Beyond Print Toolkit: Value proposition

Publishers must articulate a clear value proposition to effectively communicate their worth as they seek to build reader revenue through subscriptions and memberships.

By Anita Li

June 27, 2024

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Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock

The media landscape is increasingly competitive — news organizations aren’t just competing with each other, but also with TikTok, YouTube, Netflix, and dozens of other platforms at people’s fingertips. Articulating a clear value proposition is critical for news organizations to effectively communicate their worth as they seek to build reader revenue through subscriptions and memberships. This helps motivate customers to provide financial support that will fuel public interest reporting.  

This section of the Beyond Print Toolkit  will outline best practices to help publishers clarify and convey their value proposition. 

Key aspects covered include:

  • Identifying Your Distinct Coverage and Unique Value: Determine what sets your publication apart and specifically appeals to your readers, emphasizing unique content and perspectives.
  • Conducting Market Research to Reveal Subscriber Motivations: Investigate why readers subscribe, focusing on their preferences and the specific content they value most.
  • Synthesizing Insights into Clear Membership Value Drivers: Discover how to distill market research findings into key factors that encourage readers to become subscribers or members, such as exclusive content or community access.
  • Crafting a Succinct and Powerful Value Prop: Learn how to create a brief, compelling statement that encapsulates the unique benefits of subscription or membership, effectively communicating its value to potential customers.

The essentials

For publishers aiming to enhance digital subscription or membership offerings while reducing their reliance on print, it’s important to identify and articulate a clear value proposition to their audiences. Publishers must recognize what sets their  journalism apart, such as unique investigative stories or community impact. By using tools such as market research, audience surveys, A/B testing, and more, publishers can tailor subscription offers to best appeal to their communities. The goal is to communicate this value effectively, highlighting exclusive access and benefits, and continuously refining your approach based on reader feedback and competitive analysis. 

We recommend checking out The Membership Guide’s  section on finding your value proposition. (It’s useful even if your organization offers subscriptions, not memberships.)  Jessica Gilbert, McClatchy’s former senior director of product and experience, also created a terrific slide deck with some worthwhile takeaways. 

This section will cover how to identify, understand and best convey your value proposition to your audiences. Here is a step-by-step overview of the essential elements you’ll need to consider:

1. Discover Your Distinct Value: To discover your distinct value, begin by reflecting on what makes your newsroom’s reporting unique and valuable enough for readers to pay for. This uniqueness might stem from your commitment to labor-intensive investigative stories, a focus on community coverage, or the presence of niche expert journalists. This will vary from community to community and outlet to outlet. It’s also crucial to identify and communicate the specific problems your journalism addresses for both individual readers and society at large, along with concrete examples of the impact your work has had. Emphasizing the mission and community-serving role of your outlet is also key to distinguishing your value.

2. Understand Your Audience: Understanding your audience is a critical step. This can be achieved by conducting comprehensive market research through methods such as focus groups, interviews, surveys and social/website analytics. These research tools help to determine the kind of content and experiences your audience values most. It’s important to gather information on what type of information your readers depend on you for, which stories impact them the most, and what areas they wish to see more coverage in. Common reasons for subscription or membership may include the desire for access to exclusive content, support for the newsroom’s public service mission, a sense of affiliation with the brand and the appeal of special perks. Tailoring your messaging to align with these core motivations can enhance your connection with potential members.

3. Articulate Your Value Proposition: Articulating your publication’s value proposition involves synthesizing your research into a concise statement that summarizes what subscribers or members gain in return for their financial support. This statement should emphasize benefits such as exclusive insider access, special perks and your newsroom’s commitment to sustaining quality public interest reporting. It’s important to communicate this value proposition frequently and effectively across various platforms including your website, newsletters, pitches, and membership drives. Analyzing and differentiating your reporting from direct competitors is crucial, as is highlighting your newsroom’s unique qualities, such as community knowledge, investigative expertise or exclusive content. Summarize the needs of your target audiences, the differentiated coverage you offer and your promise of quality journalism concisely.

4. Deliver Personalized Value: Delivering personalized value involves crafting segmented value propositions and messaging that resonate with different groups within your readership. Providing tailored subscription packages that offer varied levels of access, content, and pricing options can help meet the diverse needs and preferences of your audience.

5. Make Value Tangible: Making the value of your journalism tangible is about quantifying and promoting the impact of your newsroom’s work. This could include highlighting changes in legislation spurred by your stories or sharing testimonials from people who’ve been helped by your journalism. Such tangible evidence of impact can significantly bolster the perceived value of your reporting.

6. Measure and Refine: The final step is to measure and refine your approach. This involves tracking the effectiveness of different messages in converting readers to subscribers or members, and using this data to refine your value proposition. Regularly surveying subscribers or members about what they value most can provide insights for improving your subscription or membership program. Continuously monitoring reader data and member feedback is essential for ongoing improvement of your value proposition, and ensuring it remains relevant and compelling to your audience.

Key indicators

For outlets focused on creating compelling value propositions to increase reader revenue as they move beyond print, these key performance indicators can help evaluate and refine value props, ensuring they remain aligned with audience needs.

