How the Economist reduces the cost of acquiring new subscribers

The folks at the Economist are masters at converting visitors to their website, or casual readers of their magazine, into paying subscribers. This is all the more remarkable at a time when so much quality content is available for free. Some of the lessons shared in this interview with Michael Brunt, chief marketing officer and managing director of circulation, could apply to almost any business (hint: it all comes down to tracking and launching new products as a result):

But over the past year or so The Economist has also reduced the cost of acquiring those new subscribers by around 50 percent, by constantly reappraising the customer’s journey to subscriber.

That iterative process means The Economist has an accurate idea of the paths consumers can take en route to subscription:

“It’s incredibly complex as we try and understand how people are interacting with us digitally across social, across the app, across the website.

“The biggest challenge for us has been getting all the tracking in place, getting all the marketing machinery up and running. We’ve got some incredible data visualisations that help us understand what people do next. 80 percent of our subscribers will have followed one of three or four journeys.”


Read the rest.

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Interview with Hotfoot founder Charlie Haywood


Hotfoot founder and Creative Director Charlie Haywood was recently interviewed by the Lancaster Guardian as part of a series called Seven Questions:

1. What was your first job?
After university I was offered a week’s experience at JWT in Manchester, and I ended up staying. It really opened my eyes to the workings of a big international ad agency.

I worked on many accounts, from Coca-Cola to Relate.

I then joined a smaller design agency, managing projects from beginning to end.

It’s here that I really learnt the ins and outs of running a business.

2. How do you relax after a hard day’s work?
I go running and go to the gym, and I like socialising, but my favourite thing is to go away with my family in our campervan at weekends.

3. Proudest moment in business?
As the company founder I’ve seen many so ‘firsts’ – first client, award, office – all are milestones I’m very proud of.

4. Most embarrassing moment at work?
We were about to pitch to a new client and until the room went quiet I hadn’t realised I was singing a Snoop Dogg track to myself.

We won the work though!

5. What is your biggest vice?
Bacon butties.

One reason I go running is so I can stuff my face and not feel too guilty about it.

6. Who is the biggest influence on your life?
My dad is a successful business owner, and I saw how hard he worked when I was younger – looking back it’s motivating and gives me a kick up the bum.

7. Word of business advice?
Aim to work with people who are really talented at what they do and who you can trust.

Do this, and work hard, and you’re half way to doing something that will be successful.

We’re pleased to report that since the interview was published last week Charlie has a new “most embarrassing moment at work.”

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Our clients Lancaster University launch a new website created by Hotfoot

Lancaster University

We’re really proud of a project we’ve just completed for Lancaster University. Below is an overview of what the work entailed, with a lovely bit of a client feedback at the end. You can see the live responsive website here.

Lancaster University contacted us as they were establishing a new Research Institute, the Institute for Social Futures (ISF), and this required a responsive website to work across all devices (desktop, tablet and mobile) and brief (1-2 minute) explanatory video for the homepage. We work with a number of trusted partners, one of which is a company called Morph, with whom we share an office in the centre of Lancaster. Morph specialises in video production, so they undertook this aspect of the project. We subsequently designed a brochure too.

Communications objectives
The University required the development and build of a WordPress powered website for the ISF, to be hosted by the University, along with production of a simple 1-2 minute video featuring the Institute co-directors explaining the aims of the institute. The purpose of the website is to host information related to the institute and its academic staff in a clear and easily navigable fashion, and effectively generate engagement, interest and future research projects.

The task
The University needed us to deliver a website, to their specifications, which upon completion would be transferred and hosted under the Lancaster University domain, along with a simple video, featuring the co-directors, for the homepage. The website brief included a requirement for six distinct sections: About / Events / People / Research / Getting Involved / Contact. The homepage features news, forthcoming events, etc., and a dynamic carousel.

The audience
The purpose of the website is to communicate with high-calibre academics and researchers to attract them to work in and alongside the institute in the first instance. More long-term, the website is required to effectively communicate the achievements and outputs of the institute to impact a wider public audience and generate future investment.

Audience reaction
The audience needs to apprehend quite quickly the aims of the ISF, to feel like they understand its distinctive academic approach and ethos, and to want to be involved and follow the work of the institute.

