A Digital-First Website Strategy Led to Growth for ‘HBR’

website strategy

Harvard Business Review’s updated digital-first website strategy is leading to significant audience growth

Many publishers have taken to a website strategy that highlights the components of the digital landscape. When done properly, digital publishers are able to drive more traffic and develop larger audiences.

Today we’re looking at Harvard Business Review and the growth its website has experienced from a digital-first approach. Forbes reports, “In early 2017, the marketing team at Harvard Business Review concluded that their direct-mail subscription efforts weren’t producing the results they wanted. Over time, response was declining and outside lists were becoming less effective. So HBR pivoted to a digital-first marketing approach, deploying paid social, search and content marketing along with other tools and strategies, to drive efficiency and results.”

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The article continues with the results that HBR experienced from its website strategy change over the past year. “HBR Group Consumer Marketing Director Jeff Levy reports that HBR has generated high growth rates in customer acquisition at more reasonable costs, and now has a paid circulation of 308,986, the highest in the magazine’s history. Paid circulation has grown by 11.8%, and subscriptions have increased by 9.5%, in one year.”

HBR is experiencing the type of subscription results it was hoping for from the initial change in website strategy. “Existing customers are downloading subscriber-only content and tools at high levels. And the brand has maintained a premium subscription price of $99 domestically and $169 internationally as it switched from print-based marketing to digital.”

Levy noted more about the changes, which were spurred by cost and scale. “We analyzed our marketing channels and determined that direct mail was driving a higher cost-per-acquisition,” Levy says. “Using digital channels such as paid social, search and content marketing helped deliver a lower CPA, faster feedback on campaign performance, and highly scalable campaigns.”

This new website model for HBR focuses on content, customer, and channel data. Levy stated, “Our best-performing channels include paid social, with an emphasis on retargeting website visitors, email marketing to visitors who have registered, and reaching visitors who have abandoned subscription orders.”

A continuation of strategy implementation was made after initial success was seen from the digital-first approach. The elements include:

  • “Retargeting visitors to HBR.org
  • Increasing email marketing to include all registered visitors
  • Launching paid social campaigns on Facebook and Instagram across a wide range of audiences (retargeting and look-a-like)
  • Broadening search engine marketing
  • Creating a content-marketing strategy to reach people who had not consumed HBR content—or had done so in a limited manner”

Levy concluded by presenting an overview of the results thus far. “All in all…for about 15% less in total spending, HBR has been able to significantly increase reach, which has resulted in more engagement and subscriptions. The average cost per acquisition (or CPA) for direct mail was $227, while the CPA for paid social is $111. Conversion rates in paid social are up by 117% over direct mail.”

Do you want to enhance your website strategy to meet the needs of the digital landscape? If you’d like to discuss how we can grow your audience, revenue and profits, please reach out to schedule a no obligation chat with a member of our marketing services team.


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