New Scientist has undergone an epic journey in its 60-year history. With a combined global audience of over five million highly engaged readers, the publication brings to its diverse and learned audience the latest cutting-edge science. The magazine has evolved beyond recognition from the first print edition released on 22 November 1956. To be truly global today, brands must stretch beyond the printed page – it’s all about the power and reach of digital communication.
From One Shilling…
Ben Cordle, Marketing Director at New Scientist, is a key figure overseeing the development of the magazine’s brand and content offering, which lies far from its humble beginnings in the fifties. “For your one shilling cover price you could learn from Professor M.W. Thring ‘Why we study flames’, or Prof. A.D. Baxter on ‘Flying Stovepipes – an explanation of the ramjet engine’. But while science has advanced exponentially since then […] our introductory message is still surprisingly relevant: ‘The New Scientist is published for all those men and women who are interested in all scientific discovery and in its industrial, commercial and social consequences.’” The resonance of New Scientist’s maxim is not only a testament to the longevity of the brand, but also an impressive example of its continued significance to a hugely evolved consumer base, which has expanded exponentially due to the new accessibility of content.
To Valuable Subscription
Protection of New Scientist’s valuable content is a priority for the brand, which works on a strict system of paywalls and subscriber options. You’ll probably never receive a freebie copy of the magazine. “It would have been easy for us to add in a few thousand controlled circulation copies to boost our profile, but we feel the risk of devaluing our brand is too great.” Says Cordle. The majority of content found on New Scientist’s website and apps is for registered users or subscribers only. Less reliant on other forms of advertising then, the majority of brand revenue comes through subscription channels, enabling New Scientist to understand in great detail the distribution and consumption of content across its subscriber network. “A stable circulation revenue stream has allowed us to invest in reaching new audiences, with new products,” says Cordle, “and we are aware that there are many science enthusiasts who are unlikely to become subscribers without a sophisticated nurture program.”
In order to effectively nurture that diverse audience, the first task for New Scientist’s marketing team was to find out who they were, how they were consuming content, and what opportunities that could present for development of the brand’s products. New Scientist worked with research agency Tapestry to carry out a large-scale audience segmentation study, using both ethnographic data and one on one interviews to define three clear groups. These three categories of consumer are distinctive in the way that they are consuming content, and their preferred medium is also indicative of the changing user experience. “Our print subscribers tend to be slightly older, with an average age in the late forties. They are long-term readers, the average subscriber being with us for about 7 years and counting. They look to New Scientist to give them a broad overview of the latest developments in science and technology, and to keep them informed.” Explains Cordle. “Our digital audience is about 10-15 years younger. Their motivations are similar, but they prefer the digital medium, and tend to be interested in a slightly narrower field of science, for example physics, or health. There is also an increasingly large audience of customers for other products, who don’t subscribe, but do have a passion for science.”
Getting The Tone Right
With such a diverse customer base, New Scientist must carefully attribute the right voice to the right product, in order to strike a chord across its diverse readership. As a result, the publication sees high levels of engagement across its product range, while maintaining the credibility which defines its standing as one of the most highly-regarded science publications. “There are several extremely popular science websites, on the web, on app and on social. They resonate with some of these groups because they’re fast, fun, light-hearted, but also actively avoided by others for those same reasons.” Says Cordle. But a solid understanding of the interests, needs and motivations of a carefully categorised user base means that no user need feel left out or that their own particular interest is not represented. “This segmentation exercise, alongside deeper qualitative feedback, allowed us to focus on several sub-groups, with a more tailored message, to more relevant products.”
Something For Everyone
Balancing this expanded range of products and catering to such a diverse following is a delicate balancing act for the team at New Scientist. “We have to maintain the balance of increased accessibility without losing credibility, especially among our ‘Expert’, loyalist audience.” Continues Cordle. The careful consideration of each branch of their audience gives The New Scientist a very intimate and responsive relationship with its readers, building the potential for more products and opportunities based on their own love of science. “We use NPS surveys and bespoke research to ensure that we constantly monitor perceptions and feedback from our core audience, and react accordingly. This is why our net promoter score has grown from the low thirties to forty-plus over the last few years, at a time when we’ve also extended our brand to new audiences.”
Further Still To Go
As the rise of technology and the proliferation of digital content continues to raise a question mark over the future of print media, New Scientist’s diverse product offering and comprehensive understanding of its customers is cementing them as a leader in the industry. With a focus on maintaining a high-quality experience, it continue to satisfy its readers, whatever their age, education or specialism. “The answer lies in maintaining our core products at the highest levels, but launching new ones which are designed to appeal to different groups. We don’t expect everyone to want to do everything, however we always assume our audience are intelligent, curious and discerning.” By focussing on its own potential for innovation, the publication can ensure that all its readers, attendees and customers are able to find an experience that is right for them. Cordle gives an example: “We don’t have any specific programming for teens or kids at New Scientist Live, but the reason over 4,000 of the attendees were under 18 was because they want to be challenged, to be spoken to like adults, and to be exposed to world-leading science.” By taking immaculate care of the brand and the integrity of its content, New Scientist is securing its future for years to come. “There’s still much to do, but at a time when science has never been so globally important, when truth is increasingly subjective, and when people crave intelligent discourse, we enjoy unprecedented potential.”