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Personalisation, Personalisation, Personalisation…

If the attendees who gathered for the start of this year’s PPA Customer Direct conference were in any doubt about where they should be focusing their efforts – it would soon be made abundantly clear, writes Martin Maynard. For the direct and digital marketers assembled in the Grand Ballroom at the Montcalm Hotel, Marble Arch, the day would quickly unfold to embrace one watchword: personalisation.

By Martin Maynard

The morning began by addressing two central tenets of modern-day digital marketing, loyalty and engagement. In a compelling opening keynote address Chris Duncan, chief marketing officer at News UK, acknowledged “the future for all of us is digital content,” but that “loyalty in digital is hard to find”. Duncan outlined News UK’s product strategy model which includes: bundling via monthly subscriptions; content across multiple devices; member-only rewards offering; premium customer experience; building strategic relationships.

By way of example, Duncan outlined the success of the Times Plus membership programme. In beginning the transition from a ‘casual’ to a ‘member’ business as far back as 2009, Duncan believes that being early adopters to this strategy is partly why The Times now boasts 70,000 tablet readers, The Sunday Times 92,000, with the latter reporting an average read time of one hour. Duncan explains that a real success of the Times Plus programme is being able to deliver events. Part of the Times Plus premium customer experience is providing access to exclusive member-only events, such as live Q&As with leading sports stars. So, why is this important? Because Duncan and his team know that if you can get a reader to an event, they are 42% more likely to “buy-in”.

Digital editions

When Jim Bilton, MD at Wessenden Marketing, and Nick Howitt, marketing director at Frontline, took to the stage it was for one purpose: context. For the majority of the marketers in the room, much of their time will be spent on promoting digital publications – because they are the future, right? Not necessarily! Bilton began the session by quoting a recent ABC report showing that PDF replicas account for less than 2% of total market volume. Although new digital edition titles are growing year-on-year at 47%, existing titles are only showing a 15% growth. But all publishers have digital publications, don’t they? No! Bilton went on to inform the group that the PPA’s Publishing Futures survey revealed that 44% of UK publisher titles are print-only, with the remaining 56% print and digital. Surprisingly, of the 56% with a print and digital offering, 46% are pure PDF replicas. In a torrent of facts and figures delivered with Bilton’s usual gusto, he had dispelled two myths: that all brands have digital editions – they do not; that PDF replicas are dead – they are most certainly alive and kicking!

Next, the presentation turned to why the digital magazine market has stalled. For Howitt, the “major problem” is discoverability. The key player in the market, Apple Newsstand, is “not doing a great marketing job” and its “cross-shopping is not good,” says Howitt. Zinio, suggests Howitt, is better because, for a start, it shows each title’s cover. Demand for digital editions may be enhanced by new entrants to the market such as Readbug, Magzene and Readly; although at this point it’s too early to tell. On the subject of price, Howitt revealed that a quarter of all digital titles are priced on a par with their corresponding print edition, and that discounting does not impact on purchase – “the advice is to price your digital edition as per your print issue,” says Howitt.

When Bilton returned to wrap-up the early session, he reminded the audience of the opportunity for digital editions. Quoting the Dovetail Digital Subscriber Survey, Bilton started by saying that 64% of magazine subscribers own a tablet but only 24% subscribe to a digital edition. According to the survey, the digital reading experience isn’t too dissimilar to that of reading print, and that often those engaging with digital editions are using them for mainly practical reasons, such as access to an archive, gifting, sampling and promotions etc. Bilton suggested that there are still many challenges facing the digital magazine and that given the recent plateau in sales, perhaps there is a new way of looking at the role of digital editions: should they be used purely to stop the decline in print sales?


The opening gambit from Sofia Kosiborod, account director at AmstelNet, certainly had everyone in the room listening – “96% of your existing website visitors leave anonymously”. In a theme that was to run throughout the remainder of the day, Kosiborod was the first presenter to detail the array of assets available to marketers under the umbrella of “personalisation” – products and techniques designed to deliver a more tailored experience to your potential customers as you guide them down the purchasing funnel. For Kosiborod, this split into four key areas: geo-targeting; device-targeting; behaviour-targeting; up-sell.

Leah Faulkner, online business manager at Bauer Media, began by suggesting that personalisation around ‘abandon cart’ and ‘exit capture’ is important to all online selling. “75% of all online sales are abandoned,” says Faulkner, but abandoned saves are “10 times more likely to convert”. Examining why shoppers abandon in the first instance has been pivotal at Bauer, suggests Faulkner, and offering assistance through a series of time-staggered follow-up emails has proved successful. Tracking online page visits and behaviour also allows Bauer to predict when a visitor is about to leave their site, triggering personalised messaging at that exact point. “We have achieved a 300% increase in e-newsletter opt-ins from exit capture,” says Faulkner. According to Faulkner, Bauer’s personalisation messages are tailored around three key groups: first visitor; return visitor; existing customer.

Carola York, MD at Jellyfish Publishing, explored ways to target new website visitors and methods of getting previous visitors back. Using features available via the Google Display Network (GDN) such as the ‘interest categories’, ‘similar audiences’, ‘in-market audiences’ etc, York demonstrated new and innovative ways to reach audiences. York also demonstrated how you may choose to re-evaluate the CPA value by adding Google’s ‘view-through conversion’ measure to your ROI equation.


In the early afternoon session entitled, ‘Effective Ecommerce’, Time Inc’s acting head of subscriptions, Sarah Wilkinson, discussed her experiences of optimising sales through the Magazines Direct website. For Wilkinson, knowing your conversion funnel, mastering your analytics, and plenty of A/B testing of both your online and mobile sites, is essential to commercial success. “Creating confidence is the number one rule to ensuring your customer checks-out,” says Wilkinson. According to Wilkinson, creating online confidence can come from taking a number of steps, including: enabling online reviews; tailored messaging; letting customers identify with the products (eg. via displaying cover images); listening to your customers through such methods as video feedback. For Wilkinson’s co-presenter Alex Henry, director of solutions EMEA at Monetate, avoiding personalisation “is no longer an option”. Real-time marketing delivers a better customer experience asserts Henry, who suggests that in an “über-connected” world, “consumers expect relevance whichever device they are looking at”.

Mid-afternoon focus turned to the future of digital subscriptions. Mark Summerton, senior digital marketing manager at Immediate Media Co, explained their approach to dealing with 1.1 million print and digital subscribers. Summerton outlined the three central pillars of Immediate’s marketing and product strategy: build; measure; learn. Summerton went on to comment that he is “amazed at how many digital subscribers do not read their digital issues”.

For Abi Spooner, head of direct marketing at Dennis Publishing, it’s all about bundling. Ultimately, Spooner conceded, bundling is about revenue but the methods adopted to drive sales are “a completely new way of working”. The UX is crucial says Spooner and it is vital that we, “deliver the right message at the right time”. A/B testing is a constant and our online and mobile pages are always in “beta”, suggests Spooner. Spooner highlighted that customers expect immediacy with digital and during the ‘onboarding’ process, a telesales operative needs the ability to provide a new customer with instant access to an app – a delay simply wouldn’t be in keeping with the nature of the digital transaction. As for the future – “it’s all about engagement,” says Spooner.

In the final session of the day entitled, ‘Lessons From Other Industries’, the importance of personalisation and creating customer trust was double-underlined. In homage to the day’s central theme of personalisation, the last word went to Rachel Kavanagh, MD UK & Ireland at Glossybox, who said that when marketing to huge numbers of subscribers “don’t ever assume you are talking to one person”.