Why publishers need smart data to engage their customers

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The average attention span is now just eight seconds – down from 12 in the year 2000 (The Independent, May 2015). This is less than that of a goldfish, and has profound implications for businesses of all kinds. For publishers, it means that when someone searches or browses online, there is less time than ever to grab a reader’s attention.

Today, consumers are experiencing personalization everywhere as the digital world starts to mimic the physical world. Smartphones and tablets are seen as individual, personal devices, so communicating on them needs to be done carefully. People will no longer accept mass, untargeted advertising or brand propositions that are irrelevant, and organizations must make sure that they are seen as pertinent to that person, or risk losing them as a customer.

Relevance is the order of the day, and leading publishers are starting to understand that. Buzzfeed’s news app, for example, pulls in content from multiple publications to consistently surprise customers with fresh perspectives (The Drum, March 2016).

Likewise, the BBC News app offers a curated hit list of personalized content that is shaped specifically to user-selected news and updated constantly (BBC, January 2015). Many companies are starting with self-segmentation as a quick win in delivering personalized content experiences. Consumers are willing to give up information about their wants and preferences so long as their experience is enhanced in return.

The future will be an intuitive experience, where publications can serve users content before they themselves know they want it. Publishers will use data to predict each user’s wants and priorities and match content that will keep them engaged and hungry for more.

The ability to analyze and act on real-time data will be key in driving loyalty and bottom line growth. The end goal will be to personalize the experience for each reader – and this applies to both editorial and native advertising.

The vast majority of customers are coming to publishers through digital means, and this trend reflects the fact most are living life by their smartphones. Publishers that aren’t able to link up the data they gather from how people browse their sites, on different devices, are at risk of losing customer loyalty.

When it comes to subscriber-only sites, publishers need to consider that paying for content is an investment for readers and those that don’t offer added value won’t succeed.

Wired, for example, is free online, and is currently working on a paid-for product, but editor-in-chief Scott Dadich says it is key that the brand makes sure it is ‘exchanging enough value to derive what we want for the subscription fee’, rather than simply putting the whole magazine behind a paywall (Wired, March 2016).

Consumers will respond to immediate, tangible benefits they get as subscribers, such as tickets to exclusive events or masterclasses from journalists. Price reductions and access to content are losing their appeal because consumers can use social media to find the content that matters to them, for free. Instead, customers seek novel experiences and perks that they can’t get elsewhere which truly change the discovery and consumption of media.

Adding value to the experience is a short-term cost that will deliver sustained success and improve revenue in the long-run. Customers receiving an excellent service will be more receptive to commercial offerings within subscription programs.

By investing in data to develop an elastic record of the customer, publishers will be able to identify their most valuable prospects and customers, and target them specifically with personalized messaging and offers. This will in turn increase conversions and improve the number of repeat purchases, consequently boosting revenue overall.

Relevance and value are what matter most to time-poor consumers. They live in the moment, look for instant gratification and are not satisfied by experiences that fail to treat them as an individual. Data is the key to winning in the publishing industry, and those that are quickest to embrace it, and develop actionable insights to personalize user experience in real time, will be the winners of tomorrow.

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