Newsroom overview

Who They Are
A national, born-digital publication focused on policy analysis and investigative journalism that has branched out into lifestyle, sports, and business coverage
South Africa
Launched membership
Monthly unique visitors
Number of members
Percentage of revenue from membership
25 percent

After two years of marketing Maverick Insider, the Daily Maverick’s membership program, Publisher Styli Charalambous and Maverick Insider General Manager Director Francesca Beighton mapped out, audited, and set objectives for the marketing strategy going forward. 

They also invested time in understanding and applying the behavioral biases that underpin consumer behavior, which has helped them understand what motivation they’re trying to appeal to whenever they write a membership appeal. These are the results of that exercise.

Why this is important

Categorizing, measuring, and routinizing their marketing strategy helped Daily Maverick streamline its marketing efforts, which helped to reduce the amount of time and decision-making required to execute. This gave them more time to devote to cause-driven work that makes membership more appealing, and also made it easier to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.

This strategy document also helps keep Maverick Insider marketing mission-aligned. When targets are ambitious, it can be tempting to try anything to hit them, including exaggerating, making promises you can’t keep, and tailoring your message to increasingly niche audiences, warns Beighton. Having a North Star document gives staff members something concrete to hew to. It also helps when onboarding new team members.

What they did

The Daily Maverick records the conversion rates of every piece of marketing outreach at the weekly Maverick Insider meeting.  Using that data, they took a holistic look at what worked and what didn’t, then took a look at their goals for Maverick Insider and built the roadmap from there. 

The strategic overview includes the following:

  • A definition and mission statement for Maverick Insiders
  • An articulation of Maverick Insiders’ values, including how that presents in the tone used 
  • Objectives and key results for 2020, both quantitative and qualitative, plus an articulation of what part of the Daily Maverick team is responsible for each objective and key result
  • Characteristics of potential members and the size of their target market
  • A marketing plan for converting readers into members, broken down by channel (direct mailers, banners, post-article footers, etc.)
  • A marketing plan to raise general awareness of Maverick Insider and reinforcing value for existing members, broken down by channel (an onboarding series, press coverage, net promoter score surveys)

After establishing the baseline with all of the above, Beighton turned to the core phases of growth hacking to develop a plan for 2020 and beyond. Different marketing initiatives can be at different stages at any point in time. 

  • Test: Create a MVP. In other words, test a campaign to see if it resonates with our readers. 
  • Track: We need to track – and report – on what is and is not working using a combination of analytics and member feedback. 
  • Alter: From our reports, we should be able to pivot quickly and fix what is not working. 
  • Improve: We should be constantly striving to improve our marketing using innovation and our technical capabilities. 
  • Scale:  We don’t do things by halves in Maverick Insider. When it’s working, ramp it up and maximise our returns. 

Here is a detailed overview of the Daily Maverick’s Maverick Insider marketing strategy, including their actual targets for each channel.

The results

Using the strategic plan, Beighton set member conversion targets for each channel. The Maverick Insiders team will be spending the rest of 2020 testing different channels and messages to determine the right mix for reaching their average monthly member growth target of 1,000 people.

Marketing ElementNumber of ActionsTarget sign ups per actionTarget Total
Direct Mailers2150300
Post-article footers525125
Newsletter footers41560
Social Media21020
Piano targeted messaging2100200

With the basics mapped out, they can now get more sophisticated with their test/track/alter/improve/scale framework. 

They recently started categorizing their marketing messages based on the behavioral biases that each appeals to. Those biases, articulated in detail by social media platform Buffer, are: 

  • The bandwagon effect: The tendency for someone to do, say, believe something if a high number of other people have already done so.
  • The zero risk bias: The tendency to favor paths that seem to have no risks. (This is why companies offer money-back guarantees, for example.) 
  • In-group favoritism: The tendency to prioritize products and ideas that are popular with a group they’ve aligned themselves with.
  • Confirmation bias: The tendency to favor and recall information that confirms or amplifies beliefs that they already have.
  • Endowment effect: The tendency to assign more value to things merely because they already own them. 
  • Not invented here: Not Invented Here is the aversion to use products or accept ideas that are developed outside of a group. If you as a customer don’t recognize, identify with, or understand a product or service you’re less likely to use it. To counter this, newer companies often align themselves with better-known brands. 

Another not mentioned in the Buffer overview that the Daily Maverick appeals to often is the “IKEA effect” – the tendency to value more highly things that you’ve already invested effort in. 

The Maverick Insiders team uses these biases to design A/B tests and systematize their marketing efforts. The biases offer a formula for good writing and can be used as a “checkbox exercise” to make sure there’s a strategy behind the appeal. Beighton often asks herself, “What bias am I writing to?”

It’s no longer “today we’re going to ask aggressively,” Beighton says. It’s “how are we going to nudge people toward certain behaviors?” 
See here an example of a recent direct mailer, which Beighton says was designed to appeal to the bandwagon effect (by highlighting the 12,000 members Daily Maverick already has), and to test the efficacy of reverse psychology (“You probably won’t be interested in this, but…”). See here another example of the bandwagon effect, published early on in the coronavirus pandemic.

What they learned

A systematized marketing strategy has uses beyond membership. Maverick Insiders is one of several components of the Daily Maverick’s work that needs to be marketed. They also have a books division, a robust events strategy, a suite of newsletters, and a budding podcast division. Going through this process for Maverick Insiders “makes it surprisingly manageable to keep track of [marketing for] all the different divisions,” Beighton told us. 

Categorizing, tracking, and analyzing has allowed them to build routines, design templates, and craft a realistic roadmap that they can stick to. It’s become a simple, formulaic process to determine the right channel and message for marketing something new, whether that’s a newsletter, podcast, or event. 

Putting the values down in writing proved critical as the Daily Maverick experienced a major staff growth spurt. They’ve added a lot of new staff recently who are still learning the value proposition and how to apply it to marketing efforts. “It’s so easy when you’re marketing anything to cross the line. It’s so easy to tell a white lie. The minute you start doing that, everything falls apart,” Beighton warns. “It keeps you honest, which is essential.”

Beighton said it also helps that Publisher Styli Charalambous is in the weekly marketing meeting and both he and Editor-in-Chief Branko Brkic are in the weekly Maverick Insider meeting, which helps keep the messaging aligned. “The busier we become, the faster we work, the easier and more likely we are to have an error in judgement. These meetings reconnect us with the cause each week,” Beighton said.

Key takeaways and cautionary notes

You don’t need deep analytic expertise to measure your marketing efforts’ impact. Simply categorizing each appeal by the type of message it conveys and tracking the conversion of each will give you valuable insights about what resonates most with your audience, reducing the guesswork with each membership appeal.

Keep your value proposition front and center. Without a common, well-articulated understanding of the mission and values of the thing that you’re marketing, using these structures can become overly formulaic to the point of lacking resonance. Getting the value proposition right is just as important as categorization, routinization, and test-and-learn process.

Other resources 

Disclosure: Membership Puzzle Project has provided support to the Daily Maverick’s membership program through the Membership in News Fund.