- Kirsten Ballard
Jonathan Utz is an unlikely marketing hero. He studied finance and describes himself as much more of a quantitative-type person.
This stands at odds with the marketing image of Don Draper and catchy slogans. Instead of emotive pleas, Jon leverages his nerdiness to find solutions.
He stumbled into the media industry, with a background in pricing and revenue management, sculpted in the airline industry and at Disney Parks and Resort division.
But when he joined tronc, preserving journalism and getting it to work became his mission.
He sees the biggest challenge in the news industry as getting people to pay for news. It’s the way of the future.
“It can’t be free forever; eventually subscribers will need to pay for news,” he says. “Once we get a lot more data, we will understand what the consumer wants from news and dive into that. For a while it seemed like we should take a click-bait approach to content. That’s not the future. People can see through that. We need to find out what people truly want out of content.”
Two years ago, he started as a pricing analyst. He questioned whether higher-than-Netflix prices were driving away subscribers.
“Instead of just accepting it, we worked with a group to do survey research and I did full-on A/B testing to see what that price point was. We didn’t assume it was too high, but that was our conclusion,” he said. We cut back the pricing to $2 per week. Based on the new model, acquisition volume would accelerate so quickly that both subscribers and total revenue would see an increase.
He also brought the Goldilocks principle to the publisher’s marketing approach. This principle gives the user three choices instead of just two, allowing them to pick the one best suited for their tastes. This saw a higher subscriber conversion.
Recently, he was promoted to Senior Manager of Retention Marketing. He brings an analytical approach to what was typically considered a creative field. “I really believe in data and that the answers are within data and we can solve anything that way,” he says.
He begins his process by challenging the status quo. “Anytime I see a problem, I look for a solution to it, whether it’s an automation tool or insights we didn’t have before,” he says.
He is focusing on retention now, an area where analytics have previously been lacking. He wants to improve transparency and see why some weeks have high churn and others are lower. Eventually, this data will alert them to when subscribers may churn out and the team can step in to mitigate it.
Jon recommends others looking to drill into data start at a high level and then drill down. “Don’t go for the Holy Grail,” he said. “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.”