An Interview with Elissa Tomasetti, VP of Marketing and Audience Development, Financial Times
“We had this idea that not only can we charge, we can change the way we do business to better serve the market at the time.”
In recent years rarely is there a seminar, article, blog or video clip on the topic of newspapers and customers paying for online content that does not mention or feature the Financial Times, one of the world's leading business news and information organizations. In just the past few months, Marketing Sherpa, DM News, Folio, Btobonline and mediapost.com have interviewed Elissa Tomasetti, VP of Marketing and Audience Development, about this topic. Given all the attention to the Financial Times, I had a recent conversation with Ms. Tomasetti about what is driving their marketing achievements.
Q: The Financial Times has been referred to as a "pioneer" in paid content. How long has FT.com been following an online paid model and what accounts for the commitment to walking where few others ventured early on?
A: The Financial Times publishes award winning content that people will pay for. We began charging for content in 2001 and we were the first website to adopt a metered model in 2007. We have a confidence in the quality of our journalism and we believe in its unique value. Our audience is global business executives, financial executives and policy makers; a good fit for paying for high quality content.
We believe in testing and we are empowered to try things. A commitment to innovation is in the DNA of Pearson and the Financial Times.
Our ipad app has over 400,000 downloads, driving 10 percent of our digital subscription acquisition. We actually won an Apple design award. FT is a great company that transformed itself. It's not revolutionary; it's evolutionary. Technology enables us to try things. We had this idea that not only can we charge, we can change the way we do business to better serve the market at the time. The metered model was a response to what was going on in the economy. We wanted flexibility to allow customers to test our content.
Q: As of mid-November, FT.com had three million registered users and digital subscriptions are 189,022, up 50 percent since January 2010. How does FT.com handle renewal of digital subscriptions and what have you learned thus far about the process?
A: We are becoming more sophisticated in the way we interact with our customers so what we are doing is looking at Web analytics in a rigorous and routine manner. With our centralized marketing database we create a digital profile where a subscriber gets rated on recency, frequency and value. And we know how to treat the customers. We have a longer term relationship. We serve communications that will be interesting to them. As a result, we are having a positive impact on customers converting and renewing.
Continuous service is part of the program. Through the use of data we are doing more customization. One to one is a goal. We are still grouping, but we are increasing the personalization. Tools such as Optimost (multivariate testing software) and Idol, (IDOL 'forms a conceptual and contextual understanding of all content in an enterprise, automatically analyzing any piece of information from over 1,000 different content formats and even people's interests') enable us to give the feeling of one to one relationship. [Tomasetti was interviewed in the May 17, 2010 Direct Marketing News that the FT.com propensity model helped improve subscription acquisitions by 63 percent.]
Q: There is often less price sensitivity with company paid subscriptions versus individual. How does that factor into price testing with your online/digital subscriptions? Also, can you talk about the previous online model ... get 10 articles free before being asked to register, after register they are awarded 30 more articles then asked to pay an annual subscription?
FT policy for pricing is protected and regulated. It's a priority for the company. We don't care if the subscription is corporate or individual or what platform is used. Our mobile and iPad connects into our metered model. If you are registered or subscribe to FT.com, you can have the same relationship on the ipad or iphone as the site. The customer experience is seamless. Once you have typed in your password, you download the free application, you are forever recognized as that person.
Regarding movement of the gateway and subscriptions, this is something we are constantly evaluating. Earlier in our experience with our metered model, we placed the barriers at 10 and 30. However, when we tested moving registration, the number went from 10 down to one or zero. People don't mind providing information. We have a shorter registration form then we gain more information throughout the life cycle of the customer.
Q: Various press articles report that FT is on track to deliver one-third of revenues from online/digital content and products by 2012. Data sets and analytics are referenced as being very important to your growth with 20 percent of new digital subscriptions every week sourced to data driven campaigns. What advice can you give to publishers about data collection and CRM (average revenue per user) as they plan and test paid content online?
A: What I can say is that we found that integrating our databases is a big project and we are moving from a database management position to a database warehouse position, which will more easily allow for a single view of the customer within the FT group. We appreciate that challenge for other publishers. The easier that you can view the customers full relationship within the organization, the better. We have not achieved nirvana yet, but we have done a great deal of work with this.
Our digital products are treated as a suite. Conferences and other products are marketed separately. Subscribers can receive communications from us that promote and upsell non-digital products and events.
Q: In closing, building out additional content channels has been mentioned by FT.com as next steps. Can you share anything about the process of vetting/testing new channels?
A: I would compare FT.com to Internet retailers and how they test and vet things. They take small samples and then roll out. We test based on appropriateness for our premium audience.
We are focused on the mobile tablet and e-reader offerings. It's a natural fit and it opens up new audiences. On November 1 we announced HTML5 application for the Samsung Galaxy tablet. This is an important test for us. Other products and services that require HTML5 will be where you see us testing. We are quite excited about this channel right now.
Innovation is at the heart of FT values and we have lots of products that we have launched recently:
- Fundfire Wealth: A digital service for US investment and personal advisors;
- SchemeXpert: A service targeted to pension fund members and trustees;
- China Confidential Funds: a new service, targeted at financial customers, covering the Shanghai stock exchange;
- FDi intelligence hub;
- FTAdviser.com Canary Towers, a new social networking community for financial intermediaries;
- FT Tilt - a start up premium subscription service on emerging markets from the team that brought you Alphaville (launching Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011);
- FT Chinese mobile.
We are using data and identifying audiences in their more niche forms with ethos and rigor. We are never going to let up. Leadership is not a position that we take lightly. What we are doing requires a combination of the right talent and the values in terms of dedication to testing and analytics. There is a real entrepreneurial spirit at the Financial Times.
The Financial Times introduced a United States edition in 1997 and in 13 years they have established a high profile brand aligned with high quality content with an international perspective and high-income subscribers. Clear vision driven by management, an integrated marketing database, and a commitment to innovation that serves their audience has resulted in delivering a product and performance that excels.
Lou Ann Sabatier has 35 years of experience in the publishing industry. Ms. Sabatier has been deeply involved in all aspects of publishing; including strategic planning,business development, business and financial management, audience development, advertising sales, digital media and operations management. Currently Ms. Sabatier is Principal at Sabatier Consulting and Communications Director of 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.