Hey, news sites: Think like retailers!

By Steve Outing

Today I received an e-mail promotion from an electronics e-retailer that I’d purchased from before. The after-holidays sales promotion looked interesting, so I clicked the ad to go to the site. I spent very little time there, didn’t see any deals I couldn’t live without, and clicked away.

About an hour later, in comes another e-mail from this company, this one with a note, “Thanks for visiting our site!”, and an e-mail coupon for a free $100 dining-out card if I make a purchase of at least $200.

This isn’t a new technique among digital-savvy retailers, but it’s the first one like this that I recall receiving.

Have any news websites tried this approach? (I’ve yet to see it.) It’s a great idea.

For example, tie automated e-mail promotions to when a (known) visitor views a car-review page. Build in some intelligence: If the site visitor reads a review about pick-up trucks or high-mileage hybrids, send a discount offer from a (client) local dealer, or maybe eBay Motors, specific to trucks or hybrids, respectively. Did the user visit the sports section and read three or more articles? E-mail him a discount coupon from a client sporting goods store.

This is a simple, potentially effective technique. But of course you need to know who your visitor is. That’s simple enough if you require your users to register on your site, or you know who they are because they log into your site via Facebook Connect or some other third-party connection.

And you need their permission, which you can get during the registration process (if your site has one), or by asking for permission to send them discounts in the future if they click their assent in a pop-up box.

Yet another possibility is if your news site has a premium membership program (a la Times+). Make receiving these targeted, contextual discount offers a benefit for being a paying news-website member. Of course, members don’t have to receive them and can decide for themselves whether it’s a useful benefit or feels more like annoying spam.

Finally, think beyond e-mail, of course. At sign-up for this service, offer options: Receive the discount offers via mobile phone, Facebook mail, Twitter DM (direct message), e-mail, etc.

If any news organizations have tried this, and I’m just not aware of it, please let me know in the comments area below — and tell us how it’s worked out.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!