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Monetising directly from consumer: three tech experts share their thoughts

With rising uncertainty in the ad market, not to mention Facebook and Google owning some 80 per cent of all digital advertising expenditure, there is increasing conversation among publishers about monetisation directly from the consumer.

We spoke to three technology solution providers who think about customer engagement and conversion every day:

Vindicia: subscription billing and recurring revenue solutions

Cxense: real-time, cross-device personalisation and conversion

Content Insights: editorial analytics platform for editors

Michael Isaacs, director of product marketing at Vindicia, says they “are seeing a very clear trend” with “industry leaders looking to generate revenues from broad portfolios of paid-for products and services.

It includes “leveraging their brands and reach to launch offerings such as memberships, ecommerce, gaming and gambling, premium information services, shopping guides, one-off reports and other offerings.” 

In addition to direct monetisation opportunities, there are support services such “customer registration and sign-in, to power better customer segmentation and content recommendation.”

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The importance of relationships

Underlying direct monetisation is an assumption that the relationship with the consumer is such that they are willing to spend money with you, and hopefully in a recurring way. That, in turn, predisposes a degree of loyalty in the relationship.

Jon Wilks, chief content officer at Content Insights, and a former Time Out editor who set up content marketing departments at among others Havas, agrees “that habitual use and loyalty are key to growing an audience that might subscribe to your publication, or perhaps sign up for an event.” 

The trust that comes with loyalty is also a major factor. “A subscription is a reader saying that they trust you to provide them with quality whenever you log on – that they trust you, as an editor, to inform them in an engaging and relatively unique way.”

Katrine Sørum is global event and customer advocacy manager at Cxense. According to her, “the premise for any monetisation is the relationship you have with users. If you don’t know your users you don’t know how to engage them. And if you don’t know how to engage them it’s near impossible to monetise them.”

Developing engagement strategies

Here, Jon believes “chasing buzz (clicks) is always going to be a race to the bottom, in particular if subscription is the aim. They need to remember why people subscribed to publications in their heyday – because the had engaging writers who were employed to write on specific subjects and put across stories in a way that was true to the editorial mission of the publication.” 

His concern is that “the idea of that mission has gone out the window somewhat.” For Jon, his Content Insights colleague Dejan Nikolic neatly summed up the problem. “Imagine you’re a fishing magazine and you became aware of a story about how Donald Trump had an excellent sautéed tuna recipe. You publish it and your website goes haywire. 

“A good editor would recognise it as a one-off and get back to the usual programme. Unfortunately, too many publishers these days would wonder how they can get more Trump material into their fishing magazine, forgetting why the loyal users come there in the first place – not for Trump recipes but because they like fishing!”

Quality is important. “It is something we are very passionate about at Content Insights. We look at the industry and see overworked editorial staff, working all hours to create content to attract pageviews – it’s not sustainable. 

“If the industry is hoping to attract trust, loyalty and solid engagement, then thin content produced at speed isn’t going to do much good. It seems obvious, but audiences that pay for subscriptions pay for quality and consistency.”

For Katrine, recommendation and personalisation hold the key. “Audiences have developed an expectation for brands to know them better.” To engage them better, “you need to show them content and offers that are relevant to the individual, personally.” 

Whether it is Amazon with product recommendations or Netflix with movie recommendations, there is an expectation from consumers for personalised, relevant results.

“This should also be the case for publishers, serving content and offers that are relevant and invites engagement.” Personalising the experience is “a great way to create a personal relationship with your user. You obviously then want to measure the results, and a great thing about personalisation is that it is highly measurable with clear connection to hard ROI.”

Michael makes the point that gaining attention in the first place is increasingly difficult in an age of information-overload. “It is essential that you communicate value, and reinforce the benefits of your service or product in every single communication.” 

Such communication should be grouped into four main categories:

1. Acquisition

2. Retention

3. End-of-Life

4. Re-market

“Identifying which customers fit in each of these categories is key to formulating an effective engagement strategy.” 

For best practice actions in each of the above four categories, click here.

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Data and developing superior experiences

For Jon, the question is “as much what editors should not be looking at. Vanity metrics such as pageviews, shares, likes, etc. – these only encourage instant gratification. As I wrote in this article, your dopamine levels are going to see an increase, but your subscriber base won't. 

“More and more, people in the industry are calling for an ‘article score’ that standardises how we measure things like engagement, and at Content Insights we've been developing our Content Performance Indicator (CPI) over almost half a decade now to give editors instant access to precisely that. 

“We're not at all interested in vanity metrics. CPI looks at the relationship between a whole host of metrics, offering editors an instant snapshot of how successful their editorial strategy is, rather than mainlining on real-time data. 

“We're interested only in looking at ways to encourage quality editorial content. I can't think of a better direction (i.e. focusing on quality) to be heading if your intent is to encourage new subscriptions.” 

Katrine sees those understanding and managing data best emerging as winners. “You need data to compete and be relevant. To improve the overall experience and monetise users there are three use cases for developing your real-time, big data strategy:

1. “Personalised publishing

2. “Personalised advertising

3. “Personalised marketing offers such as subs or membership”

Michael points out “customers have increasingly high expectations and therefore are more willing than ever to abandon brand loyalty for something that better suits their needs. Using data from your customers enables you to stay one step ahead of competitors’ customer-loyalty efforts. 

“It is now possible to leverage subscriber analytics to gain knowledge about customers and understand key trends, thereby enabling faster and improved decision-making. 

“These days, crafting a personalised subscription experience requires more than categorising customers into demographics and tracking their usage history. Personalisation shouldn't simply be a reaction to the information you collect – it should be a real-time strategy that compares one customer's preferences to all the rest. 

“For example, by utilising a modern subscription billing service, you can observe the way your customer interacts with your product on a mobile device and send the person a message or promotion when he or she takes a certain action. 

“If a customer explores a trial offer for a new feature, you can send an email offering a discount and highlighting elements of the product they'd enjoy. Your billing solution therefore becomes part of your marketing solution, addressing two problems at once.”

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