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How Wall Street Journal uses a data-led, member-first metric to reduce churn

By Anne Powell

The Wall Street Journal

New York


At The Wall Street Journal, we recently celebrated our largest membership base in history. With digital subscriptions more than doubling in volume in the last three years, the Journal’s acquisition success has played a key role in parent company Dow Jones surpassing 3 million members.

As we begin to think about the Journal’s next chapter, the engagement team is focusing on how to fuel growth by reducing churn. When we looked at the data around churn, we found there was a direct correlation between engagement and churn. This discovery led us to our engagement north star: average active days. Once we were able to rally around a single metric, we developed a strategy that effectively drives habit and, in turn, increases average active days.

The Wall Street Journal team is digging into the correlation between engagement and churn using data.
The Wall Street Journal team is digging into the correlation between engagement and churn using data.

Our approach centres around three components: who, what, and where.

  • Who: Finding who is most impressionable (proactive) or at a high risk for churn (reactive) and focusing the majority of our resource on affecting the habits of those members.
  • What: Identifying the dozens of actions that have a positive effect on member retention and prioritising those within our member messaging.
  • Where: Knowing who to talk to and what to say is only meaningful if it can be seen and heard, so improving and expanding communication channels is the final, and most critical, part of the strategy.


The WSJ data analytics team successfully applied predictive analytics to build a churn model that determines the probability of a member churning. The model uses acquisition, engagement, and retention data, with the ability to extrapolate top risk factors.

The team also found there is a critical period where members are most likely to acquire a new habit. It was then my team’s job to develop a strategy effectively driving engagement amongst these at-risk and newly acquired members.


While we’ve known for some time that downloading the app and signing up for a newsletter increases a member’s likelihood to stay, our optimisation team recently set out to find other actions our long-tenured members adopt.

We now know more than 50 on-site actions that increase a member’s retention rate. With this knowledge, we can promote them to other members with the aim of introducing them to a new habit. Understanding these behaviours allows us to diversify our member messaging across all channels and ultimately nudge members to engage with the product in meaningful ways.


It’s imperative for us to be smarter and louder when talking to members. Our ability to talk to members is limited by a small canvas. Our e-mail reach is limited to those who have opted in to marketing communications, so we are working to improve existing on-site placements through smarter targeting and creative optimisation. We’re also working to create new, more prominent, placements within our products under the notion that a more intrusive placement is a mutually beneficial experience if it is the right message at the right time to the right member.

We are now working with the product and newsroom teams to implement our strategy guided by a clear north star. We can’t expect our members to do the heavy lifting when it comes to developing habit. Instead, we must provide the tools and maps leading our members to interact with The Wall Street Journal in a meaningful and habitual way. To drive engagement and loyalty, there must be an experience building the routine of a daily newspaper delivery on your doorstep with an ease of exploration only provided by digital.

About Anne Powell

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