Digital publishers have long debated the merits of subscription models — and how to get people to pay for something that was free the day before.

That was the conundrum for Christian Panson and the team at the Winnipeg Free Press, a daily newspaper in the capital city of Manitoba, Canada.

“How do we convince our readers to pay for content when for the longest time we had been giving content away?” Panson, vice president of digital for the newspaper, asked during the CMSWire webinar, “The Elusive Extra Click: Use Engagement Success with Real-Time Personalization.”  “What do we do to make content more valuable? The only way was to provide them valuable content, much deeper than we had in the past.”

Adding Value

The instinct here is more is better, Panson said. And more page views are great. But Winnipeg’s daily news team was more interested in engagement and providing content readers want at the right time.

They turned to a personalization engine provided by Cxense, an Oslo, Norway-based provider of data management and online personalization technologies. The newspaper soon became “very deeply engaged in personalization,” as Panson recalled.

“We didn’t do a lot of small implementations,” he said. “We went full force into it.”

They implemented a paywall. A site redesign. Continuous scrolls. They changed up the "back button" experience. All on the same day.

“We wanted to show people that what they got yesterday for free isn’t what they get free today,” Panson said.

The Results

The results were impressive:

  • 87 percent page view increase
  • Mobile page views went from average of three to eight
  • Time on each page increased 20 percent
  • Time on the site increased 124 percent (active session duration increased from 4 minutes, 42 seconds to 10 minutes, 30 seconds)

“We’re able to show people the content they’re most likely to engage with at the time they’re ready to engage with it,” Panson said. It’s one-to-one personalization using the Cxense technology.”

Panson and his team recognized they have a finite window to engage with readers.

“So we have to make the most of it with an efficient layout for them and make sure there are not a lot of things interrupting their reading experience and that we’re delivering the content that’s most appropriate for them,” Panson said.

Putting Plans to Action

screenshot of cxense webinar with cmswire

The Winnipeg newspaper's digital team represents a trend toward personalization execution, said Tom Wilde, general manager of Cxense for the Americas. He viewed 2015 as the year of research for personalization. But 2016 is proving to be one of execution.

“It seems to have flipped over to tangible actionable plans,” Wilde said.

He referred to research by Gartner that called personalization “table stakes” where there is a “large disparity” between organizations that deploy personalization and those that don’t.

Marketers that understand the context of their customers that engage with their content — what device, where, how often they engage, which assets they engage with — will prevail, he said.

“You need to be able to use all that in real time to deliver marketing and advertising solutions that are relevant to that user at that moment with all the signals you’ve taken into account,” Wilde said.

The sweet spot of personalization, Wilde said, is “understanding both your content and your audience.”

By using metadata, marketers can build “intent profiles” on customers and connect that data to advertisers for a “real-time, complete 360-degree view.”

“That richness,” Wilde said, “is now possible.”