The catalyst for Affino’s involvement with The Stage was a scenario with which we at Affino are all too familiar. One where organisations traditionally end up wrestling with too many disparate platforms; where far too much of the daily effort is simply going towards maintaining the running and integration of all those systems, rather than moving things forward and capitalising on the strength of content and services that are at the core of the proposition. So some of the key drivers were consolidation and optimisation, but towards delivering a smarter, more engaging, more automated and full service fidelity solution.
For a company established in 1880 – still owned and operated by the same family - there were always going to be a lot of legacy constructs and data that needed consolidating, and Affino had to stand up to rigorous scrutiny by each of four key departments at The Stage - Commercial, Development, Editorial and Marketing - in order to secure the project.
The key concerns of the Commercial Team were to be able to fully consolidate the Subscriptions, Renewals and Financial Services and Reporting - where the constituent legacy components were 3 different payment providers and 5 different platforms containing the subscription and financial data - all with separate data sets with varying amounts of structure.
For Development, it was a matter of simplification and streamlining, and putting in place a more robust and reliable overall solution - as a disproportionate amount of time and effort was simply going into maintaining all the integrations and interactions between the different systems and trying to ensure that everything ran sufficiently smoothly on a day-to-day basis.
The Editorial Team in many ways took the main lead on the initial part of the project - focused towards improving the surfacing, showcasing, optimising, and maximising of the value and impact of their exceptional content. The project would involve a major migration from free text to structured and fully Taxonomy and Search Index ascribed content. A key part also would be the design look-and-feel - with a view to building the most immersively contextual and engaging interface that best connected readers and members to their preferred interest streams.
Marketing needed to satisfy the maximum lifetime value of the articles, reviews and content, with seamless interaction and automation of messaging and emails, SEO and Analytics - all with tight management of audience data bound by full GDRP compliance.
So Affino was appointed to consolidate disparate systems and data, and migrate to richer and more structured content – whilst fully rationalising all existing data points and interactions. There was a significant focus on reducing unnecessary maintenance overheads - both of systems and content distribution - but most importantly concerning all elements of total subscriptions fulfilment. The Stage had evolved a highly detailed and rich tapestry of content and a key task was to improve connectivity and interactivity between members and their preferred content streams.
This project involved a large number of category experts on both sides. Principal Affino commercial leads CEO Markus Karlsson and CCO Jonathan Collins liaised with The Stage’s SLT throughout the process and were key to capturing the overall brief and requirements. Head of Affino Projects Susan Kerrigan and Product Director Quang Luong coordinated Affino Resources in the main - which touched on nearly every Affino staff member. The very substantial Design and Site Implementation work was carried out and coordinated by Affino's highly dynamic Design and Build team led by Mark Foster and Luismi Montiel. While for The Stage - principal coordination was handled by Rachel Scott (Head of Marketing), Alistair Smith (Editor), Simon Hassell (Commercial Director) and The Stage's Development Leads - Tom Brooke and Hayden Shaw. Hundreds of man hours were expended towards ensuring the very best outcome.
A significant part of the coordination was in the area of Data Consolidation, Cleanup, Conversion, Mapping and Migration - for which certain final iteration refinements have largely drawn to a close. There was a significant need to consolidate the data from the three payment engines - GoCardless, SagePay and Stripe and get to a singular uniform data set for users / members and their full subscription details.
The intricate Design Process with a particular focus on Interface Design also took up considerable amounts of coordination to arrive at the ideal framework. This framework provided the rigorous structure for all the different content types and data points, as well as an inherent degree of flexibility and fluidity, and all optimised for all devices and form factors. There is always a fine trade-off between efficiency, productivity and flexibility. And at this stage of the project, time was taken to ensure that what the solution delivered matched the publication’s needs.
Much of the hard graft went into ensuring the most efficient and effective subscription services - which delivered across the necessary financial disciplines and provided fully accurate reporting and analysis to the level of detail desired. Much was done to significantly improve and automate every part of the subscriptions signup, renewals and fulfilment cycle - where multiple enhancements were added and implemented throughout the project.
Affino prides itself on its immersive collaboration - where we in effect have become a natural extension for The Stage Team - always within easy reach and dialogue almost as if we were internal to that organisation. This was a massive undertaking all-round with frequent moments of smart ingenuity and serendipity leading to the optimum solution.
The project kicked off in March 2019, with the site launching around 12 months later in April of 2020. This may seem like a lengthy project, but is actually rather remarkable considering how much was achieved in those 12 months.
