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


The Challenge

Dow Jones set out to rebuild what Alex Halen, global paid search and programmatic manager, called “the world’s original paywall,” and to reach the 3-million members mark, with the majority coming from the Wall Street Journal. It sought to reimagine the customer journey and experience as well as its advertising model, pivoting its media strategy to put the customer at the forefront of its marketing efforts. Two initiatives helped them get there, developing and implementing a dynamic paywall and mimicking that strategy offsite through paid media.

Halen told MediaPost’s Publishers Insider Summit in October 2018 that the newspaper’s paywall was content-led for over 20 years,In order to focus on the customer, it needed  content to be connected, personal and exclusive. Current paywall models, he said, were a “one-size-fits-all approach, dictated by content. To be the world’s foremost membership for the ambitious, we said everything we do has to be focused on the customer.”

The Execution

The newspaper needed to understand when a subscriber actually subscribes. Using two years’ worth of data, it pinpointed specific parts of the day and week when people were coming through. Since the WSJ is a dual-revenue business, it also needed a view on advertising demand. It is the ultimate articulation of being customer-first, Halen said. It added more layers of personalization into its paywall, an intelligence layer “powered by knowing more about our potential customer.” The team looked at historical patterns of who was more likely to subscribe to gain a better understanding of how people interact with its products.

Fueling the customer experience was the provision of an appropriate experience to each individual user. Depending on their propensity to subscribe — cold, medium or hot — each was served a different message. A guest pass allowed visitors to sample content for a certain amount of time.

In 2016, Dow Jones brought media-buying in-house. “Getting closer to our data meant getting closer to our customer,” said Halen. Plus, they had a better understanding of how customers move through the acquisition funnel. One of the ways they do that is through content promotion. They were also looking at devices and day parting, but the big one was their frequency, where they can concentrate on content promotion and hitting people who haven’t been to the site that often, using a cross-channel approach with sponsored email, native, display, video, audio, programmatic, and paid search.

The process helped the paper to grow a mid-funnel audience, seen as more valuable prospects. Growing mid-funnel was a key initiative, said Halen, allowing them to start harvesting people in the mid-funnel by placing a little bit of spend in the content.

The Results

  • In FY18, 25% of orders were coming from its paid media channels.
  • It saw a 4x hike in conversation rate coming from content.
  • The WSJ now has more paying members than ever before. 
  • Made the goal of hitting 3 million Dow Jones members.
Key Takeaways
  • Serve unique messages to unique audience segments, according to their propensity to subscribe.
  • Bring media-buying in-house to get closer to data and to customers.
  • Add spend to content to harvest people in the mid-funnel.

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