CMO50 2016: #25: Michael Laxton

  • Name Michael Laxton
  • Title Director of customer marketing and growth
  • Company Fairfax Media
  • Commenced role November 2014
  • Reporting Line Director, customer and subscriptions
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 4 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Media and entertainment
  • 2015 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Over the past 18 months, Fairfax’s Michael Laxton has worked to realigned business processes to ensure the media owner’s end customer – its audience – is at the centre of all activity programs.

    At the customer-facing end, this is being reflected in a new marketing strategy for its main mastheads. But it’s repositioning the marketing department in the Fairfax publishing division to become the customer marketing team that was a foundational step in helping obtain end-to-end ownership of the customer. This was supported with restructuring the team so every member owns the customer journey before or after conversion, Laxton says.

    Today, there are only two key team objectives: Pay and stay. “All strategies must now align with the key customer sentiment: Why would I pay, and why would I stay?” he says. “This has resulted in comprehensive customer journey planning across all channels, and understanding the customer need at each point.”

    On top of this, Laxton has introduced Net Promoter Score (NPS) as part of an ongoing pre- and post-campaign reviews program, reflected as a performance qualifier. Fairfax has also created end-to-end ownership within the customer advocacy team, he says.

    Through all of this change, the key attribute Laxton is looking to foster across the marketing function is 100 per cent customer centricity, “be that in the customer experience, the customer value proposition or how we contribute to our customers’ daily lives”.

    From the CMO50 submission:

    Innovative marketing

    Since the paywall subscription strategy for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age was launched in 2013, Fairfax Media had – like most other global publishers – become hooked on a mix of limited-time offers and value-add promotions, Laxton says. This had left the business with two key issues: Profitability and attrition.

    In October 2015, the challenge was to create a sustainable subscription model and deliver revenue growth. For Laxton, that came down to one fundamental objective: Resetting the value equation between reader and their subscription.

    “We had to move the conversation back to the content to create a sustainable marketing platform, and we needed to return to full price to mitigate customer churn through price fluctuations,” he says. “Finally, we needed to deliver profitability with every new subscription start. Commercial, product and editorial stakeholders all had to be engaged, as the value proposition, technology roadmap and content positioning would all need to support the new pricing model and realignment to our core quality journalism direction.”

    The ‘Independent News For Independent Thinkers’ campaign was launched in February 2016 and immediately resonated in market, capturing audiences by posing balanced questions on significant current events. Laxton says his team created a real- time path to purchase, incorporating high-impact digital outdoor which introduced daily headlines rotated every four hours.

    This was expanded upon in press, display and social channels. Personalisation tools and browser analytics then allowed the team to customise the readers’ acquisition journey, creating personalised paywalls and tailored benefit bundles.

    Helping deliver this was the introduction of a ‘Daily Headlines’ component to the campaign. Before 9am, the marketing team would confer with senior copywriters from WiTH Collective to formulate alternative takes on that morning’s lead articles. Potential headlines were circulated for approval, run through the design team and despatched to multiple outdoor media placements across NSW and VIC by 11am.

    Social and digital display creatives were updated and live by midday, creating a comprehensive multi-channel approach for the campaign, Laxton says. These efforts also demonstrated how marketing could successfully leverage the news agenda to drive engagement and conversion objectives.

    Empowered business thinking

    The launch of the ‘Independent News For Independent Thinkers’ (INFIT) campaign also created a framework for the editorial teams to redefine how quality journalism was surfaced digitally to the group’s most engaged and loyal readers: Subscribers.

    “The need to focus on breaking news and news updates in our digital products often presents challenges when driving the perception of quality. Subscribers had long been commenting on the divergence between the print product – where stories can be laid out contextually, where readers can feel like they have ‘read’ the news – and our digital properties, which can drive information fatigue and reader caution around news hierarchy,” Laxton explains.

    Marketing worked with the editorial team on using the INFIT marketing strategy to develop a new content play for subscribers, where marketing could help deliver the perception of value through quality content curation, and editorial could extend – and prioritise – quality journalism without the pressures of the ever-changing homepage.

    This led to the birth of ‘Subscriber First’, an exclusive, curated content experience on the main masthead sites behind a subscriber login. Subscriber First is also a key component in the print to digital migration for the subscriber audience, creating the newspaper experience of an edition‐based format and giving subscribers a permanent home to experience the content we know they enjoy and value, Laxton says.

    Data- and technology-driven approach

    As advertising incomes continue to contract across the industry, more targeted, data-driven marketing practices are required to reach qualified audiences with a propensity to pay.

    To achieve optimal and cost-effective conversion of prospective subscribers, Laxton has introduced an engagement model across the entire subscriber conversion funnel, a first for Fairfax Media. To drive the most effective ROI across digital channels, marketing needed to identify prospects with the highest propensity to subscribe.

    For owned channels, the team used behavioural analytics to identify users with high levels of content consumption as a key engagement indicator for subscription propensity. To drive conversion, it then used personalisation tools to add a further level of targeting across paywall and bundle page creatives, Laxton explains.

    For paid channels, Fairfax used active subscriber onsite engagement characteristics to build look-a-like audiences and target highly qualified prospects across programmatic display, Facebook, Instagram and Adwords. This was then used to build a similar audience framework to build out an extensive retargeting program.

    Fostering team capabilities

    From the outset, five distinct teams were responsible for subscription revenue: Acquisition, retention, engagement, digital performance and loyalty. In December 2015, Laxton merged these groups into a single unit. This key decision made everyone accountable for the whole conversion funnel, and has allowed for cross-functional development as teams now have the opportunity to influence the entire customer journey, he says.

    Simultaneously, restructuring was undertaken to expand skillsets in the loyalty team. To further develop cross-functional capabilities, commercial objectives workshops have been implemented in the planning phase of all new customer initiatives. Target audiences, channel mix, budget, target results/ROI and customer impacts are all discussed.

    “Early agreement on what is required of each team member improves communication and creates a shared responsibility for progress, and allows for consistent metrics to be reported on to demonstrate success,” Laxton says. “Post-campaign reviews create opportunities to reflect on optimisation, efficiencies and to build out test-and-learn objectives for the next piece of activity.”

    With each additional project, team members are rotated across each Fairfax masthead. This builds out strategic, marketing and commercial capabilities, and reinforces the use of data and reporting to create success.

    “Customers access and utilise our products very differently as millennials become the dominant customer segment, and therefore agile methods for continuing professional development are becoming ever more important,” Laxton adds.


    Laxton admits working for brands which are 185 years old can pose creativity challenges for marketing teams, as the customer will feel they ‘own’ the brand as much as the staff will. To deliver a compelling, successful marketing strategy at Fairfax Media, creativity must be both the idea and the approach, he says.

    He points to the INFIT campaign as a case in point. This was borne out of the key business requirement to refocus its in-market messaging to quality content and the role the mastheads play in New South Wales and Victorian communities.

    “The creativity had to come into how we would communicate our rationale and purpose in our readers’ lives – independent journalism, independent thought, being informed – while still being relevant and on-brand,” Laxton says.

    “We knew we had to start with what our readers love the most: Our content. We used data analytics as the basis for our creative workshops, looking at what was most read and how often certain site sections were engaged with.

    “From this, we had our overarching topics and needed to introduce engagement: We decided controversy – mixed with balanced questions – would create the response we need to pull the reader into the conversion funnel.”

    With data and engagement rationale now forming part of our everyday creativity planning, the final piece for Laxton is channel planning. The team is running workshops where ideas are broken down to the channel level to ensure the customer experience is both consistent and compelling.

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