News media companies are using data to power transformation and support business strategies. For many, more data creates more confusion.
“Creating alignment of business strategy should happen upstream of the collection of more data,” INMA Smart Data Initiative Lead Ariane Bernard said. “We get in the way of ourselves with a just ‘more is more’ approach.”
Data executives from News UK, BuzzFeed, The South China Morning Post, La Nación, and Les Echos shared how their companies are leveraging the right data to create value and align internal strategies during INMA’s recent the Transforming What We Build Using Data Master Class.
Creating value from data
Data can be endless, and it can be hard to understand what data holds value for a business model and strategy. Meera Panchal, senior analyst at News UK, said a generic question a lot of companies ask is, “How do I get a lot of value from my data?”
“First thing you have to do is find a way to measure value,” Panchal said. “The data we started collecting proliferated. Now we have so much data and it is ever growing and will continue to grow.”
To measure the value of mass amounts of data, Panchal recommended asking questions about business problems, true or hypothetical, and looking at what data assets and capabilities would be most beneficial to solve that problem.
“The key to the question is: Can you solve those challenges or objectives using existing data or do you need to acquire new data?” Panchal said.
Often publishers are guilty of using multiple metrics, Panchal added, with multiple definitions of what an engaged user is, several read time metrics, metrics with unclear values that are unable to show what the data is measuring: “This results in cannibalising our content by providing unactionable insights.”
Data hierarchy of needs
Even in a digital-first company like BuzzFeed, too much data becomes a problem. But Gilad Lotan, vice president/head of data science and analytics for the company. The root of the problem, he explained, was that the company was not set up to manage the amount of data as it scaled.
As the team struggled to keep up with the data, it was apparent the tools and processes in place weren’t sufficient. So the company ran internal evaluations, ran surveys and “did a bunch of research” — which led to the determination that it needed to invest in creating a foundation for its data stack.
That resulted in developing a Data Hierarchy of Needs, which identified what was needed to build a mature data company from the ground up.
“We want to operate in that world further up the pyramid, but we can’t do that if the bottom feels unstable, if we don’t have solid instrumentation logging pipelines and storage in place,” Lotan said.
Once BuzzFeed identified that need, it reorganised its processes and started a concerted effort to invest in the bottom of the pyramid. It made data maturity a guiding principle and began thinking about how the organisation uses data and incorporates it into strategy, decision-making, and product development.
Lotan said the investment has paid off: “We’re now at the point where we’re ingesting about two terabytes of data daily.”
Leveraging data to support subscriptions strategies
The South China Morning Post has spent much time, energy, and resources defining the next best actions they could take to move users down the loyalty funnel.
“Our main goal as an organisation was to increase reach and increase the number of pageviews. But as we shifted to a subscription model, the way we were looking at the data had to be different,” said Romain Rouquier, the company’s vice president of data.
Basic metrics weren’t enough anymore. The company had to find a new set of metrics to get perspective on readers and better understand them.
“We wanted the personalisation of our user journey to drive subscriptions, push users down the loyalty funnel until they subscribe, and then retain them with time,” Rouquier said.
The company had to set a clear goal at the beginning to get all the different departments to focus on the same thing, he added: “When it came time to make certain decisions, we were able to look at specific KPIs to look at what is helping drive users to be more engaged to subscribe.”
La Nación in Argentina has taken a similar approach, using data to unite the company behinds its subscriptions strategy.
For the past five years, La Nación has been working on gaining paying subscribers. The main concern as the digital publisher grew was “how to give the newsroom a KPI so they could measure the success of an article aligned to the business,” said Victoria Riese, the company’s chief data officer.
“But we really needed a KPI related to quality. We know people are going to pay only for content that has quality,” Riese said.
La Nación decided to create a new score to measure the quality of every article to ensure it was on the home page and aligning with the business goals. This score comes from comparing metrics that reveal audience interest and satisfaction with content.
Since the score was introduced two years ago, La Nación’s reporters, editorial staff, and executive leadership have been able to communicate performance and goals using the same data, Riese said: “Part of the improvement was also to get people focused on numbers and data to be aligned with our business objectives.”
A data-powered churn reduction strategy
Les Echos has put in place several products and procedures to help keep subscribers from churning.
“If we’re honest, the journey hasn’t ended yet,” Violette Chomier, the chief data officer for Groupe Les Echos, said.
During the master class, Chomier shared details about the six-step methodology the company has tested out on its three main brands to get everyone on board with helping reduce churn.
- Define lifetime value.
- Survival analysis.
- Define main challenge.
- Features and machine learning.
- Actions monitoring.
“Everybody has been really happy with what we’ve done on churn,” Chomier said. “It’s been eight months working on churn, so this year we’ll probably move on to propensity to subscribe. That’s our challenge for 2022.”
INMA master class information is available here.