Nordkurier, a news publisher based in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the country’s northeast, created a weekly newsletter that aims to strengthen the bonds between people who used to live in the region with the area’s present and its future. By autumn 2021, the newsletter had just over 3,500 subscribers, and apart from advertising it has also enabled other business opportunities for the publisher.
Today, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is home to about 1.6 million people, which makes it among the least populated of the country’s 16 states. After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the northeast saw a population exodus as people took advantage of new freedoms to relocate in search of other economic opportunities.
However, as is often the case with expats, many of those who moved away have maintained strong ties to the area through their families and friends and frequently return to visit them.
“Many of these people come back three to five times a year,” says Alex Drößler, Nordkurier’s Digital Transformation Manager. He also leads their product development. A lot of the former residents are also regular visitors to Nordkurier’s website, he adds.
Furthermore, since the region is well known for its natural beauty, which includes an extensive coastline along the Baltic sea, three of the country’s 14 national parks, several hundred conservation areas and numerous lakes, it is a popular vacation destination for many Germans, and large numbers of former residents regularly spend their holidays there.
Connecting with the community
Using the Jobs-to-be-Done theory / perspective, Drößler says Nordkurier considered their audience segments and what kinds of products they could develop to reach them.
After doing an in-house workshop followed by several personal interviews with members of their intended target group, Nordkurier decided to create a newsletter specifically aimed at former residents.
Called Heimweh, which translates as “homesick,” the newsletter was developed late last year and launched in December 2020.
Heimweh provides a mix of local content, such as new developments in the region, tips about what people can do on their next visit there, photo galleries, as well as interactive components.
“We always have an engagement element in the newsletter,” Drößler says. “We ask readers for pictures or old pictures they have from their home city, or we ask them to share their stories: when they moved away, why, how they live now. Sometimes people come back. And then we get a nice story about the motivation of a person coming back from other places to this area.”
Another regular feature is a photo quiz that highlights something in the area in a slightly obscure way so that people have to think about it a bit, which is intended to bring back memories for them.
“People respond to that and share their memories with the place,” Drößler says.
A sense of community
While Heimweh provides relevant news to readers, it’s also meant to foster a sense of community for them.
“For now, the value proposition of this newsletter is to provide an overview of the most relevant news of the past week, to give positive views from the region, to report on the people who came back – who left and moved back. But also to people who still live elsewhere because it’s a community sense, people who are in the same boat as people from here,” Drößler says.
The new newsletter quickly resonated with former residents, and hundreds of people soon signed up.
“There was one person who said ‘I was visiting my mother, and I always get a special feeling when I read this newsletter. It’s like a warm feeling of coming home,’” Drößler says.
In October, Heimweh had around 2,800 subscribers and an open rate of about 50 percent. While the initial number of subscribers in the first months was strong, new subscriber numbers have plateaued recently, and Drößler says they are searching for new ways to get more people to subscribe.
Among the measures they are trying is to put newsletter registration forms beneath Nordkurier articles online that editors believe are likely to be of interest to former residents visiting the website. Drößler says they are also planning to do more promotions through social media, especially Facebook.
Next, he says, they want to test offering people incentives to recommend the newsletter to others. He would like for Heimweh to try some of the kinds of referral marketing the popular Morning Brew media company has done in the United States.
For those not familiar with Morning Brew, they started with a single daily newsletter in 2015 and have mushroomed into a multi-platform brand (newsletters, podcasts, videos and events), which now has more than 3 million subscribers. Much of this huge growth is attributed to their innovative marketing efforts.
Making it pay
Hand-in-hand with the development of the editorial concept of Heimweh, Drößler says, was the question of “how do we make some money with it?”
He says they considered two main possibilities. First, to use the newsletter as a funnel for potential subscribers over the long term, as many other news publishers do with their newsletters.
The other idea was to have Heimweh pay its own way, as a standalone product with its own sources of revenue.
Based on their interviews with former residents, Drößler says they found that relatively few people who were interested in Heimweh were likely to become Nordkurier subscribers.
In general, they learned that most people are only willing to pay for a news subscription in the area where they actually live. So Nordkurier decided to have Heimweh pay its own way, and that is working out quite well for them.
“What we found out is there are some relevant institutions in this area that are very interested in talking to these people,” Drößler says.
“These are companies that are seeking highly qualified people with a university degree, for example,” he continues. “Then there are real estate agencies that want to get their houses sold or rented.”
There is also an important state agency that has an interest in getting former residents to move back to the area.
“We talked to them and they said, ‘This newsletter is a great idea, because we have no tool to reach these people, so we’ll give you some money to do that. Here’s the money, do the newsletter,’ ” he says.
Heimweh also gained some regular advertising clients, such as an area hospital that was looking for skilled workers, Drößler says.
Another advertiser is a relatively new, and large, federal foundation that promotes voluntary work and has also paid to post job ads.
New products aimed at holiday-makers
Nordkurier is also creating a second product for tourists that will include a newsletter and a section on Nordkurier’s website aimed at people who vacation there.
They did an internal workshop for this newsletter as well, but this time, rather than having only editorial staff involved as they did the first time, they expanded the teams to make them more interdisciplinary. For example, Drößler says in addition to journalists, they invited people from their tourism department, as well as from marketing and product.
“That was a good decision because everyone brings in a different perspective that we would not have otherwise,” he says.
As that product begins coming together and Heimweh continues its development, Drößler says Nordkurier plans to keep experimenting.
“It’s still learning by doing to produce the best newsletter we can,” he says.