Five reasons to be optimistic about the future of media

Fresh from both conferences here are five key lessons about the future of media. Fellow publishers, we have every reason to be optimistic about our industry. 

  1. Content – builds communities
  2. Culture – drives innovations 
  3. Education – is a great content extension
  4. Data – represent invaluable assets
  5. Niches – have become hugely attractive

1. Content builds communities

National Geographic has made a community-first approach the cornerstone of their media strategy according to SVP International Publishing, Yulia Boyle. Here, exclusive and in-depth content builds loyal communities that don’t weigh every subscription or product by the dollar. The 730m+ visitors are pushed into a virtuous cycle of content and data that connects the National Geographic Society’s massive research setup with all National Geographic content channels. When they say content what they really mean, says Boyle, is real time, frequency, personalities, local and visual. ‘Worldwide impact’ is how the Society calls the portfolio of 75 editions and 60m+ monthly local language readers.

In addition, there are 55 branded international products in 35 languages alongside the social media channels with a combined reach of almost 100m fans. These community members are willing to spend more for the editorial outlets because they feel embraced and serviced. The mantra is: readers are not just readers, they are a vibrant part of an ever-growing content universe that brings great stories to life – be it through print, mobile, video, social media or events. Everything at National Geographic seems to be focused on servicing the community with excellent content and connecting that content with the audience on every channel or platform. National Geographic is an interesting case study for the wider media industry.

Ask yourself: what would you need to do to refocus all your editorial, sales, marketing and tech efforts on servicing an interest-based community rather then hard-selling paid media to readers? What if the emotions, passions and personal interests that your audience shares are the centerpiece of your content strategy? How would your magazines or websites or apps or events be different? When you answer these questions you might want to take a look at the five principles of journalism that are inherent to any National Geographic content: make a difference, do what other’s can’t, be part of the conversation, act urgently, know who you are.

2. Culture drives innovations

Peter Kreisky is one of the word’s leading media influencers and strategists. At the FIPP Congress he presented his newest study conducted by interviewing some of the world’s top media executives from Hearst, Time, Axel Springer, Burda and beyond. They spoke about disruption, innovation, and long-term success. What Peter found is that more than anything culture drives innovations and leads to great products. It is the corporate culture driven by senior management and inhaled by the organisation that ensures innovativeness and an open-minded approach towards the future. Only then will large publishers be successfully handling the transformation when they make staff and culture their key focus areas. To achieve this, publishers should eliminate the barriers to collaborate by optimising the internal communication, sharing information transparently with easy access for everyone and fostering a self-organised culture of trust that accepts failures or mistakes as an opportunity to learn. 

3. Education is a great content extension

At the FIPP Congress F+W presented their content universe modeled on education and step-by-step video guides. There were similar ideas from other publishers such as Allrecipes, Hearst, and foreign brands, so what F+W’s strategy increasingly represents an industry-wide trend. Therefore, it makes sense to take a closer look at it. According to the FIPP presentation, F+W sells educational products separate from magazines or paid websites. The courses range from $49 weeklong seminars to $1,200+ longer projects. There are annual plans, monthly packages, and pay-per-view offers. It takes the teams 4 to 10 weeks to bring a course to market; asked by another publisher how one would start a new education portfolio F+W said ‘start with 10 courses and try to migrate existing editorial content into the courses’. To develop the courses F+W works with an external video partner but said it would also be possible to launch it with internal resources.

At the moment F+W generates 10 per cent of the total revenue from educational content (it took several years to get there) and has begun to cross-sell products in videos, that is: products used in cooking videos, for example, are featured by the chef and subsequently being sold on the F+W e-stores. A content and commerce model that grows alongside the course audience increase. Overall this model is attractive because it blends well with any kind of useful content and can be launched by migrating editorial databases into new formats driven by a video-first education strategy. Combined with a mobile approach directed towards phones or tablets with smartly designed apps or mobile websites this could serve as an attractive platform to leverage many editorial resources.

4. Data represent invaluable assets

At the Content Marketing World Joe Pulizzi, the founder of content marketing as well as the Content Marketing Institute, and his Chief Strategy Officer, Rob Rose, told me that content marketing has hit a plateau. It’s been a wild ride up until 2015 with the attendance at Content Marketing World being the best indicator for the industry’s growth: from just under 400 attendees in 2012 to 3,500+ in 2015 (I gave a speech there about our wildly successful evergreen content strategy). Joe and Rob believe that to justify future growth and increased spendings content marketing needs to consistently deliver measurable results. That is: the content being created must lead to a precise outcome, be it a lead, sale or other data point. These data points are the invaluable assets of content because in the case of most content marketing efforts, content on its own does not have any value. The actions content triggers and the data it creates are what make content valuable. And that’s true not only for content marketers but also for publishers. What good are the best news in the world, the largest recipe database, deepest b2b briefings or most engaging b2c product reviews when you don’t create data and actions that can be measured, optimised and monetised? My personal summary from Content Marketing World in Cleveland is that there are 4 parameters that will drive these measurable results in 2016: a) predictive content, b) real-time relevancy, c) constant conversions and d) deep metrics. Click here to read more about it. 

5. Niches have become hugely attractive

An interesting strategic shift is happening at media companies: driven by ad blockers, fragmented channels and changing reader habits many publishers forego growing large audience bases in order to develop a niche-based content strategy where profits are earned with small but loyal readerships. That’s true for publishers, but I also observed this trend in Cleveland where large corporations strategize about content marketing 2.0. The niche battle is here and it has only just begun. Publishers and corporations alike re-niche their content to be the no. 1 in any given area beyond mass topics. Why? Because niches deliver consistent growth according to large publishers like German Gruner+Jahr, who have launched beef, forest, and cooking titles, or niche experts like F+W with dozens of niche brands from hunting, cooking and crafting to DIY. Many niches are not (yet) occupied by large media outlets so, believe it or not, there are still untapped niches that yield profits for years to come.

Think of Landlust, a very successful German print (!) media brand for city slickers who dream about country life; Landlust was once a small niche title, it is now coming to the UK and will expand further in 2016 while in Germany it surpassed the 1m circulation threshold and now sells more copies than large national weeklies such as Der Spiegel or Stern, plus it sells twice as many copies as the most successful weekly newspaper Die Zeit. Small niche gone large, hasn’t it. Or think of America’s The Atlantic that went from print-centered to mobile-first with niche portals like Defense One, Government Executive, Wire, Quartz and editorial offers that target policy makers in an array of topical areas. Along the way print has grown, too, which shows that a niche strategy with small growth in some channels can pay off across the whole portfolio. The Atlantic’s mission is to ‘inform, elevate and challenge the national discourse’, and as such opportunities for more niches are flexibly scalable in conjunction with whatever topic drives the national discourse today or tomorrow. By the way, at our 200-year-old company, Ebner Media Group, we always have made niches or no. 1 strategic parameter at our 80+ magazines and 40+ websites. Click here to read more about the results we’ve seen.

Connect with me on Twitter: @dominikgrau

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