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By Thomas Baekdal - March 2021

A guide to listening to your audience, and let's talk about Google's no-cookies

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Welcome back to the newsletter. Today we are going to talk about three things:

A guide to listening to your audience

One thing I'm truly excited about is the increasing focus across the industry on audience engagement. In the earlier years, this was mostly just focusing on tactics, like optimizing clicks and how to get more social traffic. But in recent years, this role has moved into the newsroom and up into the top editorial ranks as a key element defining the overall focus and strategy of the newsroom.

The reason why this is so important is because it ties into the trend of how the media is used today. You can't just be a publisher anymore. People don't need you just for your articles. So why do they need you? Figuring this out is a key element of the success of any publisher today.

And, of course, this starts with 'listening'. How do you listen to your audience? How do you know what they want ... and what reason do people even have for visiting you in the first place?

All of this is the topic of my latest Plus report. So take a look at: A guide to listening to your audience.

Let's talk about Google's 'cookie-less' future and why it's bad

The second article today is about Google's cookie-less plans. There are many people who have already talked about this, for good reasons, and there are a lot of problems with it.

On one hand, it's good because it does help reduce the problems with personal tracking, but on the other hand, Google has actually increased the amount of tracking they do ... and all while taking every level of control away from everyone else. This is basically just Google's way of dominating even more.

However, my reason for being concerned about it is very different from what you hear in most other places. And so, in this article, I take you through all the problems, explain some of the history, and illustrate why we as publishers need to think about this in a very different way.

Take a look at: Let's talk about Google's 'cookie-less' future and why it's bad.

Prepare for a world where media is like fashion

One thing that fundamentally defined old media was lifetime subscribers. My father is a great example of this. He subscribed to a morning newspaper in his twenties, and has been a subscriber ever since.

A lot of the media was like this. People would often subscribe to the same magazine for years, and people had one cable-TV package throughout the entirety of the last decade.

In fact, this concept was so persistent that, for many people, it wasn't even a choice. I, for instance, had to get just the one cable TV package because it was paid for as part of my rent. I couldn't change it, I couldn't pick something else, nor could I refuse it. It was there no matter whether I used it or not.

Today, however, all of this has changed. Today, we live in a world of choice, and it's highly unlikely that people who subscribe today are going to stick around if your value to them drops.

This trend dramatically changes how we do things.

For one thing, it puts a much, much higher burden on each individual thing we do. Or to put it in another way, it dramatically polarizes the way we perceive value.

In the media industry, this trend is fairly new, and many people still don't quite get it. For instance, think about how often we see people talking about "which streaming platform will win". They are still thinking about that market in the old way, where there is one platform that people will use, and then they will just keep using this forever.

That's not how this will work. In the future, there is no concept of 'one winner' ... it's always changing.

For me though, all of this is very familiar, because this is exactly the type of world I used to deal with back when I worked in the fashion industry.

In the fashion industry, the default way of thinking is that the customers are always extremely likely to change, to go to a new store, and to try out something from another brand.

And so in order to keep your customers, you are in a constant game of change. Every month you want people to see something new, and you want to be known for that.

At the same time, you try really hard to focus on quality, or to give your products some kind of edge. And then you focus on your brand. The single most important thing you can do is to get people to be proud of wearing your brand.

What you want is to create this type of conversation:

If you can create this effect, your sales will go very well. You will have high initial sales from your existing customer base, you will have another high level of extra sales via word of mouth, and you will have a much higher level of repeat customers (which is what really matters).

Everyone in the fashion industry knows this by heart, and it's what everyone is trying to optimize for.

So now let's look at publishing.

The exact same behaviors that are the norm in the fashion industry are now also becoming the new standard in the media industry. The loyalty towards any specific magazine or newspaper is incredibly low, people online shift their focus so much that they often don't even realize what site they are on.

This is similar to those generic fashion stores where they just have some clothes from various brands, but as a customer, you don't really recognize any of the brands.

Does that work? Sure ... Does it work well? No, not really.

And this is where the media industry can learn something from the fashion industry. In the fashion industry, there are basically three types of product strategies. You have supermarket, basics, and brand items.

The supermarket items are all those brands that you find in generic shops and in supermarkets. They are the type of clothes that you buy if you don't really care about clothes. They are usually made in high-volumes, at low cost. So the design is nothing special, and they are generally cheap, not just in price, but also in material and quality.

The problem with supermarket items is that they are focusing on volume, but nobody likes them. When you buy a sweatshirt in a supermarket, you are not going to proudly post a picture of it on Instagram, and you are definitely not going to feel any form of connection or loyalty to the brand who made it.

The basic items are a special category of clothes. They are usually higher quality then the supermarket items, they have better material, better quality, and better fit, and the design is also good, but the form is just ... well, basic.

In other words, these are the essential items of clothes that everyone needs, but since it's something you wear every day, you want it to be good.

Things like this:

These are all very nice pieces of clothing, they do actually have some design features, but the style is 'basic'.

Finally we have the brand items. The brand items are what defines you as a brand. It's what makes you unique, it's defined by your overall focus, your style, and your intended market.

The brand items are what you put in your ads, on the front page of your web shop, on social media, and everywhere you want people to notice you.

In other words, you get something like this.

The brand items are what bring people in. It's what makes you special, and it's what drives new conversions. The basic items create upsell (you always buy a basic t-shirt with your order for a brand item), and it's what makes people come back again and again. Whereas if you have a supermarket focus, then you might have a high-volume of sales if you happen to be featured by the supermarkets, but otherwise, it's a dead end.

So, let's convert this into something you, as a publisher, can use. It would look something like this.


So, ask yourself this. Where are you in this? As a publisher, how do you fit into this?

Well, over the past 10 years, we have seen so many publishers focus on just optimizing for Facebook, and with things like what we see in Australia, publishers also want Facebook to pay them for it. But, Facebook is the supermarket of random content. Yes, it can create volume, but you lose everything else.

Meanwhile, the featured journalism is what makes you stand out and makes you truly unique. But in the media industry, most publishers are really bad at this. Whether you read about what a politician said in one newspaper or in another doesn't really matter.

So, you are not really defining yourself. There are very few publishers out there who have focused on creating a defined journalistic style and tone that make them unique.

Same thing for the basic news. Every publisher is doing basic news, but remember what I said. To make basic items truly work for you, it has to be better than the supermarket. In others, it has to be better than what you would just post on Facebook.

How many publishers do that? Again, almost nobody. One key way to change that is to maximize your focus on individual relevance and usefulness.

A news article reporting that a bus has had an accident in Peru is a Facebook article. It has no personal relevance for your readers, but maybe it can create some traffic from random people who are just clicking on links.

But an article that helps you with something that impacts you personally, or that you have a personal interest in? That's what you put in your basic news box.

This is the key to the future. We now live in a world where publishers are just like fashion companies. So, define your journalistic uniqueness for them to seek out and enjoy, and delight people with high-relevance basic news to get them to come every single day.

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


—   newsletter   —


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