Is personalization essential to growing news memberships?

Personalization could be the key to improving customer experience and driving membership revenue.

By Ella Wilks-Harper, contributor, Reuters Community

Personalization could be the key to improving customer experience and driving membership revenue. Last year the Wall Street Journal saw membership revenue surpass advertising for the first time with an impressive 2.3 million paid subscribers as of February this year.

According to Nick Varney, lead in Customer Value and Engagement at Dow Jones, the growth in membership has been driven by investment in using data to personalize experiences.

We’ve invested heavily in data platforms and building out a single data view of our customer across our historically disparate systems

Nick Varney - vp customer value and engagement

"This investment has allowed for better understanding of customer behavior enabling truly personalized experiences” he said.

The Journal have been dabbling in personalization since last year with their app, My WSJ. The app uses artificial intelligence to curate customized lists of stories based on users’ previous reading habits. Dubbed as ‘passive personalization’, users are not required to fill out preferences and this helps to minimize interference for the consumer.  

Another way the Journal is driving personalization is through their paywall.

“Before it wouldn’t matter if a prospective member had signed up to a newsletter, was a regular visitor, a first-timer or a former member – the exact same experience would be delivered. This isn’t true for us anymore,” explained Varney.

“Now our dynamic paywall takes a prospect’s product engagement and a host of other factors - over 80 of them - and makes a real-time decision on what experience you get, be that an open paywall, a guest pass or an acquisition offer.”

Now our dynamic paywall takes a prospect’s product engagement and a host of other factors - over 80 of them - and makes a real-time decision on what experience you get, be that an open paywall, a guest pass or an acquisition offer.

The Wall Street Journal has also been undertaking market segmentation exercises to help understand consumers needs. The data has helped the Journal tailor their campaigns to drive different types of memberships.

Last October, the Journal produced the advert  ‘good things come to those who don't wait' which targeted women and students with the tagline ‘Read Ambitiously’. The initiative proved successful in driving younger memberships.

“Student membership is a significant part of our growth strategy and it is the fastest growing segment of our membership so this will continue to be a key focus for now,” said Varney, adding, “It isn’t just changing the average age, but also the gender mix of the base which is really exciting”

“We found what unites our audience is their ambition, we also found audiences that ambition resonated with but that maybe weren’t being served or targeted as effectively as they may have been. This campaign is one of many outcomes of that research and feedback and results have been overwhelmingly positive.”

Future investment in personalization will likely take the form of automation. “We’re just kicking off a project to build engagement models that will look to automate customer experiences, taking us from hundreds of journeys through our product to a world where every customer interaction is tailored to the individual”.

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