Tone and manner
The tone of the work is designed to reflect the earnestness of the academic approach of the ISF, but also a sense of excitement and ambition for the future activities of this new institute.

Channels used to promote the site include organic search, initial employment/engagement opportunities signposted elsewhere, social media and via the Lancaster University website.

Client feedback
“Hotfoot have been excellent to work with in the design, development and delivery of the Institute’s website; they’re passionate and knowledgeable about their work, and have provided an invaluable level of support, expertise and attention to the project.”
– Simon Reader, Project Manager

ISF Brochure Mockup - Cover

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What difference can a single word make to your email marketing campaign?

A new large study by the popular email marketing platform MailChimp reveals some great findings on how to make your email marketing campaigns more effective by tweaking your subject lines. The company analysed 24 billion delivered emails with subject lines composed of approximately 22,000 distinct words. Some of the results are obvious, others might be surprising. Below is a summary of the most interesting findings.

Personalisation works

  • The use of both first and last names in a subject line isn’t that common, but has the largest positive impact on open rates
  • There are many industries where use of the first name has a large positive impact. First name personalisation, however, has a negative impact on open rates for the legal industry

Free isn’t always a winner

  • Using “free” in a subject is positive for some industries
  • Use of the more informal word “freebie” resulted in a much larger increase in open rates

People respond to urgency or importance

  • Words like “urgent” and “important” resulted in open rates that were much higher than normal (of course misuse or overuse will result in a decline)

Making an announcement

  • Recipients are (naturally) curious about announcements and event invitations and more likely to respond to these than cancellations and reminders
  • Sometimes open rates can be deceptive – announcement emails sometimes tell you everything you need to know in the title e.g. if an event is cancelled what else do you need to know?
  • That said, if there is something you need people to know, such as a rescheduled date, that should probably be made clear in the subject too or people may never click to find out

Donation requests fall on deaf ears 

  • Words about charity or donations had a very negative effect on open rates
  • There are some ways to mitigate the impact – whilst “donation” had the most negative impact, “helping” had the best impact

Words that work together

  • Analysis of frequently used word pairs reveals interesting findings
  • People love to be thanked, this has a big impact on open rates
  • Emails about current events, like natural disasters and politics, have higher open rates
  • People definitely do not like to be asked to sign up for anything — or being told they’re missing their last chance to get something they’ve already been emailed about

Capitalization can help slightly

  • The use of ALL CAPS in a subject line leads to slightly higher open rates than usual (not that we would encourage that!)
  • Oddly having at least one fully capitalised word was slightly negative


  • The biggest takeouts are that people are more likely to open your email if it’s personal, has a sense of urgency, or thanks the recipient

View the full report by MailChimp here.

If you are interested in creating or optimising an email marketing campaign we can help. Get in touch with us now.

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New VW campaign continues a great tradition


VW has a long history of great ad concepts. The most famous of which is perhaps the Winner of 1964 Cannes Gold, featured below, that posed the question: “Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snowplow, drives to the snowplow?”

It’s good to see that tradition continue, as reported by Design Taxi:

To promote the brake feature of its new ‘Passat’ model, Volkswagen has unveiled clever print ads that use punctuation marks to humorous effect.

The posters feature two sentences, with the first lacking proper punctuation and the second with the appropriate marks added, showing how a full stop or a comma changes their meaning completely.

Created by Romania-based agency GMP Bucharest, they come with the tagline “It’s important to stop at the right moment.”


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A minimum viable product doesn’t mean a half finished product…

When making something new the trend is to create a minimum viable product (MVP), so you can build early stage feedback from your customers into the development process. But there’s some misunderstanding about what an MVP actually is.

The above illustration, shared by Paul Boag (@boagworld), does a good job of explaining how to do it right.

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The best way to make good decisions? Appoint a devil’s advocate in meetings

Most advice about how to run a successful meeting seems to involve doing things that seem forced. But this advice, from an interview with Kevin E. Lofton in the New York Times, just intuitively makes sense:

In our senior management meetings, we appoint a designated devil’s advocate, as we call it. So if we’re discussing a critical issue, we’ll appoint someone — and the role rotates — to be the devil’s advocate, no matter what their personal point of view is. That helps you avoid groupthink.

