Newsrooms around the world are in the midst of data-driven transformations. Participants at INMA’s Media Innovation Week in Hamburg heard insights into the missteps, lessons, and successes of two companies’ data efforts on Tuesday morning.

NZZ: Learning from mistakes and the importance of leadership

Making mistakes is a natural part of the transformation process. While sharing lessons from NZZ’s paid content journey from a data perspective, Markus Barmettler, head of data and analytics at the company, said his team’s failures have taught them more than any successes ever could.

When he joined NZZ, Barmettler said he jumped right into making a churn prevention model after recognising the industry-wide struggle against customer loss. Impressively, his team created a working model in three months but had to decommission it 12 months after launch. Almost none of the models worked, and the one that did was too costly. The true value was learning from this failure, Barmettler said.

“We realised that retention starts with day one of the customer relationship — and sometimes even before,” he said.

His team shifted focus to onboarding churn, realising that touching base at the renewal event is too late. They also adjusted the marketing strategy and established a new customer lifecycle management team, as well as a retention desk.

“These are really specially trained people with a high level of empathy,” he said.

Markus Barmettler discusses NZZ's pivot to a leadership team focused on the customer lifecycle.
Markus Barmettler discusses NZZ's pivot to a leadership team focused on the customer lifecycle.

The team has been the most effective way to retain customers, with retention rates between 30%-40%. Training and skills have been important factors in the team’s success, but another key to success has been empowering the team to suggest changes to the company.

“Just make sure you enable this team when they have feedback for the organisation because they are really in contact with the people who want to leave,” he said.

The second failure Barmettler shared was the attempt to create a propensity model for acquisition optimisation. This effort did not pay out.

Barmettler said the lesson from this was clear: Choose your target variable wisely and closely align it with marketing. The team also stopped cold-calling potential customers, which created unnecessary brand risk for a low payout.

As for the third failure, Barmettler mentioned an area where many news media companies are now focusing their efforts.

“From day one, I was really pushing hard for personalisation because I really think we need to get away from the one-size-fits-all,” he said.

Personalisation does add value, he added. But after reviewing the data, Barmettler believes other factors beyond personalisation were helping spur business growth:

  • North Star KPI: It took two years to change the mindsets of everyone in the company to focus on paying subscribers, but it was a crucial step.
  • Testing and experimentation: The best way to customise the customer experience is through testing and experimentation cycles.
  • Servant leadership: Give people the authority to create a testing culture.

If he could restart this whole process, Barmettler said he would begin with the third factor and try to influence leadership earlier in the process.

“I really truly believe only a good employee experience can drive a good customer experience.”


NWZ Mediengruppe: 

While data informed the transformation process at NZZ, data and its management is transforming the business at NWZ Mediengruppe. Fabian Rosekeit, growth manager for NWZ, said that a CRM reboot incorporating the Sales Force platform has shifted the company from being product-centric to customer-centric.

Fabian Rosekeit of NWZ Mediengruppe discussed his company's customer-centric data process.
Fabian Rosekeit of NWZ Mediengruppe discussed his company's customer-centric data process.

“To get there, we have a simple rule: If it’s not in the Sales Cloud, it does not exist,” he said. “It sounds like an easy rule, but, in fact, it’s really important to us because you can’t measure what you can’t measure.”

Gathering more information in the structured CRM system makes it possible for NWZ to garner customer feelings, said Silke Mohnsame, CRM demand and adoption manager. There’s a big potential for developing the customer community and focus on the customer lifetime cycle, she said: “The importance of addressing our clients personally should not be underestimated.”

NWZ has integrated all business units around the CRM to power new, existing, and similar businesses. The system is nothing without the people who use it, Mohnsome added. It can only be successful if it is a developmental company strategy to develop the CRM Core Team, which combines experts from business units across the company.

“In the end, we cannot wish for a better basis to continue to shape our digital future,” Mohnsome said.