Understanding what drives a user to convert to a paid customer is key for news media companies pivoting their business models to one centered on reader revenue.
During one of three workshops at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit on Tuesday, Jill Nicholson, chief marketing officer at Chartbeat, introduced a three-step conversion funnel to INMA members: “What we want to understand is the complete funnel from someone discovering your content and visiting your site, through to actually taking that step to complete the conversion behaviour.”
Acquisition: How did readers begin their journey with the brand’s content?
Engagement: What types of content help the user become loyal to the brand?
Conversion: What was the last step the user took to become a paying customer?
In this workshop, Nicholson explained the different models that can be used to gather analytics for the funnel. “Look at how we might use different methodologies to try to understand what is and is not working for readers as they move down that journey,” she said.
Having the conversion data and strategy documented is best practice for having an entire team understanding the importance of this data, she said: “Does your leadership understand how we are thinking about conversion? Do your editors understand? It takes everyone in the organisation with a similar focus to actually move the needle in terms of conversion growth.”
Nicholson detailed six conversion models, which media companies need to choose among because each model produces different insights and aligns to different priorities, depending on what is best for a companies business model.
“The model you choose is going to determine what you do with the analysis data,” she said.
Sharing their digital subscription success stories, The Hindu Group explained that 50% of digital revenue now comes from subscriptions at the company, while DRIVE in Germany shared its primary metric to determine how to optimise their products for subscriptions: media time.
The Hindu Group
In India, readership and circulation have been stable pre-COVID. There has been a healthy top-line contribution from advertising sales, yet limited reliability.
India news publishers also have one of the lowest cover prices globally, causing a revenue risk on realisation.
“Ad revenue for many publishers in India is 80% plus,” Chief Executive Officer L.V. Navaneeth of The Hindu Group said. This means high economic risks in expanding assets to enter new markets.
On the digital side, there is a growing demand for credible news. “Many Indians seem to have skipped the desktop stage and gone directly to mobile,” he said.
However, there is mass demand for what he called “ABCD” content — astrology, Bollywood, cricket, and devotion — which does not fit in well with The Hindu content model. Other publications have offered digital news for free until very recently.
He shared The Hindu’s digital aspirations:
Sustaining the business without compromising on its purpose.
Preserving past and present learning to serve as wisdom for the future.
Sharing worldview through the Indian prism to the global audience.
Getting buy-in from their audience to fund the value created for them.
“The last 21 months have really been unique. We’ve seen a 2.5 increase in unique subscribers. Someone who buys a bundling item generally buys three or more products.”
India is a unique market, and the e-paper is extremely popular, he added.
“They think the e-paper is a well-curated product. The demand for the e-paper is one-and-a-half times the demand for the Web site and apps.”
Today, 50% of The Hindu’s digital revenue today comes from subscriptions, and 50% from ad revenue.
DRIVE is a collaborative project of 20+ news publishers in Germany, run by dpa/SCHICKLER. The focus is on joint experimentation and learning for digital subscriptions.
“It’s an agile community that’s profiting from all the learnings,” explained Meinolf Ellers, chief digital officer of Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). “What we have found as being absolutely true is the old quote from Peter Drucker: Culture eats strategy for breakfast. If you aren’t capable of bringing these insights down into the reality of the newsroom, you will fail.”
This means using easy-to-understand metrics and dashboards that are embedded in the culture of the newsroom.
DRIVE is collecting two million new events daily that are brought into the data warehouse. AI algorithms are then used to analyse the data.
Christoph Mayer, partner and managing director of Artificial Intelligence at Schickler, guided INMA members through some of the learnings the DRIVE collaboration has achieved through four phases of maturity:
These four stages can give other news media organisations an indication of the steps they will need to take to optimise for their products, Mayer said. With DRIVE, they started with defining core metrics. Mayer believes in focusing on one core metric, even though that might include several smaller sub-metrics.
DRIVE has defined a main metric on which to focus: media time.
“This is the core you will navigate around all the time. We have decided not to look at clicks or number of users, etc., but we are looking at time they spend on the Web site,” he explained.
“What I find a challenge is constantly convincing yourself to keep reviewing the roadmap and making sure it’s always at the centre of your planning,” said Ross Wilmot, head of consumer marketing for Independent Digital. “It’s very easy to forget about all those good ideas in your backlog.”
Referring to the “shiny new thing problem” Tim Part, senior manager at FT Strategies mentioned at Tuesday’s workshop, Wilmot shared how the company is now more strategic when developing audience hypotheses and testing them.
“What I find a challenge is constantly convincing yourself to keep reviewing the roadmap and making sure it’s always at the centre of your planning,” Wilmot said. “It’s very easy to forget about all those good ideas in your backlog.”
Fritz Sima, senior commercial and trading manager, at Independent Digital, added that his big challenge was not trying to do everything at once, even the quick wins. The company has found a big benefit of experimentation is that decision-making and daily life is calmer, and the team has more strategic rollouts of new projects with lots of thought behind them.
Wilmot and Sima promoted collaboration with different departments as a benefit to going through this process. They addressed the issue of communication with a new governing structure at the Independent. They have a board made up of different members of different departments who set priorities from the roadmap and feed them down to their people.
“We have daily snapshot e-mails, really quick simple KPIs, topline performance, key changes, but then there are deeper dives that happen on a weekly basis depending on who’s involved in the meetings,” Sima said.
They advise making sure to give enough time for planning make sure your team is tracking all the right metrics. Even when you think it might not work together, Sima said to make sure you have KPIs in the back of your mind: “A big one for me is trusting the data. A lot of times you can get caught up in what you think you should do, and go on gut instinct and anecdotal evidence.”
The Summit continues Tuesdays and Thursdays through February 15. You can register here.