'The Wall Street Journal': A Data-Driven Customer-Focused Growth Story

Alex Halen, Global Paid Search and Programmatic Manager, Dow Jones

Re-imaging journey, experience, advertising. How the Wall Street Journal was able to pivot media strategy to customer end. Mission of getting 3 million members. Developing, implementing dynamic paywall.

Rebuilding the world’s original paywall. Over 20 years, it was content-led. One size fits all approach dictated by content. Everything we do has to be focused on customer. Created something new that could open/close based on advertising demand.

Understand when subscriber subscribes. Pinpointed specific parts of the day/week when people were coming through. We also needed a view on advertising demand. Fed into payroll model. Can open/close paywall also based on subscription data. 

The ultimate articulation of being customer-first. Added more layers of personalization into paywall. Intelligence layer, powered by knowing more about our potential customer. Looked at historical patterns of who was likely to subscribe. Now have better understanding of how people interact with our products.

Fueling the customer experience. Provide an appropriate experience to each individual user. Cold, medium, hot in propensity are served different messages. Guest pass allows visitors to sample content for certain amount of time.

Leveraging paywall logic offsite. In 2016, brought media buying inhouse. Getting closer to our data meant getting closer to our customer. Better understanding of how customers move through our acquisition funnel. Also look at devices, day parting, but big one is frequency. Can concentrate on content promotion and hitting people who haven’t been to the site that often.

Cross-channel approach: email, native, display, video, audio, programmatic, paid, and search.

Results: helped us to grow mid funnel audience, we see them as more valuable prospects. Growing mid-funnel was key initiative. Allows us to start harvesting people in the mid-funnel. Place little bit of spend in content.

In FY18, 25% in orders coming from our paid media channels, 4x conversation rate coming from content. The WSJ now has more paying members than ever before. Hit goal of having 3 million audience members.

Q: Have you gotten any pushback on the varying nature of your paywall? 

A: If we have something that is just a hard paywall, hard to sample that content to users. Doesn’t take premium of metered approach, it looks at 65-plus variables and determines who’s ready, who needs warming up. We haven’t had pushback because it hits customers when they’re ready to buy. Treats each customer individually. 

Q: Wave approach of acquisition. On the flip side, wave approach when someone leaves?

A: We do align our engagement approach with the acquisition wave approach. Intro offer, we will see that there’s an increase in churn at the end of the period, hit them with engagement content, to make sure they are getting what they’re paying for. $12 for 12 weeks. If we see they are engaging in something like markets or opinions, we’ll push more of that content to them.

Q: Content automatic? How is it created? 

A: Dynamic nature of content is curated through RSS feeds connected to our content promotion efforts. Through social, it’s kind of turnkey state. Separate team for social. If organic social gets resonance, our paid social team will make sure it gets as wide an audience as possible. Dynamic creative through display rotates through top headlines of the day. Trending of the day. Most read. Or stories in the past week. Buckets of users have affinity for certain sessions.

Q: Does this help you target, get younger demographic?

A: One way we help skew audience to younger demo is through student subscriptions, building trust from early on In their career. A lot of help we have from professors, we should be using this product in class. Also have lifestyle and sports content that resonates with younger audience. We do have content that resonants more with younger audiences.

Q: How can programmatic channels drive a younger demographic? Snapchat providing effective?

A: Snapchat performing really well right now. Only used for subscriptions, not yet for content. But we do have a Snapchat Stories channel, church/state from the work we do on the acquisition front. Something like paid search is people actively looking for our product. We have a branch of search terms related to content. Demo targeting and specific keyword targeting. We see different CTRs and conversion rates in different channels. We can’t stay within the confines of social media feed. We need to take our product off those platforms and get them out through the industry. 

Google has brand safety checks built into their platforms. We wanted to be proactive and not reactive. If we saw extremism, we went through all sites that edit served on, went through about 50K sites, pulled out 12.5K that we deemed brand safe. Labor intensive but there’s a trade-off. We’re gonna serve where we know values align with our product.

Q: How is this data driving editorial to better understand where people are finding value in WSJ product?

A: We don’t want to dictate what our editorial team writes. But we do have data and we can see where this story, this section is doing very well. But coming back to church and state, we want to advertise their product, not have our advertising tell them what to produce.

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