Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Putting some of the lessons learned from the first digital media revolution to work today

You would think, reading the posts of some media observers, that today's digital media revolution is so new, so different, that those struggling to launch new digital media products have nothing to guide them. But the fact is that we've had to tackle many of the same issues arising today in mobile and tablet media once before during the mid-to-late nineties. It was called the Internet boom, and boom it did, right into the laps of many a publisher.

Here are some of my thoughts in this area:

It's not about brand extension...

It's about creating profitable products.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard from a publisher that the reason they want to launch a tablet edition is because they want to "extend their brand" to the new platforms. I can't think of sillier reason to launch anything. The fact is that the follow-up question should be all that is necessary: "why?"

1996: NYT's first website, care of The Wayback Machine
As publishers, we are in the money making business, believe it or not. And we shouldn't be ashamed of that. A newspaper that makes a profit can hire reporter and can provide good news coverage for their readers. A unprofitable newspaper makes its own headlines with notices of layoffs. The reason to launch a tablet magazine, a mobile app or whatever is to make a profit - at least at some point down the line. You want a brand extension, launch a new bar of soup with your magazine's name on it. Good luck selling it.

Many, many magazine publishers launched their first websites as vehicles to promote their print magazines. Most of the first websites did not even contain editorial content, simply promotional messages about the print magazine. After a time it became apparent that this didn't serve much of a purpose, and only increased the publisher's costs. Only when these publishers demanded a profit did their editors get serious about content and their ad teams started selling. Don't wait, do this at launch, and create that P&L to show your progress.

It's not about readership...

It's about leads (or sales).

Many of the first Internet websites launched by publishers did so with the idea that they would attract new readership. They did. But the biggest objection early web advertisers had was that the quality of the readers were far inferior to the readers of the print products.

As Chris Foster, president and COO of GIE Media said yesterday, "if you are bringing your advertisers good leads... they (the advertisers) are going to want to do business with you."

Advertisers want to see increased sales from their new advertising efforts. To do this, the new digital advertising has to generate leads (or direct sales). To do this a digital product has to reach the right readers – qualified readers. It will not be enough that your new tablet magazine is reaching 100,000 app downloaders if those same people aren't the ones your advertisers want to reach.

One way to increase those leads is to make sure the ads allow the reader to respond. This is easy: add links, videos, email response. Digital ads that are replicas of print will just sit there.

Like it or not, you are creating the ads your competitors will sell...

So, get used to it and start selling.

The first digital ads my sales teams sold were like little miracles. We were so happy to see those ads appear on our new website... until they started to appear on the websites of our competitors.

A client who has never bought an interactive tablet magazine ad has no creative to place. If you build them their new ad, or their agency finally gets on board and builds them their ad, they will now have creative to place everywhere they see fit. It is frustrating, but deal with it. It is all part of what happens when a new ad platform is born.

So that means your staff needs to get selling and not look back. For those with print products, a publisher can push up-selling, just as GIE Media is doing. For digital-only products, one needs to sell digital, period. But guess what, if those print publishers have any luck you'll soon have new leads to sell as those first tablet or mobile ads start to appear. This is just the way it works.

Digital products coming from print publishers have to be as useful as digital-only products...

Or you'll lose the business.

It is funny how fast some media reporters started to repeat the meme that some of the first tablet magazines contained too much interactive material, their file sizes were too big, there were too many bells and whistles. Soon, some publishers were scaling back their digital magazines, or relaunching them as replicas.

The problem with this is that it is a dead-end strategy. As soon as a native magazine appears in the same niche it becomes obvious that the product that best suits the platform and provides the best reader experience will attract the readers and eventually the advertisers. Too many publishers think that their legacy products are what readers want... forever.

These publishers never used to think this way about print, always worrying about losing their editors, or not attracting good writers. Suddenly, when digital products are involved they think their "brands" can compensate for an inferior digital product. It can't, the best product will win (unless you have a limitless marketing budget).

For years AOL, Yahoo and others grabbed the lion's share of web advertising dollars. Today the elephant in the room is Google. Don't expect the new digital platforms to be any different – the products that are the most "native" to the platforms will attract the most advertising. You have to love digital to succeed. Isn't that the way it is with print, too?