However in March, those subscriptions dropped just 17%, indicating that new readers are subscribing with purpose and interested in engaging.

Increasing Retention with Personalization and Email

One of the most important ways to keep new audiences engaged is to develop a robust, personalized strategy for email. This assists retention by ensuring subscribers receive relevant content while still being compelled to engage with new content. Personalization also drive traffic from email, a metric nearly all of our media and publishing clients want to achieve. 

As Sara Jerde, publishing editor for Adweek, recently told What’s New in Publishing, “Publishers that are able to learn what their new audience does (or doesn’t) look like and can most effectively communicate that to advertisers and potential partners will be in a position of strength.” Paying close attention to where readers are discovering and clicking on your content as well as which content resonates, is an important first step in developing an email strategy that drives subscriber retention.

Take The San Francisco Chronicle, which collects topical interest data on readers rather than segment them by audience and assume their interests. With that data, The San Francisco Chronicle delivers highly personalized email newsletters, which drive retention. They helped increase email clickthrough rate by 31.4% as well.

Prioritizing First-Party Data

Retention via personalization begins with first-party data and audience segmentation. It’s crucial that publishers understand which content drives traffic from email and how much time subscribers are spending with that content in order to keep them engaged with future messaging.

“You need to understand where people are coming from and how much they’re consuming when they show up, and then making sure you’re marketing to them,” says Allison Mezzafonte, a former Executive Vice President at Bauer Xcel Media and current Sailthru Media Advisor. “This is why it’s so important to collect your own first-party data in a consistent, responsible way. Does your audience from Instagram skew younger than your audience from email? If so, maybe your email content should be different from the content you’re promoting on Instagram.”

First-party data doesn’t only refer to how subscribers interact with your content, but the world at large. According to May research from the IAB, even after stay-at-home orders are lifted and the country moves toward recovery, 25 to 33% of consumers plan to cut down on out-of-home activities after restrictions end, investing more of their money in household care products, home gym equipment, and food delivery services. For publishers, this means a pivot to content, and email messaging, that understands the ways in which coronavirus has perhaps forever changed the ways in which users are engaging not just with publishers but with their inboxes.