The Times, however, decided to leverage the power of machine learning to crack the mystery of audience engagement and brand loyalty.
Their AI-powered tool JAMES, which stands for Journey Automated Messaging for Higher Engagement through Self-Learning, uses data to get to know the habits, interests, and preferences of readers, acting as a digital butler.
JAMES analyses user habits, such as whether they prefer to receive a newsletter with or without pictures, what content they engage with and when they are most likely to open a newsletter and click on a link.
Harvesting a mountain of data is not enough though, as it is virtually impossible for a human to work out what to do with it. So The Times partnered with the software company Twipe two years ago, and now it is starting to see the first measurable success brought about by its digital butler.
"For the first time we have been able to harness the power of machine learning into AI to deliver the right content to the right customers at the right time — on their terms," said Mike Migliore, head of customer value at News UK.
Thanks to this personalisation, added Migliore, the readers see more value in their subscription and are less likely to cancel it.
The technology has so far been used on 300,000 readers, including 117,000 subscribers, to distribute editorial content. One of the key findings of this experiment is that 70 per cent of subscribers in the trial interacted with JAMES, either by opening or clicking on the newsletter.
In the subscriber group, the number of subscription cancellations (churn) was reduced by 49 per cent. This was particularly efficient with low- or medium-engagement subscribers.
"At The Times and The Sunday Times our editorial coverage is data-informed rather than data-led," said Alan Hunter, head of digital, The Times and The Sunday Times.
"Journalists and editors choose what we cover and how we cover it but the process has evolved and JAMES complements our approach. Subscribers trust our editorial judgment and focus on quality reporting and analysis, and JAMES helps serve them more of what they like."
Danny Lein, founder and CEO of Twipe, added that the key interest of JAMES is habit-building in readers, with AI providing a trigger for the audience to pick up the digital paper.
“Just like an ideal butler,” said Lein, “JAMES observes you, remembers where, when and how you like your news to be served and then does it for you without you even noticing."
Free daily newsletter
- The state of information in global newsrooms: tools and tech on the rise, but digital not the answer to everything
- Sponsored content: Using AI to break news faster
- Q&A: Lyndsey Jones, executive editor at the Financial Times on what you will need to succeed in the newsroom of the 2020
- Tool for journalists: Credder, for ranking credible and non-credible articles
- How four European publishers experiment with new tools to grow their audience