After a short hiatus, the PPA’s Customer Direct conference made a welcome return on 10th November at The Brewery in London. James Evelegh was there with his notepad.
Rule number one of conferences, get the delegates onside first. The BBC’s Peter Phippen told the assembled gathering of subs marketers that “relationship management is the most important part of our business strategically”. Incisive boss James Hanbury urged the delegates to “big yourselves up, as you are increasingly important to our business”.
So what skills do these newly acknowledged lynchpins of our businesses need? First and foremost, said Incisive’s Jon Bentley, geekness (or at least “the ability to paint a story from data”); they need to be “fascinated by online media”, practice what they preach (echoes of Unilever’s Jay Altschuler’s digital IQ test), be tech-literate, and, of course, still hold true to the oldest marketing tenet in the book: put the customer first.
Bentley revealed that, inspired by former Economist chief executive, Helen Alexander’s root and branch review of business operations, Incisive had recently undergone a rapid reorganisation, where people had been channelled away from brands and into specialisms. Helen also identified a potentially deadly complacency regarding print subs; yes, they’re still profitable, but do we really want to find ourselves stranded on a burning platform? Publishers must be totally in tune with the changing media consumption habits of their customers and be able to offer them the right product, on the right platform in a timely fashion … and before their competitors do.
If the customer is at the centre of everything, then a “data-centric, predictive model based and fully tested approach” is key, said Future’s Stevie Spring. Data and measurement are fundamental. LOVEFiLM’s Colin Bradshaw told us to “measure everything to find out what’s working; if you don’t measure it, you don’t know.” Colin went on to say that the main challenge was not data availability (because we all have enough data) but interpretation.
Measuring the right thing should also help address one of the major issues facing subs marketers – churn. Too much of our subs retention budget is currently misdirected. As Jim Bilton said, “the moment of truth is not at renewal; by that point, the consumer has probably already made up their minds.” Colin Bradshaw said that the retention programme (a.k.a. engagement activity) shouldn’t start at Month 7, or even Month 1 – the right time is Minute 1! That doesn’t mean pinging out a renewal notice, but it does mean starting to measure engagement and usage activity immediately, and direct corrective action at those people who are not fully engaged. Create a ‘decision tree’ and send appropriate messages depending on user behaviour. (And, if the user is behaving ‘correctly’, then leave him in peace!) The aim should be to “look at all touch points and remove disconnects”.
Jim Bilton presented the findings of a Royal Mail sponsored research project into the UK subscriptions market, a treasure trove of data made possible by the pooling and research, undertaken by Datalytics, of the subscriber files from most of the UK’s top consumer publishers. One of the main findings of the research was the huge untapped potential for subs, based on the current low household penetration (only 2.9m households (12%) take a subscription) and the low rate of multiple subscriptions within those (74% of those households took one subscription only).
Talking of low penetration … what about tablets! The iPad was the talking point of Customer Direct, just as it had been at the AOP summit a few weeks’ before. The session on digital platforms had the delegates sitting forward in their seats and generated the liveliest Q&A of the day. Well, what was the verdict? Peter Phippen called the iPad, “the most exciting, invigorating, lip smacking opportunity for all of us”. Dominic Jacquesson called it a “game-changer” and predicted the slow death of the print format (which, incidentally, he didn’t see as being a bad thing for publishers). Future’s Stevie Spring sounded a note of caution by asking whether it was “bandwagon or bubble” and James Hanbury said that they were trying to rein in enthusiasm because the fact is that tablet penetration is tiny.
As is the case with all discussions about the potential of tablets, various caveats come attached: the already mentioned tiny penetration, Apple’s stranglehold on customer data and the rapid emergence of Android. On the subject of Apple, Dominic Jacquesson urged publishers to hold firm – because “once Android is up and effective, Apple will back down”. Let’s hope so.
The next few months will tell whether or not the tablet turns out to be a game-changer, but there is no doubt that it is having an energising effect. As Peter Phippen said, “this is the most exciting time to be working in our industry.”