Google Digital Immersion Week: The importance of knowing your readers

The looming ‘cookiepocalypse’, which will see Google remove all third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by late 2023, has focused the minds of publishers when it comes to knowing more about their readers. With the media industry prioritising the collection and usage of first-party data, the Google Digital Immersion Week, in partnership with FT Strategies and FIPP, explored ways to set up an effective persona strategy.

Joining Sammi Marwan, Principal at FT Strategies, on the second day of the five-day course for operational managers in magazine media, was Martha Williams, the CEO of World Newsmedia Network, who stressed the importance of publishers identifying and fully understanding the personas who consume their content, whether it’s a ‘Suit and Tie’,  ‘Inquisitive Professional’ or ‘Headline Skimmer’.

Martha Williams and Sammi Marwan

“It’s foundational to our future to understand each and every user we have in an individual way,” she said. “It will help you retain them, you can engage them more you can even monetise them, because you know more about them, you know what they want,” she said.

“With third-party data being phased out now, it’s incumbent upon all of us in this industry to, if you haven’t already, make it a priority this year to build a first-party data strategy. You don’t want to rely on others to give you cookies and information about your users.”

A platform to launch from

A persona strategy starts with a data platform, which many publishers already have. Data can be collected from a media brand’s website, apps, paywall, ad server or anything offline, like print subscriptions.

“All of that can be adjusted and normalised and processed, so that it can be read together and used to its fullest,” said Williams. “Then you apply the predictive modeling, the artificial intelligence, to that so that you can analyse it and slice it and dice it depending on your personas.

“The final step in this process is for you to have a dashboard so you can look at this data and, let’s say, create a new product to target women who golf in warm weather places, because that who one of your advertisers wants to target. It’s not unusual for advertiser to ask for specific audiences and you will be able to sift through all of your information to find those needles in haystacks.”

It is really important to find out what floats the boat of your personas to convert them to be paying subscribers.

Martha Williams

In identifying different personas, publishers will be able to collect environmental types of data. For instance, you can determine what device users came in on, where they are being referred from (social or search), what region they are from and what time of the day they are coming in. Publishers will be also able to determine what kind of articles they are accessing and what kind of propensity they have to subscribe.

So, there might be a ‘Leisure Seeker’ – a young woman who comes in on her mobile usually in the afternoons, and is really interested in sports, but represents low ad value because she doesn’t live in the local area.

Or there could be a ‘Suits and Ties’ person who loves to go to events, and even though they are not in the area, provides high ad value because of his or her wealth.

Publishers can use analytics firms like Mather Economics to dissect the people coming into websites and apps, identifying a spectrum of the least to the most engaged.

“The most engaged are the fanatics and those are the people you want to serve on a silver platter,” Williams pointed out. “You want to give them everything to keep them because they represent the highest lifetime value that you can get. But enthusiasts and stable users are also very much engaged.”

By analysing the type of content certain personas seek out, publishers can find new ways to reach and retain their readers. “You can say, OK maybe what I should be doing is creating a newsletter or an event about world nation topics that are of interest to my most valuable customers,” said Williams. “Maybe that’s what I should be investing in right now.

“It is really important to find out what floats the boat of your personas to convert them to be paying subscribers.”

It comes down to teamwork

A prime example of how to run a successful persona strategy is the South China Morning Post who, after being bought up by e-commerce platform Alibaba in 2015, purchased a large data platform and on it, built a registration data collection tool called Lighthouse. It took three years for SCMP to develop six personas by first getting users to sign up to newsletters and then log in to surveys, quizzes and polls so they can collect first-party data.

SCMP went the extra mile by actually talking to these cohorts in person after they developed the profiles to corroborate the information and make sure that they were accurate.

The insights that were gathered were used across SCMP. The marketing department launched acquisition, retargeting and retention campaigns to increase user engagement with custom messaging to specific personas.

A persona strategy as a cross-functional mission throughout an entire organisation.

Martha Williams

The editorial department developed content around specific persona types, while the product development department customised their user funnels and experiences for each persona group so users could have more relevant experiences. The advertising department was able to provide partners and advertisers with deeper insights so they could target certain groups.

“A persona strategy as a cross-functional mission throughout an entire organisation,” said Williams. “This is not an editorial function, this is not a marketing function, this is not an advertising function and not a product function – it’s all of the above, and more.” she said. “Everyone gets involved with developing this persona strategy.”

Food for thought

To illustrate how advertising revenue has been generated and products have been created on the back of information for specific persona groups, Williams turned to the Meredith Corporation. The largest magazine media company in America reaches around 85 per cent of all women in America with their 40 products. The publisher has 36 million magazine subscribers – and all the data that goes with that. For its digital products Meredith also has a 12,000-term taxonomy database on its users.

“They have deep rich information that they use for monetisation purposes and for product development,” said Williams. “They have created a targeted media ad network which leverages all of this data. It has generated $100 million in revenues for targeted advertising, because they know their customers so well.”

To help with product development, Meredith has a great deal of information about their mostly-women users, including usage patterns, psychographics and demographics. In analysing the data, the company determined there were “content deserts” that needed to be addressed, like reaching more Hispanic American women.

To rectify this, Meredith created a series of new online TV food shows for different personas of women in May this year, including one for Hispanic woman called Pastries with Paola for the publisher’s Food & Wine magazine.

“They’ve been very successful with this so far – it’s very monetisable on OTT,” said Williams. “It’s a great example of thinking of revenue-making in a different way by targeting audiences.”

Williams acknowledged that many publishers would be moving from a model dependant on advertising to a data-seeking subscription business with some trepidation.

“To some degree there’s a fear factor when you start and it’s something that you have to get over,” she said. “But once you start reading about the vast successes of so many media companies in the subscription realm you’ll quickly get over it, because the fact is that the magazine world is way behind and now you have to play catch-up.”


Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x