Audience Survey Feedback Scores: Aggregate audience satisfaction and interest levels from surveys, interviews and focus groups to gauge content alignment with audience needs. For survey responses, calculate average scores for each question, particularly those on a Likert scale (e.g. 1-5, where 1 is “very dissatisfied” and 5 is “very satisfied”). Another approach is Net Promoter Score, which asks respondents how likely they are to recommend the product to a friend. These approaches provide a quantitative measure of audience satisfaction and interest levels. Combine the quantitative scores and qualitative insights to form an overall “Audience Survey Feedback Score.” This could involve weighting different sections of the survey or feedback according to their importance to your strategic goals. Compare the aggregated scores against predefined benchmarks or past survey results to identify trends, improvements or areas needing attention. This comparison can reveal shifts in audience satisfaction and interest over time.

Content Differentiation Index: Qualitatively assess how distinctly your newsroom’s content and reporting stands out compared to competitors, based on reader surveys or management evaluations. Develop a scoring system for the differentiation criteria based on customer feedback. Each criterion can be rated on a scale (e.g. 1-5, where 5 is highly differentiated). For each piece of content or content category, assign scores based on the differentiation criteria. The average of these scores can serve as your Content Differentiation Index; higher scores indicate greater differentiation from competitors. Establish benchmarks for your Content Differentiation Index based on initial assessments and industry standards. Regularly monitor this index to track changes over time, indicating whether your content is becoming more or less differentiated from competitors.

Subscription/Membership Conversion Rate: Monitor the percentage of visitors to subscription or membership sign-ups, indicating the effectiveness of the value proposition messaging.

Subscription/Membership Retention Rates: Monitor the percentage of members renewing their subscriptions or memberships, reflecting the success of personalized offerings.

Audience Engagement Rate: Measure engagement through metrics like time spent on articles, comments, and shares, indicating content resonance with the audience.

Segmented Engagement Scores: Track how different audience segments engage with tailored content and subscription or membership packages, indicating the effectiveness of personalized value propositions. This could involve creating a composite score that factors in various metrics — time spent on page, depth of scroll, shares/saves, or other standard engagement metrics — weighted according to their importance to your strategy. Then compare the calculated scores against established benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of personalized content and offerings. Look for segments with particularly high or low engagement scores to identify what is working well and areas for improvement.

Testimonial Shares: Count the number of times subscriber or membership testimonials are shared, reflecting audience perception of tangible value.


Value proposition formula for newsrooms

Creating a compelling and succinct value proposition is crucial for legacy print newsrooms aiming to differentiate themselves in a competitive media landscape. A well-crafted value proposition communicates the unique benefits and relevance of your journalism to target audiences, encouraging engagement and loyalty. Here’s a simple formula for constructing an effective value proposition for a newsroom:

[Audience Need] + [Your Unique Solution] + [Proven Outcome] = Compelling Value Proposition

  • Identify the Audience Need: Start by articulating the primary need or challenge your target audience faces that your newsroom is uniquely positioned to address. This could be a need for in-depth local news, investigative reporting on specific topics or expert commentary on niche subjects.
    1. Example: “For local residents who feel disconnected from their community…”
  • Define Your Unique Solution: Clearly state how your newsroom’s content or approach directly addresses the target audience’s need. This should highlight what sets your reporting apart from competitors, such as exclusive access, deep expertise or a unique storytelling approach.
    1. Example: “…our award-winning investigative team delivers solutions-focused coverage you can’t find anywhere else…”
  • Demonstrate the Proven Outcome: Include a statement of the tangible benefits or outcomes that readers can expect from engaging with your content. This could be informed decision-making, staying connected with local events or gaining insights into complex issues.
    1. Example: “…enabling you to stay informed and engaged with critical community issues.”

Consider these tips when crafting your value proposition:

  • Be Specific: Use clear and concise language that speaks directly to your audience’s needs and preferences.
  • Emphasize Uniqueness: Highlight what makes your newsroom’s approach or content different and better than the alternatives available to your audience.
  • Focus on Benefits: Always frame your value proposition in terms of the benefits and outcomes that matter most to your audience, not just the features of your service.
  • Use Evidence: Where possible, back up your claims with evidence, such as awards, reader testimonials or notable impacts from your reporting.
  • Keep it Simple: The best value propositions are both powerful and succinct. Aim for a single sentence that captures the essence of what you offer.


A/B Testing Template for Value Propositions

The KPIs listed above can help you refine your value proposition and create language that resonates with your audience and staff. 

Once you’ve developed a hypothesis for your unique value, conducted audience research and created some language to articulate your value proposition, you can share that value prop with your audience. 

One way to do this is through A/B testing on a digital platform. This approach offers concrete and measurable insights into what resonates most with your audiences. You’ll present two variations of your value proposition to segments of your audience at the same time, and then you can measure which performs better against the KPIs that are most important to engaging audiences and driving reader revenue. 

Here’s a template for how to implement this testing method:

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