Read the rest of the article here.

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When a beloved brand goes digital: “It’s like seeing your grandpa at a nightclub”


The New York Times, like many well loved established brands, has a problem evolving to keep up with the times. This problem was articulated well by Max Pfennighaus, executive creative director of brand and marketing at the NYT in a recent rant on Twitter summarised nicely by the folks at NiemanLab:

Relevance is the Times’ big problem, not awareness. Plenty of people know about The New York Times. But most of them think we’re not for them.

The Times doesn’t need to spend millions of dollars to shout I EXIST! to the world. Like NPR, the Times has an enviable branding problem. Both brands are beloved, even/mostly by those that don’t engage with them.

Being a beloved brand is a double-edged sword. When people love who you are, they don’t want you to change. If they love you as the Grey Lady, then they have a hard time seeing you nerding out with clever apps. It’s like seeing your grandpa at a nightclub.

I’m going to henceforth refer to our core brand challenge as the “grandpa in a nightclub” problem.

Every single thing we do as an organization should avoid the “nightclub grandpa” effect if we hope to survive the next decade. If you’re happy being and acting like a grandpa, don’t go to a nightclub. Otherwise…well, consciously work towards not being a grandpa.

This is a challenge even SMEs with a well known specialism or reputation can face – how to keep your existing customers satisfied while holding appeal for newcomers with different expectations, especially where there is a generation shift in play.

It’s the kind of knotty problem we love to get stuck into at Hotfoot, of course, and we’ll be sharing some examples here soon of how we’ve helped brands update their identity and activity, while retaining the things that made them special in the first place.

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New Zealand is considering a new flag: here are the 40 long listed designs

New Zealand New Flag Design Long List

The people of New Zealand will soon have the opportunity to choose a new flag for their country:

The Panel have reviewed all 10,292 suggested flag designs and announced an official long list of 40 flag designs. The designs included in the long list will go forward for further investigation as part of the official design review process. In mid-September the Panel will announce the 4 alternatives which will be ranked in the first binding referendum.

The winner of the first referendum will then go up against the current flag in a second referendum to decide whether to switch to the new design.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, this TED talk on city flag design is a must. It’s by the brilliant Roman Mars, host of the 99% Invisible podcast.

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1950s Vicobold Printing Press Kickstarter campaign

Here’s a Kickstarter we can get behind. We all love print at Hotfoot, and the 1950s Vicobold Printing Press Jen Wright is looking to get funding to purchase is absolutely gorgeous. It deserves a good home where it will be in commercial use, and where others can learn how to use it too. We could watch this machine in action all day, as you can, if you watch this video.

Oh, and if you back the campaign with £14 or more Jen says:

 I will print the expletive of your choice, in black or pink ink, with lead or wood type (depending on the length of the word!) onto a set of five postcards to send to your enemies (or your good humoured friends). Postcards will be printed on recycled card, will come with recycled paper envelopes, and wrapped in biodegradable plastic sleeves.

There are other rewards too, including one that gets you postcards with nice words.

And if you like to geek out about these things there’s more info on Vicobold Machines here.

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User experience: Uber’s phantom cabs

During the design process of any website or app decisions must be made about how best to optimise the user experience. This investigation by Vice looks at how the hugely popular app Uber seemingly made decisions about how to represent the availability of cars. Fascinating stuff:

When Heather*, a driver who has been working for Uber for about eight months, opened up the passenger app a few weeks ago from her residence, she noticed something peculiar. The app’s map showed four drivers on the streets immediately by her pick-up location. Yet, the estimated wait time for the closest car was 17 minutes, and there were no other drivers in sight.

There are two versions of Uber’s app: one for drivers to use to find passengers, and one for passengers to use to hail a ride. Frequently, drivers login to the passenger app to see where other drivers are so they don’t sit unknowingly in the same one-mile stretch as the competition.

What the passenger app shows can be deceptive, however. The discrepancy Heather noticed wouldn’t have been obvious in a busy location with a shorter wait time. But in more remote areas, the app clearly shows drivers where there are none.

Read the rest here.

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