Allison Banko

Web Optimization: How The Boston Globe used customer insight to test value proposition

February 14th, 2014

The time period just before you dive into testing can feel like peering into a beehive. While the hive is abuzz with activity, the commotion seems overwhelming and, perhaps, a little dangerous.

What should you be paying attention to? Where do you even start?

In a testing and optimization program, test plans seek to give you order, helping to communicate what you’re trying to accomplish and when you’re going to take action. For The Boston Globe, testing certainly had the potential to get messy.

At Optimization Summit 2013, the media giant unveiled that it ran more than 20 tests to help market its new digital access website,

But The Globe had to start somewhere.

The news hub was already armed with an established print subscription base which helped direct the brand’s evolution digitally. In this excerpt of the presentation, “Boston Globe: Discovering and optimizing a value proposition,” Peter Doucette, Executive Director of Circulation, Sales & Marketing, The Boston Globe, provides us a deeper look into the development of the company’s  testing plan.

“We’re managing this total consumer business, but it’s also about understanding the unique groups, the unique segments,” Peter explained. “Building this knowledge of our customer base kind of set the stage for how we went about testing.”


Peter told Pamela Markey, Senior Director of Marketing, MECLABS, that the team utilized customer lifestyle stages as the “foundation” to build testing and optimization, as understanding the differences between its print and digital audiences was key.

Testing was formed around the following customer lifecycle stages and goals:

  • (Potential) prospects — attract
  • Prospects — engage
  • New customers — convert
  • High-value customers — grow
  • At-risk customers — retain
  • Former customers — win back

“We think about customers, where they are in that cycle and then that naturally bleeds into, ‘OK, so we know we have to target customers in this stage. What are we going to do? What’s the biggest opportunity? How quickly can we go to market?’” Peter asked.

With the stages of the customer lifecycle serving as the where to test, all aspects of the customer experience dictated what The Globe would test:

  • Assets converting the most subscriptions
  • The checkout process
  • Price
  • Incentive pricing
  • Value proposition
  • Email and push communications
  • Offers through social channels
  • Lead nurturing

All of the above are part of, and related to, where the customer is in their journey with the brand, Peter added. In the end, The Boston Globe developed more than 20 tests for its digital access conversion funnel and 12 tests for the home delivery conversion funnel.

However, it all began with the starting point of finding the foundation for a testing plan.

The Boston Globe’s testing plan reaped sweet results by generating more than $3 million in incremental revenue. But that’s not to say The Globe embarked on this journey without feeling the sting of failure a few times along the way. After all, some of the best testing involves discovering more about your customers while learning your deficiencies in the process.

For more on The Boston Globe’s testing and optimization, watch the full free session from Optimization Summit 2013 to learn about:

  • Creating opportunities in a changing marketplace
  • Empowering business owners to become experienced testers
  • Processes and results for four detailed tests of varying scales
  • And much more


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