We all have our preferences when it comes to watching TV, films, or sports. From the sporting club or country you follow to your opinion on ‘Friends,’ entertainment is a source of diverse and strong opinions. For a media conglomerate such as Warner Bros. Discovery, delivering personalization across communications channels is a vital step to driving engagement. And that includes everything from a binge-worthy mini-series to a box-office match.
Warner Bros. Discovery has been on a journey to create email personalization across its digital divisions. Beginning with its television network Eurosport, Warner Bros. Discovery quickly secured huge improvements in email clickthrough and engagement. With this proof-of-concept secured, it moved on to roll out similar personalization for entertainment on Discovery+:
Open rate for Eurosport spiked by 72%
Users with higher engagement were retained 20% higher than those with lower engagement
The discovery+ show ‘Love in the Jungle’ secured a 51% increase in CTR vs average CTR for show launches.
Pier Spagna, VP of Customer Marketing, Warner Bros. Discovery describes the email personalization journey for Eurosport, Discovery+, and beyond.
Eurosport: The personalization proof of concept
It is challenging to think of something that universally drives as much personal emotion as sports. From football to Olympic fencing, the affinity built between fans and their chosen sport, athlete, club, or country is like no other.
This means communications teams must carefully personalize sports-centric content. Generic, one-size-fits-all emails alienate enthusiastic fans and fail to capture attention. Spagna elaborates on why Eurosport was the perfect experiment for email personalization.
“Sport is such a personal thing. It is not like simple entertainment. People watch sports with passion, so we cannot provide a generic set of communications. Being informative is not enough, we need to personalize to move people.”
“We cannot make mistakes, like commenting on the wrong thing on the wrong results. Also, it’s constantly changing. Every moment, something happens in sports. It’s not like a movie that gets delivered and it’s done. It needs to be dynamic.”
Selecting personalization fields
Warner Bros. Discovery had to identify the right fields for personalization. And no, we aren’t talking about Camp Nou or Fenway Park. As Spagna states, sports are constantly changing, so finding the right components to personalize was vital in boosting engagement.
“First of all, we started with calendars. We looked at the events coming up subscribers had previously been engaging with. From there, we moved into highlighting specific leaderboards. So, for the team the recipient was following, we would highlight the performance and the position of the team in their table.”
“Now, we’ve reached the point where we run email personalization based on local heroes who represent the sporting team that each cohort was following.”
These personalization fields are timely and tap into the emotion fueling the fans’ interest in the given sport. For a sporting event as vast and complex as the Olympics, this challenge only scaled up.
“The Olympics serves such an enormous number of fans. There are so many sports, and so many countries, we needed to be sure that we didn’t focus communications on events that didn’t interest them. For example, if we could measure and see a fan was only consuming the volleyball, we didn’t need to email them about the basketball or the track and field.”
“That was our peak in terms of personalization, as things were moving so fast. If an athlete they had been following was about to start a race or win a match, we had to deliver that message at exactly the right time.”
Complex data made pretty
Moreover, for the Winter Olympics, it delivered real-time email updates on the Medals Table based on the nationality of the recipient.
“We created a single block of content that saved the team huge amounts of manual work. This meant they could focus on other areas to enhance the Winter Olympics experience. It involved automation in 7 languages and regionalization to show the four top countries, the fifth slot to show the country the viewer was based in.”
As well as being a potentially award-winning move (having just received a Digiday Award nomination for Best Use of Data), the Winter Olympics Medals Table campaign saved 75% in production time.
Eurosport results and lessons
With the help of technology partner Movable Ink, Warner Bros. Discovery was able to create and deliver highly personalized email communications that tapped into the emotion and passion of sports fans.
As with most email communications, tracking and measuring open rate and engagement was a core performance indicator. When Warner Bros. Discovery moved from merely informing subscribers about events to empowering their passion for sports, it saw a huge spike in engagement. Its email open rate increased by 72%, from 25% to 43%. Spagna reflects on what worked, and what didn’t.
