One of the questions I ask myself as we build Briefing Media is "are we being adventurous enough?" in our approach to some of our traditional media brands. Our premise with the recent purchase of Pulse and Farmers Guardian was that we would lavish care, attention and experience on some highly regarded but slightly under-loved titles.
We plan to build a suite of products to move our relationship away from the concept of "subscribers" and "readers" to one of membership and deeper engagement. We have talked to our teams about preparing the way for a predominantly digital future and creating new products that are ready for when our customers want to make a switch. But… is this enough?
You don’t have to look far in the media world to see companies that claim to be digital-first but are, in reality, anything but. Delve a little bit under the skin of most newspapers, magazines and business titles and you will find a company trying to play both sides of the equation.
Across the industry you can have very sensible conversations with senior media folk about the disruption of business models. They can talk eloquently about the way readers' consumption habits are changing. They know that their business needs to evolve. But they are stuck in an environment where the majority of their efforts and revenues are still tied up with the analogue side of the business. This must be "protected" as they transition. The print tail wags the digital dog. It pays the bills. We must not cannibalise.
What if we didn't start from here?
At one of our recent strategy sessions we asked the editorial team to imagine a hypothetical world where the digital products were all we had to produce. How would we structure the business to deliver value to users? What would happen to our editorial workflow? Would the nature of our journalism (and journalists) change? It proved to be a very useful exercise.
At the end of the session we said "OK – we still need to produce a print product because a section of our customers really value it, as well as digital products. How should we also do that?"
The results of this workshop were very different from others I have been involved in. Our starting point was not the legacy product and related digital development. The terms of reference had been flipped and this forced everyone to look first at the information needs of our users. You get very different results when freed from the constraints of the past.
Can we wait for our users to catch us up?
One of the problems associated with digital transition is that our industry generally has a habit of building products and waiting for customers to catch us up. We'll prepare the digital offerings that we believe our audience will value – either as a result of market research or editorial review. We then have a tendency to sit them alongside our legacy products and expect a gradual transition from one to another. I think the time has come to be a bit more aggressive. Let's set up a plan for migration and start forcing the issue by turning off elements of the past and forcing users to get where we want them to go. Faster.
Have a look at some of the companies who have made this move successfully. AutoTrader is a good example from the consumer publishing world and their Vision statement is very clear about what they are trying to do. Do you have something similar on your website?
What lessons can we learn?visiot
There are two strands to my ramblings. The first is to imagine how the future might look and set up the appropriate infrastructure for it. My second is that maybe customers need a little "help" in getting to the future. Perhaps this involves not just the carrot but also the stick? Let’s start being a little more adventurous.
I’d be interested in your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments below.