The Independent, the online-only global news brand reaching 98M worldwide readers per month, won the AOP’s ‘Best Use of Data’ award at last month’s AOP Awards for its subscriber acquisition strategy. The judges noted that The Independent is “constantly evolving, using data really effectively to evolve the brand in its business model.”
The Independent’s success hinges around its subscriber acquisition propensity model which is based on user behaviour and premium content consumption (£69.99/year for Independent Premium). Crucially, for a title that is primarily ad-funded, the segmentation strategy allows the publisher to balance subscription revenues with its existing advertising model.
The strategy has been driven forwards by Jo Holdaway, The Independent’s Chief Data and Marketing Officer who is no stranger to industry plaudits, having won the identical AOP award in 2015 for her work with ESI Media.
WNIP caught up with Holdaway to find out exactly what The Independent has been implementing to win the award and, crucially, what advice she would give other publishers pursuing the same goals.
WNIP: Can you give us some background to your work at The Independent
Jo Holdaway: In 2018 The Independent launched a new subscription product – Independent Premium – with ambitions to scale in line with our revenue diversification strategy. To meet these ambitious growth targets without negatively impacting buoyant advertising revenue, we needed a way to identify readers with the highest propensity to subscribe.
The Data Team built a subscriber acquisition propensity model (APV) based on user behaviour and Premium content consumption.
WNIP: How big is the data team you oversee?
Jo Holdaway: For this project we put five people on the team, covering various multi-functions; marketing, analytics and CRM. Work on our predictive model, APV, took just six months – in the fast-paced and high pressurised environment of global news publishing, carving out the time was a priority but difficult to achieve. The team members were having to fit this around their day jobs.
WNIP: Talk to us about APV, your propensity model
Holdaway: All users visiting independent.co.uk were allocated a score based on the APV model. This allowed us to segment the user base into three distinct groups; Fly-bys who made up 90%, Fans 9% and Super Fans 1%. Retrospectively analysing their subscription purchase history we could see that Super Fans drove 30% of take-up, Fans 54% and Fly-bys 16%.
Results were astonishing, with Fans /Super Fans segments accounting for 10% of audience but 84% of acquisitions.Jo Holdaway, The Independent’s Chief Data and Marketing Officer
Marketing set to work on the advertising creatives for the different APV segments (Flybys, Fans and Super-Fans), and the CRM team managed the email communications to these groups. The model was then tested via an email campaign and with on-site advertising to prove its effectiveness.
For email, Super Fans and Fans produced a 130% and 100% greater conversion rate than Fly-bys. For onsite display, Super Fans were more than 4 times and Fans twice as likely to convert when compared to Fly-bys.Jo Holdaway, The Independent’s Chief Data and Marketing Officer
WNIP: How has it impacted the business?
Holdaway: We now use APV for all onsite prompts, with messaging tailored to individual users dependent on their score, to encourage registrations as well as subscriptions and contributions. We use it for our CRM activity, and on-site subscription advertising. We also use it for our social activations.
It enables us to optimise our use of marketing and avoid wasted communication opportunities by serving up irrelevant or broadcast messaging or prompts.
We are now able to automate much of our contact strategy. We are developing APV for retention and analysing data from contributions for additional segmentation potential. We are also building cross-segmentation personas.Jo Holdaway, The Independent’s Chief Data and Marketing Officer
WNIP: How supportive was The Independent board in backing your initiative?
Holdaway: Our A2K programme – moving readers from anonymous to known, is fully supported by The Independent Board. This programme includes first-person data capture in the form of registrations, which have increased by over 1000% YoY with a concerted drive for a 2 million new registered user target by April 2022.
The subscriptions business benefits from the registered user influx, and related improved user engagement, as the top of the funnel is populated with more fans. We can then, through our CRM programmes, onboard these users and strengthen and deepen their relationship with The Independent brand by using APV to serve them relevant messaging, for example, to sign up to additional newsletters, attend events or read metered Premium content….or to subscribe, all based on their APV score.
WNIP: What suppliers have helped you on your journey?
Holdaway: The Independent uses Piano as a subscriptions platform, Google’s Big Query for data modelling and analytics, Permutive as an audience platform and Adobe for digital analytics.
WNIP: What advice would you give other publishers?
Holdaway: We have benefitted hugely from participation in the Google News Initiative Subscriptions Lab, in collaboration with FT Strategies. This was useful from a consultative standpoint from the FT, but also in terms of sharing experiences and learning from a pan-European peer group of publishers. This programme is ongoing so I would recommend application for this.
Giving your teams room to think and develop initiatives that may not work first time, is really important. Some will be unsuccessful, and it takes courage to retire these, however a few could positively change your business!Jo Holdaway, The Independent’s Chief Data and Marketing Officer
Balancing a reader revenue business with advertising can work, however the editorial proposition is the most important factor. It’s worth devoting time and thought to what content works for subscription conversion and retention and being informed by the data. Our next modelling project looks at quality read scoring, and how we can optimise editorial output for conversion to subscriptions or contributions, and also publish at scale for advertising, without compromising on quality.
Finally the importance of buy-in and accountability from across the business – data, marketing, editorial, product and development all have a stake in the success of reader revenues.
WNIP: Thank you Jo, and congratulations again on your ‘Best Use of Data’ AOP award.