Ancestry.com has one foot in the past (the deep past--generation upon generation of genealogical data) and one foot firmly in today, via its savvy marketing. The site operates on a subscription model, selling access by the month, or for 6 or 12 months at a time.
I'm one of Ancestry's 2 million worldwide subscribers. (Above, my grandpa, as a young man, in his grocery store.) The company reported revenues of $166 million in 2007 and by 2011, revenues had grown to $400 million--strong growth regardless of the challenging economic situation. Estimated revenues this year will be $480 million. Some reports point to Ancestry's profitability and refer to a possible buyout.
This week's Businessweek analyzes Ancestry's smart marketing moves. Every few months, Ancestry announces some startling discovery about the family history of a well-known politician or celebrity. That gets people buzzing about genealogy in general and Ancestry in particular, leading some to visit the Web site and register for the company's 14-day free trial. After two weeks, many people find Ancestry so convenient and user-friendly that they become subscribers.
The site also sends subscribers e-mails about "hints"--new documents or research connections that pertain to specific people on their family trees. Hints keep subscribers coming back to the site over and over in search of the latest documents that have been digitized or for connections to distant relatives who are researching the same ancestors.
For holidays such as Memorial Day and July 4th, Ancestry opens certain databases to the public for free searches. This is a different version of the tried-and-true "free trial" promotion that has helped Ancestry attract and maintain a strong and loyal subscriber base.
PS: This is my 701st marketing post! Many more to come in the months and years ahead.