HT Media uses WhatsApp, personalisation to increase subscriptions for financial product

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


For almost 15 years, Mint has been India’s leading daily business and financial news publication. As part of HT Media, a 96-year-old legacy news media company, Mint was created to meet the changing needs and interests of India’s business-minded consumers.

In February 2020, HT Digital rolled out subscriptions for Mint and enjoyed typical linear growth for about a year. But then the company adjusted its approach and was able to dramatically accelerate subscription growth. In the INMA Webinar Scaling up subscriptions with HT Digital, Inderpreet Singh, vice president and head of growth for HD Digital, and Nitin Kapoor, platform head, subscription products, HD Media, explained the opportunities and challenges they faced in developing Mint premium and attracting users into its membership programme.

The Mint Premium experience funnel has three clearly defined stages.
The Mint Premium experience funnel has three clearly defined stages.

Singh noted that in its quest to grow subscriptions, HT Media looked at how to enhance the main premium value proposition.

It needed to answer three questions:

  1. How do we build awareness around it?
  2. How do we build consideration?
  3. How do we build on decision-making?

To generate awareness, HT Digital concentrated on making it more visible on browsers and subscription pages, Singh said: “That actually took off big time for us. Subscriptions started moving up immediately.”

Moving down the funnel

The discovery and awareness efforts focused on four pillars:

  1. Content. Using input from the audience, HT Digital enhanced the content to make sure customers would connect with it.
  2. MarTech. “We worked hard on this, introducing various tools, which help in reaching out to the customer either in the form of personalisation or in terms of targeting,” Singh said.
  3. Product. “This was about how do we build this product [to be] superior? What are the innovative things we could build?”
  4. Pricing. Singh said it was critical to have the right pricing for its audience.

Mint benefitted from the company’s huge loyal print base, Singh said, and it began marketing digital features like podcasts and newsletters to the audience. These were free products to build reader interest while also gaining feedback on what readers were looking at.

 “We built all those things for our subscribers, which helped in getting more engagement,” Singh said. It also used multiple channels to communicate, including the homepage banner, emails, a push app, and even WhatsApp to leverage the engagement.

Building consideration through personalisation

To reach readers in the consideration stage and move them down the funnel, Kapoor said it was necessary for them to perceive its journalism as valuable. That depended on building a relationship with the reader, which improves the chances of converting them in the subscription funnel.

Building a relationship with users was critical to driving consideration and improving conversions.
Building a relationship with users was critical to driving consideration and improving conversions.

“While a one-size-fits-all approach does deliver the initial momentum, the challenge lies in narrowing down these segments and building progressive journeys for these identified segments,” Kapoor said. “So the moment you reach digital, you are speaking to a varied set of audiences. It makes more relevance to start speaking to particular cohorts with respect to the particular need that particular cohort might have.”

Being able to identify what is of interest to each user and deliver that to them is key in today’s environment. Such personalisation “brings in a lot of importance to get them excited on what your brand offers and what they are missing out on or, or what is relevant with respect to their feeds,” Kapoor added.

HT Media’s personalisation intelligence allowed it to create a strong engagement experience for new subscribers who were coming onto the platform and also allowed it to work with subscriber engagement and reduce churn.

In addition to personalisation, HT Media offered sampling that allowed potential customers to see what was behind the paywall. Trial offers capitalise on readers’ inquisitiveness. And once HT has captured their interest, Kapoor said the challenge is to quickly figure out what that person’s needs and interests are so they will have the kind of experience that encourages them to subscribe.

After exposing potential subscribers to relevant content, the platform’s built-in AI personalisation model is designed “to keep nudging, keep pushing the right content to the customers, and then it ultimately boils down to decision making,” Singh said. HT uses personalised paywalls, gift options, coupons, and approaches to improve its conversion rate. “That is still ongoing.”  

Using WhatsApp for engagement

One of the early innovations HT adopted was to use WhatsApp for lead generation, engagement, subscription conversions, and renewals. Singh said HT began using WhatsApp to promote content on social, and it quickly started getting leads. People visited the platform and even though they were not ready to subscribe, they could enroll via WhatsApp. HT then engaged them with interesting content such as Webinars and interesting articles. Readers also received a few premium articles for free.

Using social channels, particularly WhatsApp, for lead generation has vastly improved outcomes for HT Digital.
Using social channels, particularly WhatsApp, for lead generation has vastly improved outcomes for HT Digital.

“We reached out to the customers in a much faster manner because the response rate on WhatsApp is really, really high,” Singh said. “You get to pick the pulse of the customer very fast. They’re able to share more details on WhatsApp on the surveys as well. So that was really, really helpful in building engagement for Mint.”

It also made the renewal journey faster and simpler, requiring just a click of the “Pay Now” or the “Renew Now” button. In addition, it boosted engagement through offers of events and promotions. The engagement features available through WhatsApp have helped build subscriptions overall, Singh said.

“We started WhatsApp as a one-way channel, but now it is two-way communication,” he said. “People can ask for content, top news, and top market-related news. Even at the category level, they can keep asking for various stuff. That has worked very well for us.”

Expanding its reach

Building on this success, HT has continued looking at how to keep users engaged. This has included identifying other types of content that are of interest to them, such as podcasts, and creating more lifestyle-oriented options for the weekends when the financial markets are closed.

To keep subscribers engaged, HT Digital has rolled out additional features for Mint Premium users.
To keep subscribers engaged, HT Digital has rolled out additional features for Mint Premium users.

“We [created] Mint Lounge, which talks about food, culture, travel, and lifestyle,” Singh said. “We brought in this new content and customers like it. And this is a break from the regular routine that helps build mental engagement with us.”

It also added a bookmark feature, so if readers started an article during the week but didn’t finish it, they’ll be reminded on the weekend that the content is still waiting for them to read. At the same time, HT started pushing a lot of its social promotions.

Together, these actions are helping HT achieve its subscription, engagement, and renewal goal, Singh said: “All these activities help in building a lot of engagement on the platform and eventually improve our attention and engagement score.”

About Paula Felps

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