Right now, in 2022, more than 85% of Americans are consuming news on their digital devices. News-papers are fast becoming paper-less: the pandemic and its aftermath has only accelerated the need for this digital transformation. For news publishers, it’s no longer a question anymore, of whether to adopt a digital strategy or not. The focus, instead, is on devising the right digital business model, that will help gain and retain readers, and executing it really well.
This is not a new story, the transition to digital commenced way back in the 90s with the likes of Wall Street Journal monetizing online access to news from 1996. Mid 2000s saw the advent of publications like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, setting the tone for digital-first publications, driven by discoverability on search engines and virality on social media platforms. Back to today - news is becoming more and more digital with an eye on reader preferences and hence audience engagement.
And, as we know, these consumers have an increasingly reduced attention span.This ties back to the need for publishers to develop the right digital business model. Aligning the wider business around this defined digital business model / strategy. This will need to cover people, process and technology and be underpinned by a clear commercial strategy. At the centre of this strategy will need a clear and defined data strategy allowing the publisher to build meaningful and long lived relationships with their customers.
As mentioned, The fundamental prerequisite for a well-defined digital strategy is to have a company-wide aligned vision on the need for a digital-focused approach to the news business.
Everyone across the organisation needs to understand the stated business goals and what success looks like when working to deliver against these goals. A useful way to mobilise teams is adopting a Lean Enterprise approach and maybe leverage tools like Lean Value to the digital roadmap. The leadership should clearly articulate the goals driven by the new digital business models, enabled by “digital-oriented” behaviour across teams, roles and Tree planning. Be it the editorial or technology teams, a unified purpose is essential to make the transition to digital, sustainable.
The digital business models and the linked monetization would logically follow if all the organizational stakeholders believe in the need for the transformation. It’s imperative for the executive leadership to drive this change with clear positive reinforcements for digital ideation and for adherence levels in the organization.
Thus defining a set of values and cultural changes towards innovation across the organisation.When embedding the new culture of digital transformation, it is also important to identify and address the sense of insecurity that some employees might have because of the impending changes.
Openness in terms of recognizing ideas on merit, irrespective of which role or level it stems from, is also essential to tide over the change required for this scale of transformation. It’s also very important to have open, innovative, courageous and flexible leaders at the helm, who have the capability and the ambition to Unlearn any historic inherent behaviours that would limit and slow the speed of change.
This interview with Mr. Mark Thompson, ex-CEO of the New York Times brings to light insights on digital transformation for publishers. It also provides interesting debate from a people and culture perspective.
People and processes are at the core of any strategic initiative. Digital Transformation is not unique to Publishing of course, many industries are now having to adopt their business models to reflect the rapidly changing behaviours of their customers. This really means that great digital people are in serious demand so honing your employer brand and culture to attract these individuals is imperative to both attract and retain talent. This new mindset to become digital first, have a progressive and diverse culture, and embedding new lean ways of working will need investment. Investment that will pay back in time with higher quality products being released and through the creation of a culture which is conducive to long lived business success and relevancy.
So, create an eclectic mix of people with diverse backgrounds and skills. Hire people that are open and flexible enough to not just be great at what they do but will drive change through evangelising the target vision and culture across the wider business.
Speaking of “outside-in” approaches, one of the key processes to follow is to keep a close watch on reader content consumption. It is more critical today than ever before to be very accurate in audience segmentation and profiling to have a pulse of what kind of articles appeal to the readers. Building a community that allows peer to peer connectivity will not just help build loyalty but allow for effective social listening that will ensure your brand can stay on top of what readers are looking for and what they are sharing. The above focus on reader preferences should sit at the centre of a data driven platform that ensures content and user experiences are increasingly personalised, based on known behaviour, thus increasing trust and loyalty.
Data outputs should, of course, should be structured around defined business goals with clear metrics associated with each, be it acquisition, conversion or a better customer satisfaction metric. This laser focus on reader experience underpins a highly data driven approach to understanding customer preferences at a very detailed level of granularity.
It is important to have continuous personally curated communications with the readers to ensure you retain engagement. Achieving true, and long lasting, audience engagement would involve a certain degree of trial and error too. Any publication would have its core proposition to offer to its target audience. The proposition on offer should match the preferences of the reader segments. Fine-tuning this match will require experimentation. The key is to remain frugal and carry out lean experiments to optimize on resources invested in the process of finding the fitment. At the end of the day, it’s very important to have a “reception oriented” approach to gauging audience-engagement and thereby delivering personalized, high- value reading experiences.