This is part one of Peter Hobday’s examination of marketing in digital content. Check out the second installment tomorrow on TheMediaBriefing.com.

“Sorry – if you have made a purchase, please leave the store.”

No, you will have never heard a salesperson saying that in a shop. They ask “Will there be anything else?” They want you to carry on buying: to shop ’til you drop; to take out a loyalty or credit card; come to special shopping previews; use their online store; recommend them to friends.

But that’s not what happens when you visit the main media websites. Most won’t even bother to ask for your name and address. Even if you subscribe they are unlikely to try to sell you another product.

A recent Subscriptions Strategy survey found 70 percent of top-selling UK magazine websites don’t actively capture email addresses. These include titles such as What’s on TV, Take a Break, Saga, Glamour; TV Choice, and OK. That is either due to ignorance or an astonishing neglect of duty.

Perhaps it’s down to the UK’s famously poor customer service. In the USA, 80 percent of the top-selling magazines actively capture visitors’ details, mostly with free prize draws and sweepstakes. They include Better Homes, National Geographic, Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day.

The best visitor capture techniques among the top-selling UK titles are Northern and Shell’s New and Star, which offer three competitions and multiple prizes through a points programme.

Getting more from your market

The art of up-selling, upgrading, cross-selling and converting registrants into regular buyers sits at the heart of most successful commercial websites. And that means getting to know your customers and remembering their names. The best sites employ effective marketing copy and design to maximise these four areas:

– The capture of visitors’ names and personal details
Conversion of visitors to paying subscribers and members
Upgrading, up-selling and cross-selling products
Renewing and maximising lifetime values

The majority of UK websites, however, appear unable to succeed at the first stage: the capture of visitors’ names and email addresses. The few sites that employ good marketing methods are able to go much further and capture eight fields of personal information without reducing response. The fields are, for example:

– Email address
– Username
– Password
– Title
– First name
– Last name
– Where do you live?
– Areas or subjects of interest

But as most UK sites struggle to sign up a reasonable percentage of visitors’ names and email addresses, we have to ask:

Why aren’t UK publishers interested in the people who visit their websites?”

Having recently talked with conference delegates from around 100 top UK publishers, it’s clear there is no lack of ability. The marketers I spoke to are all interested in subscriber retention, successful commercial models and providing a good customer service.

But marketers appear unable to exert much influence on publishing strategy. They are denied the autonomy required to freely develop effective and profitable customer-capture and upgrade programmes. It’s not through lack of money – the publishers attending the event take more than 80 million in annual revenue from their subscribers.

No business can survive and grow without effective marketing. But if marketing is good business sense why employ a marketing department? Marketers should be integral to the hierarchy, running the show.

There really is no excuse for weak data collection because demographic and other details are not difficult to capture. And if a visitor is interested in your site, why should he be turned away without the opportunity to register for more information?

What exactly is marketing?

Marketing is often confused with selling. But selling is only part of marketing. Among publishers, marketing is also confused with promoting and promotion is one of those things that get cut in a recession.

To see real marketing in action, visit Portobello Road or Camden market. Marketing is about setting up your stall where customers will find you and selling them products at a profit. That’s all there is to it.

Most of our customers want information and entertainment. All publishers need to do is produce a variety of interesting information products that can be sold to current subscribers. Unfortunately, they often give it away on their websites or don’t promote it in the right way.

Upgrading your customers

Upgrading is impossible if you don’t have any products you can upgrade new subscribers to. But if you create some you will be giving the new subscriber more of what he wants.

Your subscribers will be more likely to renew if they have no need to go elsewhere for extra information. They will also be paying you lots more money. Here are some upgrade ideas:

– An exclusive subscriber newsletter
– Monthly, quarterly and annual reports
– An e-zine to keep the subscriber up-to-date with new developments
– A web-based service offering extra information
Events, conferences, seminars and workshops
– Discounted products, prize draws and free samples
— Advice and consultancy

Websites, newsletters and reports cost a great deal of time and money to create and deliver. But tests prove you can charge a lot more for access to these items than a publisher thinks. All you need to do is make sure your customer understands the value of what you are offering.

In part 2 of this article I will look at:

Where marketing goes wrong; If it’s measured, it’s managed; How renewal analysis reveals huge losses; How managing directors limit profits; Building subscriber value; Is marketing just for the big publishers?