BloombergQuint launched a paywall to increase revenue beyond advertising, becoming the first digital-only business publisher in India.
A multi-platform business and financial media company in India, BloombergQuint (BQ) is also one of the first in Asia to have developed a hybrid-paywall offering, with subscriber-only and metered-paywall content. BQ Blue, the subscription product, was launched in December 2018, and in a short while established itself as the subscription platform of choice for C-suite audiences, business owners, LoB heads, investment bankers, India’s top market investors, policymakers, wealth managers, investors and more — anyone who follows Indian and global business trends and financial markets.
“We were starting from scratch,” Senior Product Manager Vaibhav Khanna told INMA members in a recent Webinar. “We did not have a lot of idea about the Indian consumers and how they will take a paywall for daily news.”
Therefore, BQ went through a lot of experiments and a process that included many steps while developing its paywall model.
“The stories that were available on all the platforms were free, then stories which had some value we were keeping behind the meter, and BloombergQuint exclusive stories were behind the hard paywall,” Khanna explained.
When the paywall launched, subscriptions were offered on a three, six, and 12-month plan. Users could also pay per article, and micropayments were provided to allow users to sample BQ premium content at a minimal cost. This would also allow BQ to see how many users were willing to pay for content.
“The idea was to test how the user feedback towards the paywall is,” Khanna said.
He shared some of the strategies and learnings the BQ team learned through this:
Focus on good UI/UX.
Offer frictionless payment methods.
Content performance and conversion data is valuable to making data-driven decisions.
How to arrive at a balance between PPA and long-term subscription.
“We got to understand what kind of content is working for us and what kind of content our users are willing to pay for,” Khanna said.
They were also able to make data-driven decisions and more deeply understand what their audience needs were. These learnings informed the BQ strategy moving forward.
“This strategy completely depends on pageviews and what kind of articles you have,” he added.
He went into more detail on the different experiments that BQ undertook in its paywall and digital subscription strategy.
BQ introduced a registration paywall on select stories, to convert unknown users into known users, and to bring more users into the subscription ecosystem.
They also wanted to grow their own first-party data for ad targeting after the death of third-party cookies.
“What we are seeing is that when a user signs up, the conversion rate of registered users is 10x more than non-registered users,” Khanna said. “We are making it very clear that no credit card is required and no payment is required. You just need to sign up and you can access the article for free. The sign-up journey should be really frictionless, and they should get the chance to sign via Google or Facebook.”
It’s also important to make sure it’s communicated to the users why they should register, as well as the benefits and value they will receive. BQ offers a bookmark option and watchlist feature, which are only available to registered users, in addition to access to free content. Newsletters are also a part of the engagement strategy.
“The idea is to build a relationship with them and convert them into a full-time subscriber.”
Using WhatsApp to drive subscriptions
One of the experiments the BQ team did was build a WhatsApp channel to reach and market to potential new users and subscribers, with the goals of reaching new readers, growing loyalty, and driving people back to BQ.com where they would be more likely to subscribe.
This experiment resulted in several facets of success:
Segmented approach targeting these loyal users who are more likely to subscribe.
Data-driven content strategy.
“What we saw is that users were really happy to receive news in their inbox, on their phone,” Khanna said. “We really planned the content on WhatsApp, and the marketing team was working very closely with editorial and the social media team to try this. By using data-driven methods, we were making sure we were sending the right content to them.”
The segmented users were very highly engaged on WhatsApp and responded well to offers and flash sales.
Other BQ experiments
Khanna discussed several other strategies the team experimented with. One of these was user surveys. Responding to this valuable subscriber feedback led BQ to increase its stock market-focused content by scaling up its Research Reports section and IPO coverage.
A paywall experiment reduced the paywall content limit and increased the number of metered and hard paywall stories. This led to an increase in the paywall interception rate.
“After a lot of data analysis and a lot of experimentation on certain small segments, we reduced the paywall limit to three stories,” Khanna explained. “So now, there are no free stories on the site. All stories are metered, but you can only read three stories on the meter.”
The result was that more readers saw the exhausted-meter paywall, and with their data, BQ was able to target those users with campaigns.
Another experiment was promoting a 24-month subscription plan to loyal users and pushing the annual plan to increase digital starts for new users. This led to a higher ARPU for the organisation.
“The idea was to warm up the user and then pitch this [24-month] plan,” he said. “This has worked really, really well for us.”
“After all these experiments, we decided to double down on our efforts engaging with our users and segmenting them,” Khanna said.
Segmentation is very important for understanding the customer base and how to market to them. BQ segmented its customers by geography, demographics such as age and gender, the type of content and features they are consuming, and their occupation and income.
The last was the most difficult information to obtain, Khanna said, but it was very valuable for BQ.
Advanced segmentation allows a publisher to:
Better understand its customer base and how to capitalise on them.
Improve conversion rates by tailoring campaigns and messaging.
Use the RFM model, targeting users more likely to convert.
Use propensity-based segmentation methods to experiment with paywalls.
“This requires a lot of experimentation,” Khanna said. “The idea was to make sure we were communicating our core value proposition.”
Engagement is a very important tool to drive subscriptions. Engaging with users then drives their site engagement and increases subscription conversion. Engagement channels focus on communicating the core value proposition to the users.
“I feel one of the most important things people miss out on, or don’t focus on, is how to communicate core value propositions,” he said. “For a user, it’s really important as to why they should buy the subscription.”
The first 90 days of a new registered user are the most crucial, Khanna said, and BQ uses the onboarding journey to build habit. The team uses a dedicated content strategy for each different channel.
Strategic product partnerships
BQ also leverages partnerships as a way to increase inbound referral traffic and subscription conversions. They establish relevant, strategic partnerships to market to their target audience, with special messaging created specifically for those audiences, such as newsletter subscription pop-ups.
“The idea was to try to convert these unknown audiences into known and then into potential loyalists. And then with our engagement methods, such as e-mail and push, we can work potential loyalists into loyalists,” Khanna said.
During this process, the team needed to convince these potential loyalists of the value of BloombergQuint and why they should subscribe.
“I think the learning here is that it’s really important to increase your bucket of users.”
Retention should start on the day a user subscribes, Khanna advised. Make subscriber engagement the No. 1 priority with personalised communication.
“When a user signs up for BloombergQuint, we need to make sure that user is making the best of their subscription. So we were chasing a number of 10 pageviews per user. If a user was not consuming 10 pageviews, then they are in danger.”
BQ created dedicated win-back campaigns by using cross-channel communication methods to resurrect and retain users. It’s important to target campaigns to those users who are most likely to churn.
They set up 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day customer onboarding and nurturing programmes, using a drip e-mail campaign that includes welcome messages, a letter from the editor, newsletter sign-up offers, and Web push.
“If a user is not coming back in 30 days, it’s really difficult to get them back,” Khanna said.
He warned against going overboard with too much communication, as that can backfire.
“They can unsubscribe from the e-mail, and that’s a really bad thing. For them to come back would be very difficult.”