Times, Sunday Times decrease churn by 49% with digital butler

By Mary-Katharine Phillips

Twipe

Leuven, Belgium

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Retention was already an important topic for 2020. But with the surge of new subscribers that have come during the coronavirus crisis, publishers are even more concerned with how to retain their readers.

When The Times and The Sunday Times faced this same challenge, they zeroed in on personalisation as the solution. By creating meaningful relationships at scale and at cost with their customers, they believed they would be able to better retain their subscribers.

After a one-year project in collaboration with our team at Twipe, this hypothesis proved correct: Through automatically creating and sending individualised newsletters with JAMES, Your Digital Butler, they observed a 49% decrease in churn. Just as a butler does, JAMES learns and knows the preferences of the user and discreetly serves the right services to them as individuals, rather than at the segment level, long considered best practice for customer marketing.

JAMES relies upon Artificial Intelligence to determine what readers want -- and then makes sure they get the content they're looking for.
JAMES relies upon Artificial Intelligence to determine what readers want -- and then makes sure they get the content they're looking for.

How JAMES affected The Times

During this project, JAMES served over 100,000 subscribers of The Times with individualised newsletters, using several optimisation algorithms including time optimisation, content recommendation, and format optimisation. More than 14 million e-mails were sent to a selected cohort of subscribers.

What made the experimentation with JAMES different than other personalisation research is its unique focus on news content. Outside of the news industry, there’s been a lot of great work on personalisation, such as the strong recommendation engines from Netflix and Spotify.

The most successful formula, The Times learned, was to mix popular stories with stories that were personally relevant to readers.
The most successful formula, The Times learned, was to mix popular stories with stories that were personally relevant to readers.

However, personalisation for news can still be difficult, as news is different every day and inherently different than music, movies, or a product from a catalogue. It is important also to remember that people still come to newspapers for news, so publishers must find the right balance between personally interesting stories and popular stories.

That’s what we learned from JAMES experimentation: The hybrid model (mixing most popular stories with stories that are personally relevant) results in the highest engagement rates.

About Mary-Katharine Phillips

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