(No, I’m not shouting. REAL is an acrostic. Read on.)
I was speaking with a publishing colleague recently about the need for a digital strategy. I came up with a generic list — something any publisher could do — but it didn’t scan, so I worked on it until I could put it into a convenient, memorable acrostic — REAL — which stands for
Adapt your strategy and
Listen to your customers.
Have you noticed yet that the iPad hasn’t fundamentally transformed the magazine marketplace? Have you noticed that print is not dead, that there are still newspapers, that some people still read books, and that bloggers haven’t replaced the need for actual experts?
The breathless hype about the digital revolution always reminds me of the Segway.
There’s a class of people out there who are always hyping something. Everything has to be transformative, and it’s always different this time. Unfortunately, those are the people who are usually asked to do keynotes, so … we deserve it.
Don’t listen to the hype. No, you won’t be left behind and replaced if you show a little caution before jumping on the latest fad. Good business practices still apply. Don’t pay much attention to the “transformative” people and chill a little.
FM radio didn’t completely replace AM radio, and satellite radio hasn’t either. Vacuum machines have not been the death of brooms. They’ve simply found their own niches.
Despite all the predictions, print isn’t dead. What’s happened is that as readers have other options, print is ending up in a smaller niche than it had when it was the only choice. That’s perfectly understandable without crazy predictions about fundamental changes.
My own preferences may be illustrative. I like to clip web articles to Evernote so I can read them on my smart phone, but I read books on the Kindle app on my iPad — unless it’s a book I intend to take notes in, in which case I read in print. Almost everything productivity-related I do on a real computer — either a laptop or a desktop. (I prefer not to use the on-screen keyboards when I can avoid it, and nothing beats a mouse.)
It’s not so much that people are completely moving from one thing to another as that they’re fine-tuning what they do — when, where, and on what device.
This requires publishers to embrace the reality that their customers are going to be doing things their own way. You can’t force them into something.
Another aspect of these developing niches is that different behaviors and expectations seem to predominate. People behave differently on iPads than on smart phones, and on Pinterest than on Facebook.
Adapt your strategy
These new niches require successful publishers to adapt their efforts to all these different mediums.
The people who subscribe to your publications and the people who visit your website may be two very different audiences. Same with Facebook, Twitter, desktop vs. smart phone, etc.
This is enormously frustrating because the publishing model is essentially “write once, sell many times.” In the past that meant finding a happy medium that appealed to all the elements of your audience and creating one product.
What the digital revolution has brought us is fragmentation. Now, all the subgroups in your audience are doing their own thing their own way, and they expect you to serve them in a way that’s appropriate to that medium.
The good news is that you have the opportunity to reach new people in each of those niches, but that may mean uncomfortable changes. If you choose to stick with a brand image that doesn’t work in some of the new niches, your competitors will steal your business in that niche and you’ll be left with an ever-decreasing audience.
Listen to your customers
Listening to customer needs has always been important, but it’s even more crucial now when you have to serve all these different niches. This may mean that you have to change the way your brand is perceived.
The more options the consumer has, the easier it is for him to just pick up and go elsewhere. You’re not the Soviet Union and you can’t force people to stay with you. You have to make your customers happy or they’re just click away.
It’s always been true that products have to start with customer needs, but now the expression of those needs has become far more complicated. It’s not just “I need this information,” but I need it this way, this time of day, so that it integrates with this other thing, so I can have it in my pocket, so I can read it while I’m getting my coffee, etc.
The good news in all this is that fragmentation can mean more sales. I’m sure General Mills is selling far more Cheerios now that they have a million different versions of the product. But I’m sure the transition from “all oats all the time” to sprinkles and jelly beans and whatever else they put in there these days was very tough.