COVID-19 Benchmarks – Insights and Implications

By Arvid Tchivzhel, Managing Director of Digital Services

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Over the past six months, the Mather team has observed a new baseline level for Fanatics and Known Users compared to the period pre-COVID-19. Given the steadying of engagement, it is safe to say a “new normal” exists with greater baseline levels of engagement. Page 5 in our latest COVID-19 benchmarking report outlines the 30% uptick in metrics in almost every period compared to February 2020.

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The driving factor behind subscriber starts was the growth of highly engaged users on many publisher websites. Coverage of COVID-19 and the impact on communities grew the total number and proportion of this highly engaged audience with a high propensity to subscribe. The chart above shows a 3.5X growth in this key mid-funnel engagement metric (Fanatic Users and % Fanatic Users), with a downstream impact at the bottom of the funnel (Conversions).

Furthermore, when comparing 2020 engagement to 2019, the percentage of new Fanatics who subscribed grew by 24%. The chart above shows growth at the top of the funnel, attracting new users to engage and subscribe.

This phenomenon is crucial to understand because it demonstrates that to grow subscriber starts, the focus is less about bottom-funnel tactics, but rather about growing a loyal and engaged audience. Therefore, we can conclude the need for significant investment and attention to augment top-funnel and mid-funnel tactics to attract new and loyal audiences.

It is unfortunate that a global pandemic galvanized audiences to engage and subscribe but clearly the need for trusted news organizations to report facts and the value consumers place on this service is clear.

So now the question is, what should news organizations do in the absence of another global event like this?

We are not recommending to abdicate best practices at the bottom of the funnel (of course, there should be a targeted call to action, personalization, frictionless checkout…etc.) Many learnings and best practices can be applied to maximize the benefit of paywalls, regwalls, and premium content. We have covered these topics before and release regular case studies on successful bottom-funnel tactics. These tactics can be optimized through the Listener data platform.

The strategy driving each publisher should be developing and promoting content to grow engagement and attract new audiences who can be turned into loyal readers. These loyal readers will convert even if your bottom-funnel tactics are not 100% perfect. Trying to “game the system” by seeking conversions from flybys and lesser engaged users is not a path to success and a “lazy” (and ultimately unsuccessful) way to grow reader revenue. Mather has helped hundreds of organizations to develop a robust strategy and ensure proper marketing spend, product positioning, pricing, content, and internal alignment to ensure your organization is ready to achieve these strategic goals.

Coverage of the pandemic demonstrated the value of trusted news organizations and the growing market opportunity for digital subscriptions. Our team is ready to help you identify the right strategy and tactics to create measurable growth in 2021+.

Reach out to Arvid at for more information.

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