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News Flash: Media Company to Launch Loyalty Program, Edits Traditional Model

scripps-logo-220One of America’s leading media companies is planning to test a loyalty program, but keeping that headline above the fold will require an initiative that stands above the fray.

The CEO of the E.W. Scripps Co., which operates 19 TV stations and 13 newspapers, revealed plans for the program in December. According to news stories, the loyalty plan follows the 2013 launch of a digital-only news service in Cincinnati, where Scripps is based. It’s a bit of a risk – the company has invested millions in the new digital model, and is making most of the content subscriber based. To keep its subscribers, it needs to be relevant.

Enter the loyalty program, which will be for subscribers in its Cincinnati test market, according to a story in the Cincinnati Business Courier.

In an email, a Scripps spokeswoman described the program as more like the Amazon model (“if you like this, you might like that”), through which it would use customer information such as story clicks and demographics to tailor its news content and ad messaging. So if you like to read political stories, for example, it may suggest reading a particular elections editorial.

Scripps is a good example of a non-traditional loyalty player looking to these types of tools as a break from its ordinary marketing and engagement devices, and it is not the first media group to do so. As outlined in a recent story by COLLOQUY, several publications, including the Chicago Tribune and the Virginia-Pilot, have tried and abandoned loyalty plans. Others are still trying.

All of which highlights the challenges of introducing a loyalty program that is effective. The trick is bringing relevance, through interactions that are as clearly advantageous to the consumer as the company. Consumer data is key to doing this.

This may be why Scripps CEO Richard Boehne hinted at finding other players well versed in customer data and loyalty – he mentions that Scripps is taking advantage of being based in Cincinnati, home of many consumer marketing leaders including Procter & Gamble, Macy’s and Kroger. “In Cincinnati, there is an awful lot of consumer marketing and data strength that we leverage by running this pilot in that program in that market,” he said.

This is good, because while loyalty programs are increasingly common, I’d bet only a small percentage of operators know how to use the data in a way that helps them understand and benefit their customers. For Scripps, the data could yield information that illustrates the readers’ news values, how and when they prefer to get their breaking headlines, and even the comics they like. This information can help Scripps determine messaging and what to offer as incentives to read articles.

I have a hunch that the Scripps announcement is the beginning of a trend, and we will see more industries exploring loyalty as a marketing tool. But like any good news story, the loyalty program will have to resonate with the reader if it wants the reader to stick with it.

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