The format of this case study is insufficient to convey the entirety of the project with all its interwoven and overlapping tasks and thus we will concentrate on the key highlights.
We are approaching it from a birds-eye view in how someone might approach the new website themselves. The first thing that becomes immediately evident is the rich immersive nature of the site interface and framework and its consistent look and feel throughout. Each of the key landing pages and Hubs, including the Home Page of the site contain over 100 items of precision-targeted content, including inline unblockable Ads - all automatically arranged by content categories and Topic Channels - which pull in content for that particular content stream from across every part of the site.
If you select 'Dance' for instance - you will see all the recent and most popular reviews, features, opinion-pieces, news stories and highlights, production details, jobs and castings - pertaining to that Interest Stream / Topic. This is the essence of what we at Affino refer to as 'Full Service Fidelity' where everything is served up fully natively and seamlessly through the core Affino platform.
As you engage with the content you are presented with different layouts depending on context, and where for instance Reviews can be arranged in 3 formats - static header, scrolling gallery, or parallax scrolling page. Each Production feature has 89 possible attributes and is automatically related to contacts and companies by a smart new Contact/Account Related Design Element. While the next phase of developed will introduce more contextual linking - leading to an easy flow in following individual actors, technical and back-stage personnel and their relevant productions and companies across the site.
As soon as you click on a feature you will notice the Metering / Engagement Wall takes effect with an onscreen prompt to Register for 3 free articles per month, or else subscribe for unlimited access. Clicking through to Subscriptions provides you with the 3 main subscription options - Web Only, Digital Edition, or all-inclusive 'Print Edition'. Affino triggers further smart actions off each of those options whereby catalogue groups are combined to present the different payment options - Card or DD, Annual, Monthly or Quarterly - that then syncs with the relevant payment engine for that service - either GoCardless (DD) or Stripe (CC), Affino also accommodates legacy SagePay subscriptions which can be transitioned to GoCardless or Stripe by the customer - the next time they renew their subscription.
We've mentioned that a considerable amount of work has been done in the area of Subscriptions - properly automating every part of that solution from single-signup through to fulfilment and renewals and recovery automation, and providing the most precise reporting and analysis possible - including Deferred Income and Subscription Expiry. Affino handles a variety of sales processes, including direct back-office pro forma selling through to full website fulfilment with gifting, and a variety of different options and packages. And we rolled out a new Promotions Channel type, taking from the best commercial references in that area, which empowers Affino admins to set up the most engaging environment for encouraging online subscription sign-ups.
Hand-in-hand with all of this is Affino's essential messaging and email-notifications system which sits with all of Affino's transactional and interactive abilities and fully automates messages, newsletter and notifications while auto-populating from site content and activities.
A highly structured Taxonomy with pertinent Attributes has been assigned to all content, where the SEO, Search Engine and Meta Data components of Affino were all enhanced and extended during the project to afford more granularity and precision in targeting and discovery.
From an Affino Structural point of view The Stage consists of 137 Design Objects, 84 Channels, 32 Design Styles, 19 Skins (Page Designs), and just 4 different core article template types. It also consists of integrations with The Stage's legacy Jobs and Castings platform, PugPig Mobile/Apps Content Aggregation Publishing Engine, GoCardless, SagePay and Stripe payment engines - which are all enabled via single-sign-on. Everything else is handled natively by Affino.
The Success of the endeavour is quite evident when you view the rich and engaging framework of the new site and the fluidity of movement through interrelated content streams -- it very obviously looks the part, and when you click through to the various articles, features and reviews it really all works exceptionally smoothly and in a highly interconnected fashion throughout.
Yet the real indicators of success are in the website's numbers over a measured period since the official launch in April. In fact from April to August, year-on-year the site homepage has seen a 42% increase in traffic, search traffic is up 30%, and direct traffic has increased 7%.
In terms of more individual statistics and metrics, there is a recorded 10% increase in users, 38% increase in page views, and a 20% increase in pages per session - helped by the extensive related content and interconnected nature of the site.
Subscription conversion rates have been recorded up 257%, with new website subscriptions up 143%, and total subscriptions up 21% year-on-year.
The new site has been overwhelmingly well received and gets very favourable feedback from its membership - obviously wholly underlined by the improving metrics across the board. Team Affino is very proud of what we've all accomplished together here, and we wish The Stage the very best of good fortune for the future.
"Having all content and e-commerce functionality on one platform is proving highly successful. For the reader, they have a better all-round experience and more immersive engagement, where they never need to re-enter details already provided at registration"
Simon Hassell, Commercial Director, The Stage