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People watching

Crawl, walk, run, fly… Robyn Bechelet considers content strategies for smaller publishers and proposes instilling a process to systematically grow and know readers, for life.

By Robyn Bechelet

People watching

An article selling itself as a ‘guide to Lifetime Value’ spoke to me loud and clear about the importance of investing time and effort in understanding the success of media campaigns – in this case for advertisers.

The idea of data-scientists screening a dashboard-‘show’, to tell you how you’re actually getting on, makes sense – especially if you want to inform decisions and convince purse-string holders to dig in a little longer.

We are used to the idea that magazine subscription campaigns work with the objective of securing long term readers. However, busy as you are, and the world being what it is, you may not be able to just focus on print and may decide to ‘re-purpose’ for digital. Or, if you want, be digital-first (or, indeed only).

Can the ‘Einstein’ approach of constantly re-presenting yourself to the data evidence really work for you as a content-learning strategy?

Have you recently revisited your process of doing it by doing it to see if your review cycle is truly set up to lever the best next content decisions for your readers and your resources?

Do the crawl

This phase is all about continuing to publish to the content plan while learning more quickly what works best in a way that will eventually predict the most successful content treatments for your brands.

As the new process wheel starts to turn, progress may appear slow. But it will be surer.

A hand-picked subset of the friendliest, highest value, most committed-loyalists, seems a good place to start carefully testing theories. Learn from their behaviour to inform future content. Ask them to help, they adore you.

Reader panels and surveys are not a new idea, but is there a method of systematically understanding by content type (and person) what is being enjoyed most and then systematically joining up the learnings with digital analytics? It may turn out to be a lesson in never the twain shall meet, which will in itself give great insights for advertisers on what works in different channels.

Walk this way

Brands who want to measure LTV can start by looking at metrics that approximate long-term value, while getting to know their customers as individuals and groups.

Anyone got any customer records showing repeat print purchase through subscriptions data? Is that joined up with your Reader Travellers and offer-hungry readers?

Is this starting to sound like a CRM is needed – and one view of the customer? Retail loyalty cards have been doing it for years.

To me, a proper and personal way of approaching content strategy sounds interesting and improvements can be scalable. Or segmental if that turns out to be the right approach for increasing repeat audience touchpoints of value.

A CRM would be the contacts book to end all contacts books too, and the start of understanding what it is really like being a reader / visitor / customer. Send relevant marketing to targeted groups with their permission.

Customers register once and are looked after everywhere for ever. That sounds soothing to me. They won’t register? Why is that and what will you do?

This approach could be piloted and expanded, regularly welcoming tranches of customers to register, making sure the content is right for them and their fit with your advertisers’ profiles or their own content purchasing habits.

It might sound utopian, to map customers journeys, but you can start to live that way. Segment by ‘personas’, invite reader feedback at critical journey stages, and create a ‘score’ which can be improved. It will release time for right actions once done and will shine a light on blind spots.

If you know all possible happenings with a customer from ‘onboarding’ to exiting, you can map and heal the pain points they tell you about, and learn how to make them stay with you for the long haul. Voila! You have your qualified-improvement list which you can use to refine your processes.

Gathering readers’ and advertisers’ feedback in this way and adding their ratings to their individual customer records can enable learning at scale and offer up great testing opportunities for product development.

Identifying ‘super-fans’ with large personal social audiences sounds useful for a faster grip on the tarmac and a possible content / marketing source.

Current feedback mechanisms may include unwelcome news of ‘wrong’ doing. That does grow the what ‘not’ to do list it’s true – yet may create noise and distraction. Why not engineer opportunities to display greater volumes of being customer-brilliant instead and get to the root cause of issues in a more systematic way?

CRM can be flexed as a testing tool joining up buyers and sellers at new ‘live’ events and gathering their feedback while there. Test extra special product packs tailored for the really committed customers. Understanding if they would like to try new products or more frequent existing ones.

Happily, from day one of publishing, we are in ‘transforming-for-the-better’ mode. Catch things going right, work out and test how to do more of that as well. We are watching what works and we are doing more of it and we are running.

On the run

Got the basics right and really sure the discipline of monitoring the cycle is happening? Great.

Not so much? It’s understandable. Smaller teams can get rocked seismically by staff changes, sickness, holiday. When the moment has passed, is there a reminder to revisit? I know it’s all so operationally obvious, but I can’t help worrying for the world on that one.

Up-to-date medium-range content plans clearly help when promoting future issues and also increase the ability to lock in advertisers for longer. At the risk of an ‘old-fashioned look’, is this being done?

Analytics tactically surf the waves of what customers are showing a taste for.

Part-works in print or digital are a hopefully habit-forming way to lever repeat visits, plus can be sponsored to test new markets and have their own P&Ls to avoid waking nightmares of teams working extra late.

Events are more effectively marketed if recorded in the system and locked into a content plan. We know we know. But can we see it in one system in front of us?

We also know loyal long-term advertisers create the ability to forecast content resources more accurately and relieves deadline pressure of hitting revenue targets for print; is the lack of a visible content plan an issue? Is it strangling growth?

Wonderfully, the panoply of digital ways to connect to customers encourages readers to purposefully return to you for trusted content rather than aimlessly rabbit-hole their way around the internet.

The registration page of your website is the way for readers to tell you what they want and gain personalised content through subscribing to sections. Publishers can analyse topline preference data to see at first glance the ‘fit’ of audience preferences with advertisers and sponsors. Easily available methods of incrementally gathering information from these readers gives them the chance to get to know and trust what they see on your sites. It’s a nicer way to approach your committed customers too.

Everyone can focus on rapidly growing the business. Products and pricing strategies can be tested and developed with clearer-eyed certainty. Get beta-testing.

Grow right, fast

So, as obvious or annoying as it might sound, the ‘system’ should be a kicker in the content game. It’s the only way the entire publishing team can see and scale improvement on the march forward.

What your audience wants, becomes a testable hypothesis. Quality and value for money? Customers are the best judge of that.

Say we want to test a theory that ‘targeted advertising can be sold at a premium yield’. What are we doing content-wise to understand and refine that? Perhaps testing an exclusive columnist who brings social audience? Looking at the cross-platform results of the article on audience and monetisation? Does it make sense to re-invest rising revenues in the content that drives them? Or move (or test) some content online only.

Who has created a metric that measures the value of the editorial pound so business decisions are based on agreed fact rather than the ‘audience’ that is hovering over the delete button on the spreadsheet.

With that in mind and digitally speaking, have you stopped creating low value content (why isn’t it working though? Wrong treatment?), do you understand what drives views to content? Is it social, is it e-newsletter uplifts? Is your social activity prioritised correctly? It could be.

Don’t let anyone stop you demonstrating Olympic levels of flair – those exhilarating gymnastics are about products and pizzazz.

Lift off

So, what with the consolidated audience feedback, the premium advertisers’ spend and campaign performance patterns and newly-identified opportunities, the content plan, the responding positively to real-time analytics and joining that up with consistent feedback on print, the understanding of your competitive advantage, and the rest of the whole shebang, you are organised and have a growing audience of real people on one secure database.

That feels like a smart place to start work on the next phase of content development.

Now, you have the ability to build competitive advantage into your sales and content processes because you know what is the right thing to do.

At this stage, you can proudly progress with the ability to win. Start spinning that fly wheel and do your dance.