How to Sell $38K of Subscriptions in 10 Days

If you’re a paid circulation magazine, you know that selling subscriptions online can be a challenge. However, I’d like to share an example of one publication that recently sold over $38K of subscriptions in just 10 days — and the subscription campaign strategy we used to do it.

If you run a paid circulation magazine, you know that selling subscriptions online can be a challenge. However, I’d like to share an example of one publication that recently sold over $38K of subscriptions in just 10 days — and the strategy used to do it.

The magazine we’re talking about isn’t a huge, national publication like Consumer Reports or America’s Test Kitchen. It’s actually a relatively modest, regional lifestyle publication and a member of CRMA (City and Regional Magazine Association).

The publisher’s website isn’t geared at all to drive subscriptions. They have no paywall in place, no digital subscription option, and no way to easily create effective landing pages. They also have an email/marketing automation system that is difficult to use at best.

Yet the team there overcame all of these challenges and, together, we ran a very successful campaign that generated $38K of subscriptions at an initial subscription price of only $11.

A Huge Boost in Paid Subscriptions

The magazine I worked with typically sells 10 subscriptions per day through various channels. However, during the campaign, that average jumped to 69 subscriptions per day … nearly 7x more. Look at the data and you can clearly see the day the campaign started and ended.

Subscription Campaign Success: Chart 1

In the 10 days prior to the campaign, the publisher sold $1,995 of subscriptions. During the 10-day campaign, however, they sold nearly $7,546 of subscriptions. So how does that equate to the $38K I mentioned above?

The publisher’s subscriptions include a non-optional, auto-renew program. That means that they don’t have to re-sell these subscribers every year. Thus, each auto-renew subscription is actually worth approximately $56 over the lifetime of the subscriber.

When you look at lifetime value, the magazine normally generated $5,620 in LTV revenue over a typical 10-day period. But during this 10-day campaign, they generated over $38,000 in LTV revenue … a 7x increase.

Subscription Campaign Success: Chart 2

How the Subscription Campaign Worked

The campaign offered a 50% discount on the normal annual subscription price and made it very clear that the offer was only good for 10 days. This combination of a steep price discount and the urgency of a limited time helped contribute to the campaign’s success.

But the other major factor was how well the publisher drove awareness of the discount and the limited time through all available channels that the magazine had: email, ads on their website, and social media. They also spent $1,000 in Facebook/Instagram advertising targeting a specific demographic in their geographic area as well as re-targeting website visitors and Facebook page followers.

Unsurprisingly, email was the biggest revenue driver accounting for 50% of the directly attributable sales. Ads on the publisher’s website drove 25%, with social media and Facebook/Instagram ads combining for the remaining 25%.

The Campaign Was Part of a Larger Strategy

It’s critical to note that this campaign was part of a larger audience development strategy that we’ve been working on for a while. The campaign wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful as an isolated subscription sales effort.

The audience development strategy focuses first on building their email list. We create high-converting lead magnets that are promoted to their target audience with Facebook and Instagram advertising. Once an email address is captured, the person is then presented with an opportunity to subscribe to the magazine.

This allows the publisher to quickly build up their email list for free. They make as much money in year-one subscription revenue as they spend on advertising. When you take into account auto-renew lifetime value, the publisher actually makes money while building their email list.

Why is this important?

Their new email names converted at a higher rate than their old email names. The publisher’s pre-existing email list was larger than the new, lead-magnet-generated email list. But the new names converted to paid magazine subscribers more than 3x better than pre-existing names.

What’s Next?

While this campaign was off-the-charts successful, it’s not something that can be done more than a couple times per year. If you do it more often than that, you will condition your audience to wait for a big sale and campaign response rates will fall off dramatically.

Working with the publisher, we plan to do this type of campaign a couple times each year. In the interim, we’ll continue to build out their email list rapidly. They’ll add more evergreen lead magnets and will continue to promote them via Facebook and Instagram. We’re also testing the response rate of other programmatic networks like Google, Taboola, and Bing.

This strategy works with paid circulation publications, e-commerce sites, or membership sites. It can even be adapted for controlled circulation publications with some modifications. It takes work, patience, the right tactics, close monitoring, and perhaps some system changes. But the right combination of ongoing email list development and focused, intense subscription campaigns is a powerful combination for any publication.

Turn the Funnel Upside Down for Better ROI Planning

Many conventional marketers depict the progression from prospect to buyer as a funnel starting with impressions at the top and working down through the sales cycle to responses, leads, qualified leads and finally buyers. This approach tells a top-to-bottom chronological story of the promotion process.

Many conventional marketers depict the progression from prospect to buyer as a funnel starting with impressions at the top and working down through the sales cycle to responses, leads, qualified leads and finally buyers. This approach tells a top-to-bottom chronological story of the promotion process.

Better ROI chart
Credit: Chuck McLeester

But turning the funnel upside down provides a much more useful approach to planning ROI. It has its roots in the fundamental principles of direct response: customer lifetime value (LTV) and allowable acquisition cost (AAC).

Better ROI chart 2
Credit: Chuck McLeester

You can start out at the top of the upside-down funnel using your customer lifetime value, or if you’re interested in getting a specific return on a short-term promotion, you can use the value of a one-time transaction. Either way, you’re starting with the value of a customer — be it short-term or long-term.

Once you determine a revenue point to work with, set a target ROI and calculate your AAC (allowable acquisition cost). For this illustration, let’s assume that the transaction is worth $200 and our target ROI at 2:1. This results in an AAC of $100; that is, the amount we can spend to get the transaction.

AAC chart by Chuck McLeesterAs you move to the lower portions of the upside-down funnel, you apply assumptions about the conversion rates at each stage. You may have some historical data on which to base these assumptions, but if you don’t apply industry standards or make educated guesstimates. Ultimately, you’ll learn what the actual rates are in a well-constructed test scenario. For example, if you assume that 30 percent of all qualified leads will convert to buyers, then the allowable cost per qualified lead is $30.

Qualified lead formula for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester

Similarly, you can calculate the allowable cost per lead, cost per response and cost per impression all the way to the base of the upside-down funnel. So if you estimate that two-thirds of your leads will be qualified, your allowable cost per lead is $20, and so on.

Allowable cost/lead formula for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester

 As you reach the bottom of the upside-down funnel, you can determine the required response rates from each medium under consideration. You can either make an assumption about the percentage of clicks, calls or responses that will turn into leads, or you can go straight to calculating the number of leads you need from each medium based on the media cost as shown here.

Final graphic for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester
  1. Divide the cost of the media by the allowable lead cost to determine the number of leads required from each medium
  2. Divide the number of leads required by the circulation or number of impressions associated with that medium

For example,

Final formula for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester

 (These calculations can also be done on a CPM basis).

Then, do a gut-check. Is that response rate realistic? Don’t know? Test it. A carefully controlled small test will quantify your assumptions at each point of the upside-down funnel.