How publishers can hook their audience like retail’s top holiday performers

Allison Mezzafonte, lead media advisor, Sailthru

Media companies are always looking for the hook to grab readers’ attention, especially during the hectic holiday season. As a channel, email has gotten a lot of buzz lately and continues to hold its own as a way of getting directly in front of an audience. For example, during recent social media network outages, marketers quickly turned to email to capitalize on the moment. Emails were sent flying with catchy subject lines and special offers, capturing the attention of an audience momentarily faced with less noise. Venture money is flowing into the space, fueling newsletter startups, where platforms such as Google are testing newsletters and traditional publishers are jumping into the game more aggressively. 

With Apple’s iOS 15 update, Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) has left publishers evaluating the efficacy of their engagement metrics. They are focused even more critically on the age-old question — how do publishers create content that engages an audience? 

With the 2021 holiday season starting early and already upon us for many marketing teams, the content strategies that have fueled engagement for publishers in the past year stand to power campaigns in the weeks and months to come as well. At a time when having a direct connection with an audience is increasingly critical, three approaches highlight the value of knowing audiences and delivering the content they want. 

Leaning into end-of-year recaps

There’s a reason why end-of-year recaps are always so impactful — they’re part nostalgia, part validation and they tap into the zeitgeist of the year. 

For example, theSkimm launched a very successful 2020 recap series with each installment covering a different 2020-related issue. theSkimm’s editors smartly took elements from a wildly eventful 2020 (i.e., COVID-19, BLM, U.S. presidential election) and packaged a roundup that highlighted key takes on each issue and delivered them in a way that was thorough but easy to consume. 

While 2021 was slightly less eventful, theSkimm still collected its share of interesting developments, including climate change, the ongoing pandemic, the “return to office,” subsequent delays and the new administration in the White House, to name a few. The takeaway is this: A multi-touch sequence of emails encourages readers to tune in and builds anticipation that will generate engagement. 

Creating curated roundups and gift guides to drive engagement (and sales)

Consumers love gift guides, and publishers love making them. theSkimm found success with its 2020 gift guide, highlighting items for an audience that had been cooped up all year. Gift guides are utilitarian for those who need some inspiration, and they’re also a form of escapism for those who fancy something new and out of the ordinary. 

Publishers can consider putting a spin on things in the gift-guide space with offerings such as “Supplies for those who are returning to the office,” or “Travel gadgets for all those trips not taken last year.”

Post-holiday roundups (and sales) always drive high engagement with audiences. New York Magazine’s ‘The Strategist’ hit it out of the park in 2020 with its post-Christmas sale roundup. The Strategist’s curated list feels as if it’s letting readers in on a well-kept secret. 

Bon Appétit also played to the moment and featured its readers’ most enjoyed recipes in a roundup titled, “Our Readers’ Favorite Recipes.”

A brand like Bon Appétit has no shortage of delicious recipes to highlight, but wisely brought its audience into the conversation by highlighting the most popular ones as rated by readers. Bon Appétit embraced the time of year, with a finger on the pulse of culture, offering up comfort-food options at a moment of great collective uncertainty with the looming U.S. election. 

Play into audience interests to give them what they crave

Anyone interested in home decor or design eagerly awaits the grand reveal of the Pantone Color of the Year. 

Apartment Therapy cleverly teased the announcement of Pantone’s upcoming 2021 color in December 2020 and encouraged readers to click through to the site. This led Apartment Therapy to have its highest open and engagement rates in Q4 2020. By understanding the benefits of deep, niche interests versus broad and general coverage, Apartment Therapy understood how to give its audience exactly what it wants.  

Amid the distractions of back-to-back holidays, Q4 is a tough time for publishers trying to get the attention of their audience. Proven email marketing campaigns can provide insights to ensure this year’s holiday emails don’t suffer from the tragic “mark all as read” year-end fate.

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