What has helped The Minneapolis Star Tribune accelerate their digital subscription boom

In the lead up to the Local Media Association’s Media Transformation Conference in September, we’ll be featuring some of the biggest names and most relevant sessions.

Digital subscriptions will be a big focus in one of the three workshops at the conference. We spoke with one of the headliners for one one those workshops about what’s working at their company with subscriptions.

Louis Deering, Senior Digital Subscription Marketing Manager, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Growing your digital subscriber base by 30% to 55,000 over the past year is really impressive. What were the key factors in the growth?

  1. Rigorous test and learn culture both on the marketing side, and on the digital product team lead by Jim Bernard. We are constantly experimenting with any and all aspects of our paywall strategy, email, social media, etc.
  2. Digital segmentation or “funnel marketing” – Initially we focused on bottom funnel which helped drive a lot of subs, now we are expanding our focus to mid-funnel to grow the size of our bottom funnel audience.
  3. Having a great product – Our news team is constantly innovating, looking at smarter ways to investigate, tell important stories and present them in a compelling digital formats.

It sounds like you have made a lot of product improvements to grow subscriptions. Tell us about some of those.

 Our biggest development in the last year was a top-to-bottom overhaul of our news app, including adding in-app purchase. We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback and have seen higher conversion rates from in-app purchase flows when compared to mobile web. 

Our news and marketing team are also constantly bringing new content products out. Two popular recent offerings were our enhanced prep sports coverage and INSPIRED, a positive local “solutions journalism” section.

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Related content: How The Buffalo News created a smart paywall platform. Click here. 
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 Tell us what you learned about the Facebook digital subscription accelerator?

 Too much to possibly cover in a single article, or even a full day presentation. We gained a lot of big strategic vision insights (how to think and operate like a digital subscription company) and practical, needle-moving tactics (60% of one paper’s readers use the “Login with Facebook button” when given a newsletter opt-in prompt).

Our grant project falls somewhere in the middle – we’re developing a structural shift in our customer journey that we think will help with the mid-funnel and also (or as a result, rather) help drive more subscriptions. I think we’ll have an update on our project when we attend the conference in September.

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Read more on Digiday: How the Star Tribune got 55,000 digital subscribers. Click here. 
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Have you made any more progress with your article index and if so, what do you expect it to be able to do?

The biggest progress to date is giving the news team more useful data to help them understand digital subscriptions. One thing that becomes apparent pretty quickly through this index is that visits / page views is not an analog for digital subscriptions. Specifically, national stories and tabloid content can drive a lot of page views but don’t index highly with subscriptions. This is a more disruptive idea for some than for others, and largely confirms our existing content direction more than anything else.

 Our hope is that this metric will prove useful in contexts where we are curating content for specific channels, whether we’re talking about sponsored content, newsletter content, home page, etc. It may be a while before we have a strong case study to show how this can work.

Register for the Media Transformation Conference right here.