NRC and Daily Mail share results from personalising emails with JAMES

25 March 2021
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By now, most publishers are convinced about the benefits of using email to engage readers. This is good news for the return of the email, which celebrated its 50 year anniversary last week.

Newspapers across the world are running multiple email newsletters daily, with 60% of publishers running more than 10 daily newsletters. This is a significant investment and more publishers are interested in further uncovering the potential of email.

At Twipe, we have been studying newsletter personalisation and automation for over 4 years through our JAMES project and the JAMES Launch Partner Programme. This week, we hosted our first Future of News webinar for 2021 which focused on Newsletter Automation and Personalisation. Today, we selected some of the key learnings shared during the webinar from analysis and experiments done together with JAMES launch partners, NRC and Daily Mail.

What makes a good email?

One great question that arose during the webinar was simply “What metrics make an email good?“.

The fundamentals of a well performing email campaign are based on email response metrics such as Click Rate” and “Open Rate“. In our work with JAMES, we are looking beyond these email metrics to find out what drives habitual reader behaviour. We have previously discussed the importance of newsletters in building reading habits and why measuring habitual reading is key to the JAMES approach.

Habitual reading is the amount of readers who engage with content on multiple occasions over a period of time. In evaluating JAMES experiments, we look at readers who have interacted with content (on the website, apps or in the edition) for 10 days or more in the past month or 3 days or more in the past week.

But what are good rates for these and what do these figures actually mean?

JAMES Emails have comparable email engagement as best performing emails

Launch Partners have sent over 21 million JAMES personalised emails. Looking at email engagement and interaction, we have seen that the JAMES automated and personalised emails drive significantly higher open and click rates than industry averages.

We used the occasion to further explore the status quo in the industry on the topic of newsletters and personalisation. We sent a survey to all attendees with questions about their best performing newsletters. Based on the responses of 54 publishers from 17 different countries, we were able to see that the best performing newsletters were either niche newsletters (tackling a specific topic, e.g. COVID19) or daily briefings. The average open rate of the best performing newsletters was 41% and the average click rate 14%.

For JAMES emails, we see open rates of 35-50% and click rates of 10-15%. It is interesting and encouraging for our Launch Partners that JAMES newsletters generate comparable email engagement to best performing newsletters in the industry.

JAMES Emails drive habitual reading

Open and Click Rates are measured by most publishers and represent a good benchmark, but the goal of JAMES is to drive an increase in habitual reading.

Habit Formation has been a focus at Twipe for many years. It was also the topic of our last in-person event, the Digital Growth Summit – Habit Forming News Products in Berlin in 2019. Defying the times, in Tuesdays’ webinar, we dared to announced our next Digital Growth Summit. This will hopefully take place in-person in September this year. We will keep you up to date.

After analysing a cohort of 20,000 readers exposed to JAMES emails over a period of 5 months, we saw a 22% increase in habitual reading for exposed cohorts vs non exposed cohorts. This data clearly shows that exposure to JAMES stimulates habitual reading.

Another topic we wanted to study was whether the content within an email causes different engagement rates.

Through JAMES, we expose readers to two types of algorithms: trending algorithms and personalised algorithms. It is important to note that personalisation is based on the JAMES Hybrid v2 © model that selects articles for each individual to be an optimal mix of personalisation and trending.

Interestingly, we saw personalised emails outperforming trending emails with personalised driving a 26% increase in habitual reading. In comparison, trending emails drive 21% in habitual reading. Do you measure evolution of habitual reading in your organisation? Let us know here.

Newsrooms appreciate the diversity of exposed content through personalised emails

Through the pre-webinar survey, we learnt that 91% of attendees’ best performing newsletters are curated editorially. This is not surprising as we know editorial teams have the ultimate responsibility over the news distributed on their platforms.

In a poll ran during the webinar, we found that 33% of publisher’s biggest concerns around newsletter automation came from the newsroom wanting to control content. These concerns can be valid, so within the Launch Partner Programme we worked closely with the editorial teams. They helped to configure the JAMES algorithms throughout the journey to ensure the best selection of articles ended up in front of each reader.

One of the most positive aspects singled out by editorial teams about JAMES emails was the breadth of content distributed.

The JAMES personalised emails exposed 80-90% of all articles from the available content pool to at least one reader each day. This was great to see for the newsroom as the diversity of daily produced articles was highlighted further to readers.

NRC Middag: Among the best performing newsletters at NRC

Luuk Willekins, Digital Project Manager as NRC, joined the webinar to share how NRC leverages the JAMES personalisation technology to increase reader engagement.

NRC joined the JAMES Launch Partner Programme in 2020 wanting to address 3 needs:

  • Automation: Their newsletter process was time consuming.
  • Personalisation: For subscribers who allow reading history.
  • Digital Activation: Strategy for NRC to activate subscribers to engage on digital platforms.

Before starting with JAMES, NRC managed 2 big newsletters and 21 niche newsletters. Through the Launch Partner Programme, we introduced the new, subscriber-only NRC Middag newsletter. With 40,000 subscribers exposed by now, NRC Middag is amongst the best performing emails at NRC, achieving a 50% Open Rate and a 15% click rate. This is higher than the 2 big newsletters. It must noted, however, that while NRC Middag is a subscriber-only newsletter, the other 2 are open to all readers.

When it comes to habitual reading, we see an uplift of 26% of readers showing recurring habitual behaviour after being exposed to the JAMES personalised newsletters.

Despite initial concerns about personalisation mirrored by many in the aforementioned poll results, NRC’s editors have become familiar with the concept of personalisation. The much broader selection of articles presented to each reader has been a huge bonus for the paper.

Daily Mail offers a personalised experience to replica readers

Simon Regan-Edwards, Product Director and Ken Macpherson, Head of Consumer Insights at Daily Mail joined the session to share the results of their work with JAMES.

Daily Mail’s JAMES Partner Programme began with their “Recommended for you” newsletter. Their goal was to drive higher engagement with the daily edition through personalised recommendations.

At 45%, the open rate for the JAMES powered 7am newsletter is well above the 22% UK industry average. It also has an average click rate of 9%, 3 times higher than the UK Media& Publishing benchmark.

Daily Mail has seen a 2x growth on habitual readers amongst digital subscriber cohorts exposed to JAMES Hybrid v2. This growth has been from 4000 to 8000 habitual readers over the course of 5 months. Interestingly, 90% of the growth in habitual readers have engaged with JAMES emails.

Learnings from the JAMES Programme

From these lessons with our JAMES partners, Twipe were able to draw 5 key learnings. Twipe’s Founder and CEO Danny Lein presented these to the audience:

  • Publishers have many newsletters running already, few are automated.
  • Best performing newsletters have above 40% open rate and 14% click rate.
  • JAMES engages readers, achieving open and click rates in line with best performers.
  • JAMES activates readers and helps forms habitual reading.
  • The JAMES Launch Partner Programme offers a Playbook for acceleration and experimentation with personalisation.

We are still looking for a Launch Partner, don’t miss the chance to join us.

These key learnings provided some valuable lessons not only for Twipe and our partners, but for news publishers moving forward with their newsletter strategy.

To keep in touch or for more information on our Future of News work, subscribe to our newsletter.

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