“Communications about the schedule didn’t generate so much of a spike. But what gave us a huge boost in open rate was emails with personalized content about games or performances we knew they were interested in. Commenting on these specific events or moments aligned much more to what the subscribers had been watching, and what they wanted to consume.”
Timeliness was another crucial lesson. Warner Bros. Discovery quickly realized it had to become much faster at delivering email personalization. It focused heavily on communicating as events were going on to avoid information becoming outdated.
Scaling email personalization to Discovery+
The successful boosts in open rate and engagement were proof of concept that this level of email personalization was now imperative for Warner Bros. Discovery. Eurosport could no longer revert to simple, generic email communications. Moreover, it could use this case study to begin scaling email personalization to other services under the Warner Bros. Discovery umbrella. This included personalizing email communications on Discovery+.
Once again, Warner Bros. Discovery quickly realized the importance of communicating only about the shows people had consumed and cared about, as opposed to the entirety of the TV schedule, as Spagna describes.
“We made sure that we delivered personalized emails based on the shows people found interesting. Unlike a sports fan who knows when their team, or other teams, are playing, we needed to remind entertainment viewers of the schedule for their shows.”
“Most email personalization was based on informing people when new episodes of their favorite shows were being released.”
Moreover, Warner Bros. Discovery discovered people were following specific actors or characters. Accordingly, it based communications around actors or characters, automatically sending pushes to users when a new episode or show featuring that talent was live. It saw substantial engagement from its fans with email communications about specific actors.
From personalization to gamification
Another impactful aspect of the email communication for Discovery+ was a gamified ‘scratch and reveal’ campaign for the show launch of ‘Love in the Jungle’. This email saw a 51% increase in click-through rate compared with the average click-through rate for Discovery+ show launches.
“The scratch reveal was a wonderful example. Users could reveal the new cast for the show by interactively scratching away to see the participants underneath. It was a simple tweak, but people engage with gamification like this, rather than just having the information thrown at them.”
It has also run similarly personalized emails for fans of “The Last of Us,” where a torch could be moved around a dark email to reveal when the next episode would be streaming.
How email personalization has impacted show performance
As a streaming platform, Discovery+ must see its users return to view further episodes of the shows. In such a clustered market as they compete with the likes of Netflix, Apple TV, and Disney+, primary KPIs include engagement rate, churn, and win-back rate. Secondary KPIs include dual viewership, upgrades/downgrades, and unsubscribe rates.
Whilst spikes in engagement showed the power of email personalization to turn viewers on to a particular show, Warner Bros. Discovery also needed to tie its communications strategy to business goals.
“What we want is people to keep coming back and watching the show. And we saw that the people that were engaging the most with our comms were those that were the had the highest competition rate when watching the show. We built that bridge between what we were communicating via email and seeing these users engaged every time there was a new episode.”
Warner Bros. Discovery saw the impact of personalized communications on engagement with its Eurosport platform and replicated this success on Discovery+. It has now realized the correlation between email engagement and viewer retention across two vastly different networks.
As the Warner Bros. Discovery merger continues to take shape, with plans to combine Discovery+ and HBO Max into a single streaming service, email personalization will continue to be a vital part of the communications plan.
“Once we saw that there was a connection between engagement with our communication and the retention rate, we can apply that to all the other brands, whether it’s Discovery+ or with HBO Max coming under the umbrella.”
“How do we replicate the same level of engagement on a completely different platform? It was certainly a challenge moving from sports, where the viewership is very passionate, to Discovery+ as more of a light touch. Finding ways to personalize communications, be that with the tried and tested fields like specific actors, or new outcomes, will be the challenge.”
Moreover, there are plans in the works to extend personalization far beyond email campaigns and to apply the same principles to product features, to compete with the likes of Netflix. The proof-of-concept work with email personalization will guide this strategy.
“It’s easy to test and implement personalization fields on channels like emails or push notifications. But that’s just the beginning of this journey. You need to be able to build a connection with your product team. Make sure the product team can apply your learnings to the platform itself.”
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