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Trusted Media Brands on Using Community for Customer Experience Strategy

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Read on to discover:

  • Why TMBI chose to leverage a market research online community
  • How TMBI thinks about customer experience and engagement
  • Two examples of how TMBI used their community to guide strategy


Trusted Media Brands, Inc. (TMBI), the publisher of Reader’s Digest, among other lifestyle brands, provides engaging content for millions of readers across the globe annually. In fact, recent data shows their global circulation rate at 10.5 million. Even with a large customer base, TMBI must strive to stay relevant and compete with clickbait and disruptive news media. 

TMBI partnered with Fuel Cycle to develop their online insights community, Inner Circle, to capture editorial surveys and gather new ideas for publications. Babette Lazarus, Executive Director of Brand Insights, explains, “Originally, we wanted a community to help increase response to editorial surveys as well as get access to customers who might serve as a ‘think tank’ for new content, formats, etc. Once we rolled it out, however, we realized that we had struck a rich vein of engaged consumers that are primed to share on just about any topic put before them.”

Ultimately, TMBI found that customers were eager to interact with them and provide feedback. The company continues to leverage the platform to guide customer experience efforts in all departments from editorial to advertising to product development and digital innovation. This article will discuss TMBI’s media research case study and best practices for media industry research as a whole. 

TMBI’s Media Research for Customer Experience

TMBI utilizes its online community platform, Inner Circle, as a tool for evaluating what articles and issues to run. For example, Genevieve Bonadonna, Director of Global Market Research, strongly values the new levels of intimacy with customers developed through the online community platform. The TMBI team knows who their readers are because the customer testimonials from discussions and surveys are very detailed. Inner Circle allows them to access the customer’s voice and receive rich insights that would otherwise not be possible. 

Content Direction 

One powerful example of the impact of online communities and media industry research is how TMBI has utilized its audience for content direction. Reader’s Digest has been running a series since 1988 that interviews the top two candidates for presidency every four years. TMBI team recently turned to their online community to see if the series was valuable. The discussion results showed that their readers wanted to hear more about the personal aspects of each candidate instead of their political positions. This type of feedback helps drive editorial content catered to readers’ wants and helps TMBI plan for the future. 

Providing Valuable Customer Experiences 

Another example of TMBI’s use of Inner Circle is when a leading mobile telecommunication company approached them looking to engage an audience of age 55+ consumers to educate them about cyber security topics such as phone scams. The telecommunication brand wanted to partner with the Reader’s Digest (RD) brand for a virtual event with target consumers. The event would drive awareness and trust in their company and consumer solutions, mainly the brand’s scam protection product. 

The virtual event ‘RendeZoom’ was launched in January 2021. The main event theme was focused on older adults protecting themselves from scams. The mobile telecom company could provide value in an intimate, exclusive virtual event setting while RD provided the audience. Moderators for the event included a Senior Editor from Reader’s Digest and an Identity Theft & Cyber Security expert. Members of TMBI’s Inner Circle were screened for their interest and asked to provide questions they had about phone scams and the topics that interested them most. 

A second qualifying screener included more detail about member familiarity with video conferencing and comfort in appearing on video. A discussion guide was developed based on participant-submitted questions, and multiple rounds of screening resulted in the final list of invitees. Qualified Inner Circle members received an email invitation with registration instructions from Reader’s Digest. Thirty members participated in the 45-minute zoom event and listened to expert advice on protecting themselves from mobile phone scams.

After the event, members received a Phone Scams Tip Sheet highlighting the key ways to protect themselves and recognize scams. A post-event satisfaction survey uncovered members perceived value of the event: 

  • 97% of participants felt they learned something new 
  • 90% of participants became more aware of scams
  • 87% felt more favorable toward the mobile telecom brand 
  • 94% said they would share what they learned from the event with others

The Reader’s Digest marketing team also created additional content for the telecom company, including a website article for RD.com, a custom email to Reader’s Digest readers, and a series of three 30-sec social videos using material from the recorded ‘RendeZoom’ session. Reader’s Digest expects to build on its partnership with the mobile service provider and considers the ‘RendeZoom’ concept a template for TMBI to help partners get closer to customers and provide more valuable customer experiences.

Customer Experience Research for the Media Industry

Bruce Kelley, Chief Content Officer of Reader’s Digest, speaks to the importance of the Inner Circle community, saying, “They are a great group of brand fans who are virtually parked here in the office, ready to talk. We find it amazing and so helpful that we can walk into the ‘room’ anytime and ask for their reaction….” 

Beyond guiding editorial content and providing value to customers, TMBI uses Inner Circle to receive feedback on everything from design concepts to images and main cover wording. Kelley notes, “Inner Circle members were strongly influential in deciding many of our recent cover images and main cover lines. By having this ongoing relationship with a couple of thousands of our most engaged and digitally savvy readers, we feel much more likely to be successful and forward-thinking as a content brand.”

In this current tumultuous age of media, readers demand engaging content that is relevant and transparent. TMBI has faced its customer experience challenges head-on for nearly a century and knows that its content must fulfill an emotional need to stay top of mind. They have found a new level of intimacy with readers through their branded online community and have a renewed sense of security in their voice and brand. 

See how other Fuel Cycle customers turn insights into impact by reading their case studies here. 

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