Premium Content Newsletters: A Case Study

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Two months ago I set out to try an experiment, using the concept of premium content in my personal newsletter. I announced on March 4, 2011 that I’d be offering premium content to newsletter subscribers who completed their profiles with all required fields. I wanted to see what would happen in terms of newsletter subscribership and data completion.

Using the same two month period before and after the announcement, I had 922 new subscribers in the period 1/4/11-3/3/11, and 617 new subscribers in the period 3/4/11-5/2/11. It’s important to note that for about 2 1/2 weeks in the latter period, I was doing none of the usual things I do to promote the newsletter and the web site because I was overseas. When you take that into account, the drop in subscribers is about what you’d expect, and more importantly, it occurs during that time period, so premium membership is not a causal factor.

Using Blue Sky Factory’s excellent Publicaster software (disclosure: I’m an employee), I pulled the number of people who updated their profiles more than 24 hours after they were created (indicating that someone took the effort to come back and update their profile). This data set excludes people who opted out, unsubscribed, or bounced; it’s active subscribers only. Let’s see how premium content is working, two months later.

First, how complete is my subscriber information? I have four fields that I want people to fill out – first and last name, title, and company. A profile that has only an email address has a score of 0. A profile that has all four fields and an email has a score of 4. Profile completeness is measured as a percentage of completed data.

Premium Content: Profile Completeness

  • Percentage of Profile Completeness Prior to Premium Content: 49.02%
  • Percentage of Profile Completeness After Premium Content: 84.72%

The availability of premium content increased profile completeness by 72.83% – a huge jump for anyone interested in improving the data that’s available to them as marketers.

Next, how many people, once they learned about premium content and what was involved, came back to update their profiles? I did a quick benchmark to see what percentage of my subscriber base came back naturally prior to premium content as a baseline.

Premium Content - Returning Update

  • Percentage Of People Who Came Back To Update Their Profiles Prior To Premium Content: 8.02%
  • Percentage Of People Who Came Back To Update Their Profiles After Premium Content: 36.63%

Premium content increased the number of people who came back to update their profiles by a whopping 356.73%. If you’re looking to get people more engaged, this is definitely one way of doing it.

Let’s next take a look at is the age of the profile update – that is, how long on average is it between signup and profile update?

Premium content: profile update age

  • Average Age Of A Profile Update Prior To Premium Content: 23 Days
  • Average Age Of A Profile Update After Premium Content: 110 Days

This is very, very significant. Normally on a mailing list, you’d expect a profile update age to be about the frequency of a list. If you send monthly, you’d expect the average update interval to be monthly, as folks naturally come back to update their profiles.

What’s happening with premium content is that it’s bringing back much older parts of the list, people who are well outside the average updaters. It’s reactivating, re-engaging, and refreshing parts of the list that may have not indicated they were even reading the newsletter. If you’ve got a list that’s not performing, this would be one way to try resurrecting it.

Finally, how did list performance change? I took a look at the February and April mailings as benchmarks. Overall open rates in February were 17.3% with a 3% clickthrough rate. Overall open rates in April were 12.1% with a 1.7% clickthrough rate. That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. If we look at the subscribers who had completed profiles as a percentage of the audience, we find something interesting:

Premium Content: Engaged Subscriber Open Rate

  • Percentage of Profile Complete That Opened February: 16.36%
  • Percentage of Profile Complete That Opened April: 25.09%

The folks who indicated they wanted premium content increased by 53.36% from the February to the April mailing. Premium content provided additional incentives to open and read the newsletter.

Does premium content work? Yes. There isn’t a single metric I’ve examined here that indicates otherwise. Should you be doing it? If you value any of the information I’ve shared here – more information about your subscribers, increased engagement, better data, more active list members – then yes, you should be doing it. Does your email service provider support it would be the better question, I suppose. Certainly Blue Sky Factory does, and I or one of our team members would be happy to help you set up a similar system if you’re a customer.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t invite you to subscribe to the newsletter so you can see premium content in action.

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6 responses to “Premium Content Newsletters: A Case Study”

  1. Thanks. Very insightful stuff. That profile update info is very cool.

  2. I love how premium is almost always the way to go. So many people focus on pricing themselves right, or making sure they don’t step on anyone’s toes and figure someday (re: probably never) they’ll push for a premium price.

    Why not start there? Why not offer the best you can from day one and price is accordingly?

    I’ve been thinking about what to do for my e-newsletter, something I’m launching by July 1, and you just helped me realize I should seriously consider the more premium version I’ve been thinking about. Kudos!

  3. That’s what I like…hardcore numbers! Now I’m pondering how to incorporate this insight into our existing customer newsletters. Thanks for sharing!

  4. So, I guess now the trick is to come up with what the premium content should be….

    1. That’s a tough balancing act. You obviously want there to be enough value in the vanilla version, but equally enough value to be compelling for the upgrade.

  5. […] Premium Content Newsletters: A Case Study, by Christopher Penn […]

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