by Kevin Anderson, on July 31, 2012
Last month, we talked about how to develop a product mindset and to set priorities. This month, we take the next step: looking at how to launch and evolve new digital products.
Digital media: Easier to launch, harder to sustain
Digital media present opportunities and challenges that are unique when compared to print, radio and television. Development costs can be dramatically lower, and that is a great opportunity to save crucial resources for those things that will set your product apart from the competition and build loyalty from your audience.
But low development costs also mean that the barrier to entry is much lower than print and broadcast media. As we see in our case study with Indian news newcomer Firstpost, this can lead to a crowded, cluttered market. And looking back at an example in the inaugural Digital Briefing, successful products like daily deals/Groupon-style products can quickly face crushing competition.
Digital costs can be lower but proven, high-return digital revenue models are still evolving even in more mature markets. Digital returns can provide high margins, up to 50%, but only if costs are kept in check. The pro-am model, which is built on a mix of content from professional journalists on your staff and amateurs often from your audience, is one model delivering those kind of returns. The bottom line is that you’ll need to be just as creative in developing revenue streams as you are in developing your editorial voice and brand.
Start small and evolve
Firstpost executive news producer Durga Raghunath has a key lesson for developing your digital product: start small and grow in stages. Firstpost took full advantage of the lower costs of digital development. For example, they kept development costs low by using the free, open-source content-management system WordPress for the site.
Their editorial strategy of curation, social media, “breaking views”, smart analysis and comment, is a lighter, lower cost editorial strategy than starting with a large newsroom focused on original reporting. Raghunath advises not to staff for your end goal, nor start with a massive editorial team you might not be able to sustain immediately at launch. Firstpost, for example, has started with a relatively small editorial team and has added stringers and contributors as the site has grown.
One example of how Firstpost is using engagement to build audience relatively inexpensively is Firstpost debates. These unique head-to-head debates tap into the desire of citizens of the world’s largest democracy to have their say, and the audience has responded with thousands of Firstpost readers voting in each debate.
Invest in what makes you distinctive
Firstpost’s focus on “breaking views”, curation, social media and participation sets the site apart from India’s well-served breaking news market. As Raghunath said, broadcasters and newspapers already have their own news websites in India, and Firstpost is part of the Web18 network, the digital division of Indian media group Network18, which includes MoneyControl, India’s leading business news site as well as many other general and specialty news websites. Web18 didn’t need – and the Indian market doesn’t provide – much opportunity for another breaking news site.
Raghunath makes a key point that in a crowded market you have to stand out and that means investing in things that are important to your audience and that are different from the basic features your competition offers. Editorial strategy is the leading way to set your digital product apart. Firstpost chose to supplement their distinctive editorial strategy with other elements to highlight their uniqueness, both in their approach to content as well as business and revenue creation.
• Design. FirstPost developed a distinctive design that emphasized clean and easy organization, a dramatic change from the densely organised look of most Indian news sites.
• Voice. It is key to develop a voice, a distinctive editorial style for your product. Knowing the voice of your product will also help guide key editorial hiring decisions. Firstpost focused not only on sharp analysis that engages readers, the core of their breaking views strategy, but also on developing an editorial voice focused on engagement and discussion to attract India’s social media-obsessed audiences.
• Mobile. Recognising that Indian news audiences are increasingly interacting with news sites through mobile devices, FirstPost elevated the role of mobile in their strategy by launching a fast, light mobile site and mobile apps for key platforms including Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
• Brand. Design and voice all help to develop a sense of brand, and developing a media brand will not only help you stand out from competitors and build audience, but also attract advertisers. About half of Firstpost’s advertising comes from ‘brand advertising’, advertisers who want to be associated with the site’s “smart and sticky” brand.
To cut through the clutter, your product needs a strong launch. This is the first step in successfully building the brand of your product and launching your marketing efforts. It positions your product in the marketplace and also starts to make the case to advertisers why they should want to advertise with your product.
Firstpost chose to launch just ahead of the Indian elections, which gave it a strong event to kick off their coverage and establish their voice. They also had a strong launch campaign, including television advertising, that stressed how the site would be focused on social media, engagement and participation.
This was key in distinguishing Firstpost from other sites and also setting out how its approach to journalism would be different, uniquely digital and boldly social. Make sure that your launch clearly communicates your editorial identity.
Be creative in building revenue
Developing your digital revenue foundations will require the same kind of creative thinking to stand out from other online news sites. One of the opportunities of digital media is that digital revenue models are still evolving, which leaves a lot of room for the creative combination of marketing and advertising to build revenue.
Firstpost built on their social media and “breaking views” focus to seek out advertising opportunities that are as unique as their editorial proposition. Firstpost has used Twitter as an important channel to build their audience and promote their approach to news coverage. Their advertising and marketing team have worked with their editorial team to create an equally innovative approach to include advertisers’ sponsored messages in their Twitter streams. Their innovation is to use the hashtag #advertiserlove to communicate transparently to audiences that these are commercial rather than editorial messages, while still providing advertisers access to Firstpost’s large and engaged Twitter audience.
They are also exploring sponsored content, and to maintain editorial integrity even as they seek commercial opportunities, they have developed rigorous editorial guidelines for this development.
Measure and evolve
Raghunath spoke repeatedly of the importance of evolving their content and revenue strategies. It’s one of the key messages that we want to communicate with the Knowledge Bridge that with digital you must constantly measure, optimise and evolve.
Knowledge Bridge will dive deeply into measuring and analysing content and advertising in upcoming issues. In short though, the first step is to measure the basic response using Google Analytics. As sites grow in reach and complexity even measurement strategies will evolve to include multiple different measurement tools. Firstpost, for example, with its emphasis on social media, measures performance with a mix of web analytics using tools like Google Analytics and comScore, and supplements with Facebook Insights to measure social media performance.
The advice is to measure audience behaviour with these tools and test different editorial and engagement strategies. Many successful sites, such as Huffington Post which was one source of inspiration for Firstpost’s model, have started using A/B testing, measuring either different strategies or even the performance of content such as headlines to learn which work best.
The key to overall success will be how effectively you measure and evolve your editorial and commercial strategy. Revenue may be a challenge in developing digital media products, but you also have unique opportunities to measure and optimise. The digital media products that are succeeding are the ones that are establishing products with strong, unique editorial voices and creative, constantly evolving revenue streams.