Vaibhav Khanna, Head of Product & Subscriptions, at NDTV Profit, (formerly Bloomberg Quint Prime), speaking at our Digital Media India conference in New Delhi in March. 

He offered a peek into how the business and financial news brand has been leveraging data for acquisition, retention and engagement.

“Publishers must learn to balance ad revenue while building a subscription layer through data-backed strategising,” he said.

Must-haves when working with data

“Data is the key to finding the balance between securing subscription revenue and maximising advertising impressions,” said Khanna.

But data alone is not enough.

He listed some often overlooked essentials while working with data:

Purpose: Helpful in tailoring the use of data to fit your specific needs and furthering analyses. For NDTV Profit, data was instrumental in boosting user engagement, and increasing retention. 

Good quality data: Have checks in data. “One of our biggest mistakes was implementing events with unfruitful results simply because we did not have these checks and balances,” he said.

Qualitative data: Important in profiling your subscribers. “It’s not a good move to not have enough qualitative data about your users – their geographical locations, gender, occupation, who they are, etc,” he added.

NDTV Profit has employed a technology stack specifically for data insights, including Google Analytics (for user behaviour and custom events related to subscriptions), moengage (marketing automation and delivery), Looker Studio (for custom dashboards) and Chartbeat (for content).

North Star and other key metrics

Khanna noted that for any organisation to achieve its north star, it is essential to align the editorial product with marketing tactics. 

“The editorial team focuses on formats and content to get people to visit you again and again. Your product team wants to create products that will create habit. The subscription team wants users to subscribe or install the app. So what are your top metrics?” he asked. 

Here are five things that helped NDTV Profit determine the metrics that mattered for them:

Monthly active days: Apart from tracking page views and sessions, it is very important to understand how many days a user was there on your website. For NDTV Profit, the magic number is five. “That means we want our users to visit our website or app five times a month,” he said. 

Logged in or % of known users: This metric is helpful in informing the company how many users really are engaged with and interested in the product. 

“This helps in deciding your subscription funnel,” he said. 

Paywall stop rate: This data tracker is effective in gathering the number of users who are seeing the paywall and improving the paywall strategy. 

Mobile app installs: An important metric in the Indian news media perspective. 

“We have data that shows any user who is a mobile app subscriber is 10x more likely to become a paid subscriber,” he said. 

Newsletter opt-ins: An important medium to build brand loyalty. 

See also: Behind BloombergQuint’s thriving subscription business

Combining data and experimentation

Deciding the best paywall model for acquisition: The key here is experimentation and data analysis, Khanna pointed out.

“There’s no one fit model for everyone. Globally, several publishers are using a metered paywall. In India, a Freemium model works best, but it still might not be the ideal model for your brand,” he added.

At BQ Prime (Now NDTV Profit), the team started with a hybrid approach. Over time, they realised a Freemium model worked better for them.

“We started with a meter of 25, then reduced it to 10, then 5, and eventually three stories,” Khanna said.

Be informed by your audience: Make data-driven decisions to study behaviour patterns of your loyal subscribers, and replicate that for engagement.

Registration data: According to several studies, a registered user is 10-15x more likely to convert to a paying subscriber. 

Khanna stressed the need to understand the journey of loyal subscribers, specifically looking at these questions:

How did they register? 
What was the source of registration? 
Were they an app user? 
Were they a direct user? 
Did they come from social channels? 
What stories are leading to registrations? 

Then, they build a strategy that addresses the answers, he said.

Enhancing a user’s onboarding journey is also crucial. Since the first 7-10 days are the most important during user onboarding, conveying the value of the subscription product is essential, Khanna said. 

Analyse top subscription drivers: Tailor channel strategies to enhance conversions. For NDTV Profit, app users and newsletter subscribers were converting quickly. In 2019-2020, the brand set up a WhatsApp channel with half a million subscribers and witnessed their highest ever conversion rate through the medium. 

“On this channel we shared 3-4 premium stories everyday, in addition to certain free stories. We also communicated why users should subscribe to our product: It paid off,” Khanna said. 

Profile of a likely subscriber

Tracking data has helped the company build a profile of a user who is likely to pay:

Five+ days active: Currently, 80 percent of the financial news channel’s subscribers are active for more than five days every month on the app or the website.

Newsletter sign-ups: A user coming in through a newsletter shows high engagement with more than six to seven pages per session.

Mobile app use: Available on iOS and Android, the app is ad free and personalised according to users’ reading habits. Mapping the different app features has helped the brand discern its most engaged users and build a strategy around it.

Reads multiple categories: Any user perusing more than 3-4 sections is a potential subscriber.

Uses multiple devices: Most of NDTV Profit’s users are active on two devices. The “very heavy” users access the content on more than three devices, and are thus, highly likely to convert to paying subscribers.

Follows multiple authors: If a user bookmarks a lot of articles or follows multiple authors, they qualify as a very engaged user, and are highly likely to subscribe. 

“We treat this segment of users differently than the others, by emailing the users when their favourite authors publish a story. This is an important metric to track because it builds brand loyalty,” said Khanna.

User segmentation for the win

“Slicing and dicing data to create different segments of users and treating each segment differently is key to acquisitions and retention,” said Khanna. 

The company uses the RFV (Recency, Frequency, Volume) and RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetisation) method to split users into segments such as potential loyalists, loyal customers, about to sleep, etc.

“We have certain subscribers who are either ‘about to sleep’ or are ‘hibernating.’ We need a different strategy to tackle these segments and get them back on the app and website,” he said. 

“Even if a publisher does not have access to tools, they can still carry out segmentation through user data – last login, number of sessions, etc., and assign a score for each category,” he added. 

Preemptive action to prevent churn

Rather than waiting for a user to churn out, the brand must be proactive by means of push notifications, emails or WhatsApp, recommended Khanna.

For this purpose, NDTV Profit has combined its strong data analytics team, which creates custom events and metrics – and the engagement team, which chases those metrics.

“We had a loyal user base at BQ Prime. So, when we got acquired by NDTV, we did not see any obvious negative metrics,” he said. 

Khanna added that while they have seen a slight traffic drop after the domain change, they are confident it will bounce back within a few months due to their efforts to inform users about it throughout the process.

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