Making learning delightful

The Harvard Business Review’s Anne Bartholomew explains how their partnership with learning platform Mindstone will provide new insights into their audience.

What made you decide to partner with Mindstone?

Mindstone approached us to work with them on a pilot of tools that added a ‘learning layer’ to HBR, and these tools really enticed us. We felt the ability to annotate and highlight while you’re reading would give users a way to extract more value out of the reading experience. So, we worked with them over a period to figure out how it would best fit in with our tech, and we were able to pilot it in early 2023.

Anne Bartholomew, Director of Product Management, HBR.
Photo: LinkedIn/Anne Bartholomew

How did you decide (or realise) that this “learning layer” would be the right fit for your audience?

There are a couple of inputs there. We know from our subscribers that the number one thing they don’t have is time – and they’re always looking to get the most value out of the time they spend with us. And we are always looking for ways to make the reading experience more valuable in the moment. We felt that this would be a great way to amplify the value of reading when you only have a few minutes to spare but want to come back to it. The other input is more analogue and is based on how subscribers use print magazines. We’ve heard many times over the years that readers mark up their copies of the magazine, add sticky notes, write in the margins, photocopy articles to give to their team – so using Mindstone felt like an opportunity to reproduce that use case in a digital way.

You’ve said previously that your audience wants to “apply the ideas” you publish. Could give us an example?

Mindstone gives people the space to focus in on what they are really trying to understand from an article or piece of content, to make it ‘sticky’ for them. You could go in and highlight an idea that you think could be game-changing for your team or bring an element into a research project you’re doing. Whatever your use case, it adds that extra dimension. And dimension is a really good word to describe it because it’s not casual – people come to us with intention, looking for inspiration or guidance, ideas for their teams to think about.

What more will it tell you about your audience and what they’re reading and enjoying?

Fifty percent of our subscriber audience has access to it, currently, and we’re hoping that we can bring more subscribers into that test audience to see how it scales. Trend lines should really start to emerge then, and that will give us some indication of which types of learning are important and valuable for people. For example, leadership and strategy are particularly strong areas for us, but maybe we’ll see more clustering around new topics that are big headlines right now, such as AI – technologies that are really poised to drive changes in business. I’m curious to see what emerges!

How does it benefit the Harvard Business Review?

It’s a virtuous cycle. We have this incredible access to expert authors and researchers, with learning very much at our core. But we are always trying to add value and freshness and differentiation to the subscription. What’s important and exciting for us now is to figure out how we bring more of that learning dimension and value into the media experience, so that we can talk to subscribers – really help them understand how we’re different from just reading ‘the business section’. More than ever, we want to continue to be front of mind for users when they’re thinking about what they need to know, how they can level up, where they should be focusing their attention to stay at the top of their game. For us, it helps us to test the features we think have a shot at resonating with users and help them get what they want from us. If we’re giving value to subscribers, they stay with us, and that’s good for our business.

Do you have any broader aims?

We are very open to thinking about ways in which we animate our content in different ways and find people where they’re consuming it, where they need it the most. The traditional magazine is one format, web is another, native app is a third…then you have audio, video, social. We’re in all these channels, trying to figure out the best way to present our value for where people are, and that will continue to be true.

Why does Harvard Business Review and Mindstone work so well as a partnership?

Because Mindstone, at heart, is really a learning technology company. Their mission – to make learning accessible, delightful, and easy for everyone – feels very complementary. Because of course, at HBR, we believe that you should always be learning.


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