Remember when hyper-personalization was a nice-to-have rarity? We don't live in that world anymore. "Made-for-me" experiences have become the norm among consumers, and forgiveness for brands that fail to deliver those experiences is in short supply. Consumers of media content are no exception. In 2022 and beyond, profitable reader experiences require frequent, personalized triggers in the right context, at the right time.
Allison Mezzafonte, a former media executive and now media industry advisor to Sailthru, helps us identify opportunities to drive reader engagement and desired behaviors with automated personalization.
Think like a retailer
Core to commerce is a value exchange. Consumers give to get. In media, currency comes in multiple forms: a reader's personal info (or first-party data), time spent and, of course, their credit card. Want readers to share, engage or hand over their credit cards? Then think like a retailer, says Mezzafonte. "Time and data have value. If you think of your audience as customers who are willing to transact, not just casually browse, it changes things," she explains: "What would you expect if you were a shopper?"
By 2025, consumers will expect white-glove service for all, or hyper-personalized "care of one," as McKinsey puts it. For publishers, that begins with carefully considering the value exchange with readers. Why should readers do what you want them to do? If you want them to respond in ways that boost your profits, you'll need to offer meaningful value in return.
Nurturing engagement from the first "hello"
So a reader clicks to subscribe. Now what? How do you turn that click into a lasting relationship? First comes the welcome email series. While common, welcome series differ sharply from one publisher to another — and so do the results. It's worth noting that publishers who excel at using personalization to grow revenue embrace a culture of experimentation. With that in mind, Mezzafonte advises testing various messaging components to drive incremental improvements.
Take Insider, for example. The publisher set out to test the impact of including a video of their editor-in-chief speaking to the new subscriber in their welcome series. The video was included in the sixth email in a seven-email series. "Typically, engagement has a steep drop at the end of a welcome series, but Insider saw a huge uptake," Mezzafonte recalls. Open rates jumped from 25% to 46.4% after incorporating the video.
Treating abandoned content like abandoned carts
Chances are you've lost count of the times you were moved to fill up a shopping cart and then … nothing. Perhaps doubt crept in, interest waned, you got distracted or found a better deal elsewhere. In any case, you didn't complete the purchase. "If your reader didn't finish reading something or saved a story to read later, that's like an abandoned shopping cart, right?" — Mezzafonte reasons.
In retail, you'd get an email or SMS nudging you to return to your cart and check out. You might even get a promo code or freebie to sweeten the offer. Publishers can do the same. Similar to Netflix's "Continue Watching" carousel, consider dropping a teaser offering readers a compelling reason to pick up where they left off.
Using a recent subscription purchase to drive the next
In retail, post-purchase emails keep buyers engaged and set the stage for the next purchase. Often, retailers offer an incentive so you'll act fast — whether that's joining a loyalty program, upgrading a service at a discount, or purchasing a related product.
Vanity Fair has adapted this tactic, triggering a buy-one, give-one subscription offer to fast-acting readers. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal uses triggered messages to upsell readers, offering exclusive access and perks to drive conversions.
Encouraging (and incentivizing) reader referrals
The best way to sell anything is to have your audience do it for you. Morning Brew knows this well, with reader referrals accounting for 30% of its 2.5 million subscribers. Morning Brew's referral program is what you'd call a milestone-based program, rewarding readers with gifts and exclusive access in exchange for a certain number of referrals. In the past, those referrals had to be tracked manually, multiple times a day. The publisher has since automated the process with Lifecycle Optimizer flows, custom fields and templates in Sailthru.
Alongside the call to "Share the Brew," readers see a link to sign up for other Morning Brew newsletters at the bottom of every email. Despite being virtually the same every day, the call to action consistently drives 1,000 signups to Morning Brew's other newsletters and more than 5,000 visits to its podcast each day.
To keep the call to action relevant, readers only see links to newsletters they don't already receive, and referral teasers are personalized by loyalty tier, reflecting the reader's level of familiarity with the referral program.
Letting data automate custom experiences
Personalization hinges on data. And with third-party cookies on their way out, publishers like Investopedia are reassessing their data sources and capabilities. In the past, Investopedia had no visibility into email subscriber interests, and segmentation was limited to behavioral data. The publisher sought out Sailthru so it could build a deeper profile around each subscriber with engagement, behavioral, interest and predictive data.
As a result, every Investopedia subscriber receives email that is 100% unique to their individual interests and behaviors. Within one year, pageviews from emails increased 114% and website sessions from email grew by 81.46%.
The Associated Press came to Sailthru with a similar challenge: drive personalization and revenue while reducing the time it takes to create newsletters. Within a few months, the publisher grew its subscriber base from 150,000 to more than 750,000, increasing email engagement rates by 400% — all while shaving more than three hours off production time for each newsletter.
Upgrading your personalization capabilities
Understandably, next steps can be murky if your data and systems can't deliver this level of customization today. Deloitte researchers advise you examine your reliance on third-party cookies and what's needed to enable first-party data capture and applications, just as Investopedia and the AP have done.
"Lean into whatever data or tools you have today, and don't feel like you have to figure this out by yourself. In fact, it's unrealistic that you could build these capabilities yourself," says Mezzafonte. Put another way, if your audience engagement needs surgery, you don't need to become a surgeon — you just need to consult a reputable one. Likewise, lean on technology partners with a strong record of helping your peers solve the engagement and conversion problems hindering your growth today.