The New “Subscriber” is a Click-Bait Addict – But There’s a Way to Turn it All Around

In my never ending quest for zero inbox, I find myself unsubscribing from quite a few emails. Whether they land in my primary, social or promotions folders in Gmail, I receive way more junk than I would like – even including Google’s built-in spam filter, which has gotten much better over the years. 

To be honest, the only emails I actually want to receive are updates about my Amazon orders, the Crunchbase daily newsletter about startup funding, and a few miscellaneous business-related newsletters within the Austin area. I get the remainder of my content – New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, Quibb, Google News – by subscribing. 

Of course, I don’t mean “subscribing” in the old school sense or even in the way most of us think about subscribing now. I don’t receive a paper on my doorstep every morning, nor do I receive newsletters from any of these publications. 

Instead, I vote with my mouse.

Think about it: I tell a publication that I would like to consume its content by navigating to it’s website. Click. Click. I’m on the New York Times homepage. Click. I’m reading an article about ISIS, Iraq and the current political instability. At this point, the New York Times knows that I am a user browsing from Austin (via my IP Address) and that I like to read international news. Slightly more sophisticated analytics would tell the Times that I visit multiple times a day and read about politics, news, sports and travel. 

“Truth is, the new ‘subscriber’ doesn’t leave much information behind for media companies to track.”

The challenge with this type of analysis is that it applies to pretty much everyone. In other words, there is little unique about that data other than knowing I’m from Austin.

Seriously, ask anybody on the street and they will tell you that they are interested in one of these four categories, too. Truth is, the new “subscriber” doesn’t leave much information behind for media companies to track. If they had my email address, they might figure out my household income and various other demographics (via third party companies like Axciom, Datalogix, Epsilon), but that still does not tell them very much about me. 

All of this information is like knowing that your co-worker lives in your city, drives a truck and is interested in football. Cool, man – them and hundreds if not thousands of other people who fit that exact same criteria, too. 

See, what the New York Times needs is a compelling way to unlock my social, professional and conversational identities, the same way that you would with your co-worker by engaging in conversation and getting to know them. The New York Times doesn’t have that ability. Instead, they are stuck in a perpetual cycle of small talk. 

“The New York Times could unlock serious customer lifetime value potential within every single audience member.”

Of course, there is a way out. Knowing my basic interest information coupled with my demographics and behavioral signals emitted through site history is incredibly powerful for all parts of the organization. And if there was a way to unify all of those data points into a visualized platform through which known-user habits, preferences and adjacencies can be easily seen, the Times could unlock serious customer lifetime value potential within every single audience member. 

Luckily, there is a way to do so, and it’s called (ignore the shameless plug) Umbel.

Armed with first and second party data granularity about a user and the ability to segment, the marketing department at the New York Times can begin to make decisions about what ads to feature on their pages. The sales organization can better understand what brands I prefer or where my loyalties might shift in the future with added income. The editorial staff might figure out that users who live in Texas read a lot about national politics, immigration and the San Antonio Spurs during NBA season (of course, they probably don’t need data to infer that last one). 

“This data is valuable, informative and powerful. It isn’t the meaningless dribble of endless web-analytics.”

This data is valuable, informative and powerful. It isn’t the meaningless dribble of endless web-analytics. It isn’t information purchased through a third party that may or may not be accurate. It combines the best of what a media company knows (their first-party data) with whatever I am willing to volunteer (second-party data) – and that’s the kicker. 

Media companies – and I’m defining that broadly as anyone making money off audiences of any type – need to offer users compelling reasons to actually click that subscribe button. They need to collect data for the sake of making experiences better, not just collecting more data. What’s more is that the reason for collection and use needs to be  immediately evident to the user – transparent, if you will. Otherwise, users will continue to “subscribe” without really clicking that button and companies will lose valuable opportunities to turn anonymous users into addressable audience members. 

In the meantime, I’ll be voting with my mouse on the sites I trust while ignoring the newsletters they send to my inbox. They simply aren’t relevant and I don’t have time to dig through them for what is. Curation, my friends. Curation and customization will win you loyal readers. The choice is yours.