Business publications have traditionally been very good at building up quality databases about their readership. The closed circulation approach has allowed them to target content and advertising very specifically to readers. When selling additional resources (such as market reports) they have always captured extensive additional data, enabling very effective lead generation and sponsored content insertions. When translating this to the online world, a similar focus on data has been used. An effective method is to create a videocast about an issue, sponsored by a brand, demand registrations in order to view it, and return these to the brand for further direct marketing. For example, Incisive Media’s IT Hound aggregates white papers on a variety of business issues, and requires user signup for viewing.
Consumer publications, certainly those I have spoken with recently, seem to have a very close qualitative grasp of their audience preferences and general demographics, but very rarely have much data. When publishing online, the key data field is a reader’s email address, and yet most consumer publications have an incredibly poor (and usually fragmented) database.
By means of an example, I recently spoke with a B2B catalogue retailer, which engages in custom publishing. They have a database of 3 million customers, with email addresses for 1.3 million of them. This enables them to constantly communicate with their audience, and utilise the powerful purchase history that they hold on every registered customer. I also recently spoke to a trade publication in the IT industry, and although the numbers are much smaller, they were aggressively building their reader email lists and now had over 10% of their readership signed up. Although they don’t hold much preference data on each reader, they run regular lead generation campaigns and plan to start combining databases to build more detailed reader profiles. Finally, when talking to a consumer magazine group a few weeks ago, when I asked about their email database, they immediately admitted it was incredibly weak – only holding the details of their subscribers (which were a small proportion of their readership) and only holding email addresses for a few % of these. Very little data is collected, apart from location and basic demographics.
Since publishers must start monetising their audience, not just their content, we are starting to see a trend where all publications, including consumer publications, value their databases and put resources into building useful data.
And the beauty is that online, a huge amount of data can be captured. Free analytics tools like Google Analytics provide an aggregate view of user behaviour, which can inform design and content decisions. Cookies can be used to store user data, and although they allow a low-touch connection with the reader to be built, the data is useful only for a limited range of purposes – such as improving the user experience (by personalising, ensuring ease of shopping by recording preferences, or remembering browsing histories) and better targeted advertising.
The power of data
At idio, the approach we have taken is to allow anyone to read content for free, but to incentivise free registrations by offering benefits such as personalised content, widget versions of content, and social features. This has proven a powerful catalyst to reader sign-up, and combined with us being able to demonstrate the benefit immediately (for idiomag, we ask for a username on a major social network, or a favourite band, and immediately create a blend of content around that data), and we see a high conversion from first visit to registration.
So not only do we have an email address, and readers can opt-in to receive personalised notifications of new and relevant content, but we gather attention data (preferences, behaviours, interests) about every reader, for the purposes of improving the content mix, and providing a better service to advertisers. Whether you are a brand building a relationship with a customer, or a publication delivering content to a reader, the mass-distribution approach is fading as users require a one-on-one approach. Collecting actionable data can help you build these relationships – improving promotion strategies, optimising content creation costs, and enabling more meaningful brand engagement.
Here a few examples of how we have used data:
- Identifying the content areas which are rarely consumed, in order to cut content creation costs without impacting user value.
- Identifying the traffic sources that give users with the best ARPU, in order to pursue promotional partnerships.
- Mining the popularity of content by user segment to find out what demographics/geographics of users are interested in which subjects.
- Tracking the unique ID’s of the users that opt-in to lead generation or advertising campaigns, to allow followup advertising or messaging by the advertiser.
Capturing actionable reader data, and devoting the resources to act upon it, is one of the most vital functions of the new publishing business. It informs all aspects of the business, and opens up a range of revenue streams which are vital to building a sustainable digital publication. As always, let me know your thoughts, and if you would like to chat further about how we could help in this regard, just drop me an email.