From streaming subscription services to gaming and podcasts, consumers have an endless choice of options and platforms for consuming content. And similar to other sectors like travel, retail, and wellness services, consumers expect media brands to deliver personalized, relevant content that can be accessed on any device at any time of the day. 

Success in the media and publishing industries is not only driven by giving customers great content but by delivering an exceptional customer experience. 

The 2023 Consumer Trends Index surveyed more than 6,000 people across the world about their purchase patterns. We asked consumers to explain what they liked about doing business with the brands in their lives: what they value and what they consider acceptable or irrelevant.

This overview covers some of the key findings from the study and how media marketers can adapt to the new face of consumer acquisition and retention. 

The Endurance of Email and Newsletters 

Even as the number of platforms available to marketers and audiences multiplies, email newsletters remain one of the strongest ways for publishers to convert visitors into paid subscribers. Noted brands like The New York Times, The Skimm, Axios Media and Morning Brew have expanded their audiences and footprint with theme-specific newsletters and content streams based on specific audience interests and segments. 

The enduring popularity and success of email newsletters have inspired new players to enter the space. Launched in 2019 by a former investment banker, The Daily Upside delivers business news in an engaging and insightful style. In less than three years, their audience grew to 800,000 readers and their newsletters maintain an open rate of 50%. 

Global data shows that email is 108% more effective than SMS marketing or banner ads to drive conversions and online sales. The stat rises to 139% in the U.S. Email is also 13% more effective than social media campaigns. 

The Atlantic’s Rebecca Quarls, Director of Consumer Strategy & Growth, said in a recent webinar with Marigold Engage by Sailthru by Marigold, “Email is the linchpin for us. The key to making this all work in a transparent way is asking readers to share their email addresses with us.”

Acquisition, Retention and Loyalty

For media entities, the concept of loyalty translates into subscription renewal rates and how much time audiences are spending with your content. Growth and retention teams are in the fortunate position of having near-instant access to knowing what audiences think. Unlike purveyors of washing machines or dining room tables, content providers know instantly if they’ve hit the mark. Key performance indicators like dwell times and email open rates tell the story. If readers are spending time with your content, you know you are meeting their needs. 

Automated triggers like welcome series and auto-renewals are vital for new visitors to your site. Once viewers register with your site, ensure that they receive notifications of how many free articles they have left before they hit your paywall. Set up triggered series for segmented audience groups. If your brand hosts a webinar featuring a noted investment specialist, be sure that your segmented group of readers who receive your newsletter on finance are the first to be notified. 

Set up your analytics to closely monitor the last five sessions a reader has on your platforms to understand which touchpoints are driving conversions and then strategize accordingly.  

Let the data tell you when it’s time to send a message, in which channel, and what the content should be. 

Leverage machine learning to detect churn. Dormancy is one of the most tell-tale signs of a subscriber who is going to churn. Dormant viewers drag down deliverability and open rates and diminish your average dwell times and engagement rates. 

Automated triggers are being used increasingly by retention specialists to try to reengage subscribers, ask if they still want to be on your distribution lists and offer incentives to get the reader back on your site or app.

Axios Media is highly attuned to keeping tabs on unengaged readers and maintaining lists of people who truly want to be receiving the brand’s content. 

Mia Vallo, Vice President of Growth at Axios Media states “We think of the churn function as an essential part of our lifecycle. If you don’t want something, we respect your inbox and take that burden off of readers to make it easy for subscribers and to keep our lists healthy. Our goal is to make it as easy and satisfying for readers as possible.”

Lean into A/B testing. Test and learn tactics like A/B testing help publishers continually refine and optimize their campaigns to ensure their messaging is the most effective for that audience. If something works you can double down. If something doesn’t hit, you can pivot quickly. 

Market Briefs founder, Jaspreet Singh, credits A/B testing as a major driver for the 500% increase in ad revenue: “We don’t have to guess with our ad texts, we let data drive decisions. We use technology to A/B test multiple ad texts (from the same sponsor) to a portion of our newsletter list before the whole newsletter goes out. The ad text which converts better is then sent out to our entire newsletter.” Singh adds “Our sponsors love working with us because we deliver results.” 


