Just papering over the cracks?

One weapon newspapers have developed to tackle falling circulations is the voucher scheme, but research suggests it is a very short-term solution

What newspaper a person reads says a lot about his or her demographics and lifestyle. But today’s consumer is increasingly promiscuous, and although achieving brand loyalty is something all marketers like to work towards, it only ever applies to some of the customers, some of the time.

Recent research on newspaper reading habits by Claritas suggests that this promiscuity has driven the newspaper industry to launch an array of voucher promotions, discount deals and lottery-style competitions in an effort to encourage trial purchase and ultimately long-term switching between the different brands. According to Claritas, the industry has long been engaged in such tactical warfare to bolster circulation figures, in decline for some time.

Voucher and discount promotions are an important part of many newspapers’ direct marketing strategies, although many are beginning to develop long-term relationships by establishing affinity groups.

As newspaper sales are largely in the hands of retailers, the press industry faces enormous difficulties when identifying who is buying which titles. So it’s not surprisingly that the research finds newspapers, in varying degrees, preaching to the converted with their voucher and discount activities.

According to Claritas, 32 per cent of Sun readers say they have received and used vouchers from the red-top, even though they are already regular buyers. This figure is particularly high, but it’s worth remembering that The Sun has a significantly higher circulation figure (3.3 million, Audit Bureau of Circulations, November 2001) than the other national dailies, and so it would be difficult for The Sun to avoid its own readers when mailing out vouchers.

But the need for better targeting to maximise newspapers’ reach to competitors’ readers is far from in doubt. Twenty-two per cent of Mirror readers have received and used Mirror vouchers, according to Claritas, but the Daily Mail and Daily Express have very low levels of voucher promotions going out to existing readers – 13 per cent and eight per cent respectively – a sign of good consumer targeting.

Investing in well-targeted promotion schemes is worthwhile as vouchers are a good way to attract readers. The Mirror and The Sun have 21 and 20.6 per cent respectively of their readership drawn to the newspaper through a voucher promotion, while the Daily Express and Daily Mail have 16.1 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

But some readers just can’t be cajoled into changing their title of choice by offers from a competing title. Daily Mail readers are the hardest to woo away, with 23 per cent saying they have not used vouchers as they have already read the rival titles and prefer the Daily Mail.

There is also doubt over the long-term effectiveness of voucher and discount promotions, with many readers going back to their original newspaper once a promotion has ended. This is most true for Mirror and Daily Mail readers who, according to Claritas, are most likely to “revert to type” once the promotion period has ended. Both sets of readers comprise the highest portion of respondents who go back to their “favourite” newspapers at the end of a competitive trial. This also reinforces the findings that Daily Mail readers are the least likely to be enticed by a competitor.

For some newspapers the voucher scheme plays a lesser role. For instance, The Guardian is one of the few titles which invests significantly in brand advertising and is more concerned with attracting readers through building a brand image than engaging in simple price-led promotions.

But while newspapers battle it out between themselves in the circulation war, there is a bigger competitor in their midst – new technologies.

Claritas predicts that people will increasingly turn to a mixture of media – TV (terrestrial/digital), newspapers, the Internet and mobile phone – for their daily news. Newspapers must find a distinct position within that media mix, particularly from news-oriented websites. Initiatives such as customer relationship management (CRM) are likely to come to the fore in newspaper marketing strategies in the effort to secure audience share.

Until now, newspapers have not suffered much readership erosion from digital media, but as more Web-savvy youth, with hectic lifestyle to match, grows older and becomes the dominant market, this is likely to present a major challenge to the newspaper industry.

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