Washington Post drives revenue through its subscriber investments

By Anjali Iyer

The Washington Post

Washington, DC, USA


In today’s digital landscape, recognising subscriber engagement is a key driver of growth and financial success is important. An effective subscriber engagement strategy enhances relationships, increases loyalty, and reaffirms the value of the subscription. This, in turn, improves customer retention rates, as engaged subscribers are more likely to renew their subscriptions and continue generating reader revenue.

At the same time, a deeper understanding of consumer preferences and behaviours leads to more relevant and valuable ad placements, contributing to increased advertising revenue. The combination of improved reader retention and increased advertising revenue equates to higher customer lifetime value (CLV).

However, securing the necessary investments to fuel engagement initiatives can often be a challenge. A strategic and well-crafted approach is essential. You must demonstrate that cultivating enduring relationships with current subscribers can serve as a catalyst for revenue growth.

With this in mind, I want to share how we successfully implemented effective strategies and demonstrated a compelling case for investment in subscriber engagement at The Washington Post.

Making a case for investment in subscriber engagement

Investing in subscriber engagement is a strategic priority for The Washington Post, driven by recent growth in subscriber acquisition. There are limitations to the traditional acquisition-centric model focused solely on expanding the subscriber base. We know the significance of cultivating long-term subscriber relationships and are aiming to improve retention rates through personalised communications and subscriber segmentation.

Our first step was to validate our hypotheses on the drivers of retention using analytical insights and a predictive churn model built by the data science team. The model shows how churn impacts current revenue goals and makes predictions on the future state.

We found four important takeaways from the subscriber churn model:

  1. Visits matter: The frequency of visits is a key indicator of engagement and satisfaction. It suggests subscribers are finding value in our offerings and are more likely to continue their subscription. By actively engaging with content, subscribers demonstrate their ongoing interest and investment in our content.
  2. Newsletter engagement is powerful: Subscribers who sign up for newsletters exhibit a higher level of interest and engagement compared to those who haven’t. Most interestingly, the number and type of newsletters they engage with are equally important. If a subscriber stops interacting with newsletters, it may signify a waning interest and an increased risk of churning. Monitoring and nurturing newsletter engagement is crucial to retain these subscribers.
  3. Referrals reflect brand loyalty: Referrals, such as article gifting and sharing bonus subscriptions, indicate a sense of satisfaction and loyalty toward our brand. These referrals not only demonstrate customer satisfaction, but also serve to expand our registration pool for future growth. Encouraging and incentivising referrals can help solidify our subscriber base, foster brand advocacy, and reflect trust in our brand.
  4. Diversified content consumption indicates loyalty: Subscribers who consume content across multiple sections and platforms exhibit a higher level of loyalty. By providing convenient access to our content and meeting subscribers wherever they are, we enhance their overall experience. Educating subscribers on the depth and breadth of coverage strengthens our relationship with subscribers and increases their likelihood of remaining engaged.

By understanding these four drivers of retention, we developed a test plan to confirm our hypotheses.

Refined approach

To track engagement trends accurately, subscribers were categorised into six distinct groups based on their engagement levels. One strategy for engaging subscribers involved educating them about subscription benefits and features through a series of targeted e-mails.

The engagement groups are:

  1. No engagement.
  2. Super low engagement.
  3. Low engagement.
  4. Medium engagement.
  5. High engagement.
  6. Super high engagement.

Super engaged subscriber behaviours are indexed to super low engaged subscribers. Super engaged subscribers have 40 times more visits, 65 times more app page views, and are twice as likely to engage with newsletters compared to super low engaged subscribers.

Our strategy on engaging subscribers

Our research indicated our most highly engaged subscribers may not know about key subscription benefits and features. At the same time, the data showed us that subscribers who gift articles, share a bonus subscription, download the app, or engage in newsletters are less likely to churn.

Therefore, we created an e-mail marketing series aimed at benefit education to positively impact both retention and customer lifetime value.

We measured the success of our e-mail campaign in two main ways.

We held a control group to use as a benchmark to determine whether those who saw our marketing outperformed those who didn’t. Within the test group, we also segmented the audience to see if subscribers’ current behaviours impacted engagement due to these benefit education e-mails.

The article gifting strategy resulted in an increase in engagement.
The article gifting strategy resulted in an increase in engagement.

Ultimately, we found there was a statistically significant lift (+10%) in the gifting rate in each engagement group, proving the value of including all engagement cohorts in habit adoption e-mails. Thoughtfully designed marketing e-mails explaining benefits to subscribers lead to higher e-mail engagement and generated statistically significant lift in actions taken.

By harnessing the power of our refined engagement strategies, we have increased subscriber engagement, improved retention rates and customer lifetime. We meticulously monitor and analyse the outcomes, honing our approach with insights derived from data-driven intelligence.

We are redefining the rules of revenue generation by placing subscriber engagement at the heart of our growth strategy. Our subscribers are transforming into active readers, fostering loyalty and trust, proving subscriber engagement is not just a trend but the new driving force behind revenue.

About Anjali Iyer

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.