Morning Brew uses Sailthru’s A/B testing functionality to optimize subject lines, testing four of them for every newsletter. Though it’s usually close, the winners have generated up to 8% higher unique open rates. What’s more, the Brew opens these capabilities to its advertisers, ensuring they get the biggest bang for their buck. With Marigold Engage by Sailthru, advertisers can place variables on subscriber profiles to test their headlines within newsletters. It’s a win-win: Readers are served the most relevant content, while advertisers can learn what’s working best. 


Consumers in 2023 expect true personalization from their favorite brands. 49% of global consumers are frustrated with irrelevant content and offers. 42% feel frustrated with messages from brands that don’t reflect their wants or needs. Conversely, 82% of consumers value brands that treat them as an individual while 79% feel their favorite brands strive to develop a true relationship with them. No longer a nice-to-have, media marketers need to ask, listen and respond to their audience at a one-to-one level. 

Personalize the subject line. Leveraging data the reader cited as important can help. If you know your subscriber cares more about weather updates versus sports, be sure to serve them a subject line that takes that into account. A zero-party data acquisition strategy helps you identify the data needed to custom-tailor your keywords in subject lines to strike a chord. 

Leverage dynamic content. Dynamic content enables publishers to change what a recipient sees when opening an email. It ensures that you connect with your audiences based on their interests, and recognize them truly as individuals.   

If you’ve adopted a zero-party data acquisition strategy you hopefully know their interests as they relate to the types of content your brand offers. Leading with imagery and ordering content in your emails is a time-tested way to increase engagement rates.  

Use personalized send times. Axios has seen open rates increase by eight percentage points since tapping into personalized send times. As an audience-first company, their goal is to get their readers smarter, and faster. Sending emails when they are most likely to be read is another way that Axios reinforces its commitment to Smart Brevity and respects its readers’ time.

Invest in zero-party data (ZPD). ZPD is data shared directly from a consumer to a brand. It’s not deduced or scraped from a cookie, social platform, or third-party intermediary. It usually goes beyond demographic and includes psychographic data that represents an individual’s own personal wants and needs.  

Create experiences to collect ZPD. Create interactive digital experiences to collect the ZPD you need to deliver true personalization. Experiences can take the form of a simple survey or poll published alongside your content. Be sure to build promotional campaigns that showcase the interactive experience. Campaigns should include all channels such as email, social, and display advertising.


Data and Trust 

Refreshingly, when it comes to the overall online customer experience, a little over one-half of survey respondents cite the experience as excellent. When asked about their confidence in brands to deliver personalized offerings, most industries saw an average increase of 10%. 

Consumers love brands that are ethical with their data, with an overwhelming 82% citing that their favorite brand uses their data responsibly. 

Always ask for permission before initiating an exchange on a new platform. If you send an SMS to someone who hasn’t engaged with your brand before, chances are your message will be viewed as spam. 

Be transparent about how you plan to use their data at opt-in. Leave no question as to what you plan to do with consumer data at the time they submit it. Beyond listing a link to your privacy policy or terms of use, allow respondents to explicitly opt-in for personalized messaging and advertising. Use easy-to-understand language and explain how and where they can opt out if needed.

Never forget the “opt-out” button. Data privacy policies around the globe require explicit consent from users. Viewers receiving your brand’s messages must click an “opt-in” button. Your invitation for permission to send push notifications must always explain how your company will store and use the shopper’s data. Get into the habit of always including opt-outs in every message, and on each and every platform. 


Building a long-lasting relationship with your audience is the key to increasing reader retention and consequently, advertising revenue. Customers have shown they are open to spending more on the brands they love, but a strong loyalty offering is required to achieve that result. 

It’s never been a better time to review your relationship with your audiences and even reassess your entire relationship marketing strategy. 

To learn more about consumer trends in 2023 and how they impact the media industry, download the full report.

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