by Kevin Anderson, on June 26, 2012
• Identify your audience
• Define and prioritise features of the product
• Continue to develop the product after launch
In the digital world, there are no constraints of column inches or available airtime, but equally you do not have infinite resources and cannot do everything. So how do you prioritise? How do you decide which projects get a green light and which are shelved?
One way that news organisations are meeting this challenge is to adopt a what’s known as a ‘product mindset’: identifying what your audience wants and creating a product to serve that need.
A product mindset will help you to:
• Decide what to do
• Identify your audience and different groups within your audience
• Deliver relevant news and information to those groups in your audience
• Provide advertisers with clearly defined audiences
• Identify new revenue opportunities
A product mindset is a framework to help you make better decisions and develop a clearer focus for your business. That means delivering not only stronger digital products but also stronger products in whatever other medium you work in, whether that’s print, radio or television.
Step 1: Define your goals
Before you begin to create new products, or even just refine existing ones, you have to understand what outcomes you need to achieve. Are you trying to:
• Reach or grow a specific audience?
• Create or grow revenue?
• Deliver specific content?
Furthermore, you need to understand why you are trying to achieve these goals. For example, are you trying to grow a specific audience because:
• You need to reach critical mass in order to begin selling a premium product?
• You need a bigger audience in order to attract more advertisers?
• You want to create a vibrant community in order to increase reader loyalty?
Understanding your goals and the reasons behind them will make it easier for you to create a product that will meet those goals. And it will be easier to know whether you have been successful as you’ll be able to refer back to these goals to see if they have been met.
Step 2: Define your audience
Whatever your goal, your next step is to understand the audience you want to reach. Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? Where are they?
Ross Settles, MDLF Senior Advisor for Digital Media, says that media in the West made a key mistake in making the digital transition: “We spent a lot of time thinking about who (advertisers) wanted instead of moving advertisers where the audience was.”
Remember that digital audiences might be different to the audiences you currently reach with your existing products, whether that is print, radio or TV. For instance, a digital product might allow you to reach younger audiences who don’t read newspapers, or diaspora audiences who can’t pick up your TV or radio broadcasts.
And many people are shifting to digital platforms, whether that is online or on the move with mobile, simply because they find them more convenient. You only have to look at the take up of social media in Russia, Indonesia and Malaysia to see that audiences are spending more time with digital media.
In practice, what does this mean? Some examples:
• Research shows that the number of mothers having to work has increased after the global financial crisis, there’s an opportunity to provide them with a product that will address the issues that they face.
• An advertiser has approached you and wants to reach an audience likely to be interested in their product. You must develop an editorial product that will reach that audience and secure that new advertiser.
• A major election is coming up and projections show that your audience will expand during this period. You want to take advantage of that opportunity, which means preparing election-focused products and preparing sales staff to sell those products to advertisers.
Be forward thinking, and look for new audiences, niches, events, socioeconomic changes, advertising opportunities and anything else that you can use as a basis for a new product.
Step 3: Define and prioritise product features
Once you have defined the goals for your content and determined the audience you want to reach or deliver to advertisers, you must then address which features your product needs and which would be ‘nice to have’.
Each product must have clearly defined and prioritised features, not only to ensure that you are creating a cohesive product that makes sense to the audience, but also to avoid ‘mission creep’, where a project haphazardly expands beyond its original remit. This is especially important for digital products where almost anything is possible.
“Online, almost every single item is an open question to the product manager,” explained Settles. “[Their] role is so much more important.”
When Reg Chua was editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post, he wanted to map the connections between the powerful in Hong Kong. In developing the Who Runs HK project, he said:
We had to decide what we wanted to include, and that means by definition what to exclude. To do that we started with a sense of what we wanted the product to look like, and what information mattered, and eliminated anything that wasn’t important to it and was too hard to do.
Although digital offers up opportunities, it does have limits, and a product mindset will help you find the right boundaries by ensuring that you’re always focused on achieving your goals through serving a well-defined audience.
This may entail some hard choices, but if you don’t set priorities, you’ll end up with poorly performing products that won’t meet your goals.
Step 4: The launch is only the beginning
The digital space is dynamic and full of change. On a practical level, that means when you are planning digital products, you must anticipate change. The development process must retain a level of flexibility to accommodate changes in technology and audience behaviour or expectations.
This doesn’t mean allowing in-the-moment reactions to undermine a product, but that the product development cycle doesn’t finish on launch day.
At regional Swedish publisher Norrköpings Tidningar Media (NTM), planning for new digital products can begin two to three years before they are launched, says Erik Tilleby, manager and head of development for Teknomedia, which develops digital products and services for parent company NTM and also for external customers who use its digital content management system.
“We never see a product as fully finished. We continuously work on product through entire life cycle. We continuously look at the system,” Tilleby said.
Adopting the product mindset
A product mindset isn’t just for developing new products. The same thought processes can help you evaluate and rework existing products that are under-performing. And it can also help you to plan ahead by giving you a clearer understanding of your audiences, your editorial processes, your products, your advertisers and other income streams, and the relationships between them.
Developing and implementing a product mindset will help you understand and clarify your goals and identify your audiences’ and advertisers’ needs. The mindset will help help you deliver strong, focused, compelling content that stands out, and that will help you succeed, both editorially and financially.