How Scientific American used email marketing to share facts and foster community during the pandemic

Scientific American is the authoritative source on science and scientific progress. As the term “coronavirus” became common vernacular this spring, people flocked to the 175-year old stalwart of journalism’s website to access scientific information to help them understand COVID-19.

In a chaotic period for society, Scientific American has been busy focusing on pandemic reporting, as well as investigating and exploring the science behind social justice issues. The editors are also prioritizing climate change coverage, and the publication notably just announced its first-ever endorsement of a presidential candidate. Scientific American also formally celebrated its 175th anniversary at the end of August.

In short, Scientific American never sleeps.

We spoke with Christopher Monello, Senior Marketing Manager at Scientific American, to learn more about how the publication:

  • Fostered a digital community during the pandemic
  • Pivoted to enhanced digital communications in the wake of closed newsstands and bookstores at the pandemic’s peak
  • Continued to cultivate community and build relationships with new audience members after the height of COVID-19
  • Plans to continue its editorial focus on COVID-19 throughout 2021

The pandemic boost

Christopher shared significant engagement metrics for the period between March 1, 2020 and September 1, 2020. During this timeframe, Scientific American’s website saw:

  • 63% growth in users
  • 69% in new users on the website
  • 53% growth in sessions
  • 33% uptick in page views

What do you do when you receive an unexpected and unpredictable jump in attention?

In Scientific American’s case, the outlet enjoyed an average monthly 42% year-over-year growth in ecommerce dollars from March 1, 2020 to September 1, 2020.

“Ecommerce has been vital to our strong performance this year, especially given the overall economic climate,” Christopher said.

Removing the paywall

Christopher shared that it was important for the team at Scientific American to make their reporting easily accessible. For example, the outlet’s June 2020 issue featured in-depth coverage of the pandemic and the team made it free to all readers online to educate, inform, and create goodwill. When the team removed the paywall for the free issue, 13,000 readers signed up to download it.

“We thought it was very important—and it’s still the case—that all of our coronavirus content be widely available,” said Christopher. “Email was our main channel to let our active and prospective subscribers know about our coronavirus content, and to let our network know content was free, available, and accessible.”

How an empathetic email strategy built community

Scientific American used Acoustic Campaign to drive its email communications with its subscriber and prospect base. Once COVID hit, the outlet used its distribution list to concisely communicate—with great success. Here’s a snapshot of performance—and how these efforts drew more subscriptions, encouraged newsletter sign-ups, and encouraged opt-ins to marketing communications:

  • One of the earliest email campaigns, sent on March 23rd—with the subject “Free Access to Coverage of Coronavirus Pandemic”—had a 30% open rate and a 6% click-through rate; compare this to a typical average open rate of 21% and a click-through rate of 1.25%
  • Another email campaign with additional free resources sent in April enjoyed a 29% open rate and a 3% click-through rate

“Acoustic really helped us stay connected to our customers during the pandemic,” Christopher said.

In fact, email was also a critical element of customer service once the pandemic hit. The publication was concerned that postal service might be halted in the U.S., given concerns over the virus spread via mail. While the postal shutdown didn’t ultimately happen, the team proactively shared information with its subscriber base to ensure print subscribers knew how to access their digital subscription, providing peace-of-mind to the business and readers alike.

Behavioral automation drives conversion

Scientific American leverages Campaign’s built-in behavioral automation and site-tagging functionality to connect with website visitors. When website traffic surged at the beginning of the pandemic, Christopher and his team were able to re-target website visitors who visited the subscription grid, but who didn’t subscribe. This drove a 10% conversion rate as well as above-average open and click-through rates.  

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the world can change in an instant. Scientific Americans robust email marketing program ensured it was poised to adeptly communicate and both build and strengthen relationships when it experienced significant attention that Christopher and his team could never have anticipated.

Read more about Scientific American’s approach to email marketing in this case study.