SPH responds to 2 trends: COVID bump and irrelevance of third-party cookies

By Fred Lai

Singapore Press Holdings



Two trends have helped shape strategy discussions in the digital publishing industry this year: First, a spike in online readership due to readers seeking more information about the COVID-19 pandemic. And, second, the imminent irrelevance of the third-party cookie by 2022.

As a result, players across the industry are doubling down on efforts to understand their audiences better, not least by building up their first-party data.

At Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), the only newspaper publisher in Singapore, we saw strong digital subscription growth at 52.5% year-on-year over the recently closed financial year. To make the most of this surge in news interest, we are investing in capabilities to help us identify and segment our readers and personalise their experiences on our sites.

Doubling down on first-party data is essential for media companies.
Doubling down on first-party data is essential for media companies.

First, we unified the log-in process using our user platform, mySPH, across all our digital products. This was no easy feat as SPH has a wide range of digital media products extending beyond our news titles. We also made it easier for subscribers to log in by integrating it with social logins such as Google, reducing the friction of first-time sign-ups and allowing users to register swiftly without the hassle of filling out lengthy forms.

Since its implementation in July, there have been close to 300,000 new mySPH account sign-ups, of which 73% took place through the Google single login route.

By placing emphasis on the customer (our readers), we were able to empathise and identify their difficulties in creating an account with us. Reducing those barriers gave way to an ease of signing up and signing in. This increased registration rate allows us to identify our users across our sites and apps, and to build better relationships with our readers.

Apart from building bonds with our readers through editorial content and events (which we miss dearly), we have focused on building strong relationships with readers in the digital space. Our ability to do so depends on how well we know our readers. With the impending end of third-party cookies, it is imperative we have access to first-party data that allows us to continue understanding our readers.

That was the main motivation behind the creation of the SPH Unified ID (SUID). It is a first-party data solution where we deploy our own cookie onto anonymous users’ browsers, identifying even non-subscribers across our different Web sites. This reduces our dependence on third-party vendor cookies and also allows us to save costs. The persistence of this ID has even outperformed some of the vendors we previously used to identify our users.

With better anonymised audience behaviour data, our analytics and tech teams developed machine-learning models that allow personalisation of the customer journey on our Web sites. This allows us to serve users with content recommendations and marketing messages most relevant to them.

Apart from achieving better subscriber acquisition and retention across SPH products, we are also looking to further demonstrate the value of our engaged audience by optimising ad targeting and conversions.

On our newly revamped subscription e-shop, we are also building profile pages for individual subscribers to update their details. This self-serve function increases convenience for our subscribers and helps us understand their preferences better.

We are also expanding the number of social logins to further reduce the friction in our login experience.

While the pandemic has brought many new visitors to our doorstep, it is ultimately a unified view of what customer centricity looks like. Being data-driven helped us welcome these visitors past our doors.

As the pandemic wreaks havoc in many parts of the world, a full recovery of the global economy might take longer than expected. However, a strong mindset at the core of our media business to effect these changes is what’s needed for us to be poised for that recovery when it comes.

About Fred Lai

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