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Deploying a digital butler delivers a 49% reduction in subscriber churn for News UK

Challenge

The Times provides news content from behind a paywall, therefore driving value from the subscription is key. With dozens of emails hitting The Times newspaper’s average reader each day, a whole plethora of brands are competing for their attention. It was vital that News UK act to retain subscriber interest and revenue in the face of heavy competition.

Our challenge was to deploy technology to process current customer behaviour and consequently predict the optimum content, frequency, format and time of send for each individual reader amongst the 80,000 subscribers to the Times content emails.

Approach

A rigorous and innovative testing strategy was key to bringing the strategy to life.

Firstly, six different core content propositions were explored: Daily Briefing, Cartoon of the Day, Top Commented & Top Shared, End the Day on a High Note, Suggested Reading, and top 20 articles. Together these make the core components of the Times news summary emails; however, different readers all consume the content in their own order. 11 models were built that contained various combinations of the propositions and then these were tested for optimum impact.

Next, time of day and frequency variables were tested to understand how these factors can be varied to optimised open and click rates.

Finally, formats were tested; the design and layout of the emails using different combinations of copy length and number of images to see which formats different consumers preferred at different times.

Using AI technology to build and then evaluate the efficacy of each of the variables resulted in the optimum combination of content, timing, frequency and format, with the most successful variables being used more and more.

Results show that the more personalised the newsletters are in terms of format, timing, frequency and content, the more likely it is that people will be engaged with The Times, be satisfied with their service and therefore reduce churn. The use of AI technology to define the personalisation meant that each individual version of the newsletter was tailored as specifically as possible.

In order to transform the experience of subscribers, we used AI to ensure that the content of each newsletter we sent out was as unique as each individual recipient. Our initiative was branded internally as ‘Project James – your digital butler’, with the aim of providing the anticipatory service of the best butlers of days gone by, where a besuited chap would bring you your newspaper – or content – each day on a silver salver, exactly as and when you required it. This was nonetheless no easy task given the millions of pieces of content at our disposal which all needed to be appropriately selected and titled for inclusion.

Project James

Results

The efficacy of Project James is shown in that over the 34-week period of the project, engagement (opens and clicks) increased by 21%. Furthermore, click through rate alone increased by 200%. Ultimately this led to a 49% reduction in churn. For The Times, this reduction in churn is hugely positive in terms of reach of future coverage and subscription retention, with 70% of subscribers interacting with Project James, proving the significant reach of the initiative and continually fuelling improvements in our AI capabilities.

Project James has truly delivered on its innovative promise for The Times. To summarise our achievements: every single email that subscribers receive is now highly personalised, adapting daily to what’s clicked on or ignored and taking account of each person’s individual content preferences. This represents an immense enhancement of the customer experience offered to subscribers and is a step change in how News UK is able to communicate with its most valued audience – speaking to each individual one at a time, at scale, about the topics that are most of interest to every unique subscriber.

The success of this approach is shown in our fantastic engagement rates, which rose massively over the course of the campaign and can be directly linked to an ultimate reduction in churn. This is clear evidence of our intelligent use of technology to best leverage our media of choice – in this case email – to achieve our partner brand’s objectives. The success of Project James has had a real impact on News UK’s bottom line in a highly challenging era for traditional media, and we believe Project James will continue to be a key driver supporting their future as a trustworthy, authoritative voice for the news in the United Kingdom and beyond.

Through our ground-breaking initiative, internally titled Project James – Your Digital Butler, Merkle and Twipe helped News UK to deploy AI technology to process current customer behaviour and consequently predict the optimum content, frequency, format and time of send for each individual reader amongst the 80,000 subscribers to the Times content emails.

49%

Reduction in churn

200%

Increase in clickthrough rate

70%

Of subscribers interacted with Project James

21%

Increase in engagement

Keys to success

  • Multi-disciplinary teams allowed pooling of expertise and superior technology leverage
  • Specific working group created to enable rapid decision-making
  • The right tech selected to deliver ground-breaking advance in content selection
  • Customer-centric focus throughout ensured positive impact on subscriber churn rates
  • Two-week sprints allowed rapid test-and-learn
  • Delivering more relevant content, in the right format, at the right time and with the right frequency

Discover how we did it. Contact us today.

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