There are three simple steps regional newspapers can take now to achieve sustainable newspaper sales increases, but it needs a change of approach. In our second visit to Norwich this issue, Margaret Snowdon explores these three steps and talks to an enlightened publisher who has taken a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary approach to a sustainable future.
Simple – Segmentation, Innovation, Implementation
Most regional newspapers are still adopting a one size fits all approach to the creation and marketing of their titles. The result is undifferentiated and unremarkable papers that don’t upset readers but aren’t compelling enough to attract new readers and get occasional readers to buy more often. Most newspaper publishers are still basing their segmentation strategies on what has happened or what might happen rather that what is happening right now.
The first step is effective segmentation – identifying groups of readers and potential readers who have the same needs and so will respond in a similar way to the paper, individual sections or supplements. It is not so much just trying to find out what readers want but more a question of considering the actual context or situation that readers find themselves in. It is the context or situation which drives the purchase decision.
The Norwich Evening News recently undertook a year long research project, not just looking at the Evening News but also the media landscape of Norwich. This research has helped them to segment their market into clusters and to identify which ones to retain and grow.
As David Bourn, editor of the Evening News, says: "the reasons newspapers are in decline are myriad and well chronicled. But there is a basic fact at the core of it all – they do not reflect the huge changes that have taken place in the marketplace. We now have a good understanding of what people want and a better picture of the whole media landscape."
Take the time to define your markets and understand your different reader cluster values. Get this right and you can then create the right paper to appeal to each segment.
As Tim Youngman, business development manager for Archant Regional, says: "many of our titles, across the group, operate in rapidly changing markets. At Archant we believe that proper research is key to understanding these markets now and in the future and to creating products that will attract readers and satisfy advertiser needs."
Checklist for effective segmentation
1. Define your markets
2. Identify where the purchasing decision is made
3. Ascertain what drives the decision
4. Cluster your readers and potential readers
5. Prioritise your clusters/segments
6. Test your clusters/segments
7. Decide which clusters/segment to target
8. Map your clusters/segments
9. Design a tailored proposition for each cluster/segment
10. Ensure each cluster/segment is measurable, accessible and profitable
Effective segmentation enables regional newspapers to win and retain their readers.
When we undertook the Excellence in Newspaper Sales Study, and benchmarked the Archant Norfolk titles, we were very impressed at the way innovation was encouraged throughout the organisation.
David Bourn explains how their focus on innovation was used to develop the right paper for their market: "as far as the content was concerned, we held a series of brainstorming and workshops involving staff from all over the business. We did an audit of what we did and challenged the right of everything to be in the paper. We also wanted to give advertisers something to challenge their perceptions of the old paper. In came a triangular ad on the front, island ads and triangular ads in the main paper. We were even quite radical when it came to sourcing somebody to come up with a fresh new design. We enlisted the help of Archant Dialogue, with their expertise in business-to-business magazines."
The Excellence in Newspaper Sales study highlighted the fact that those newspapers which take an innovative approach to the creation and marketing of their newspapers are more likely to achieve sustainable newspaper sales increases. Many newspaper publishers did not see that innovation was relevant to them even though it is a key driver for increased growth.
In two Segmentation Insight Research Programmes we have done recently, it would appear that readers, and particularly occasional readers of regional newspapers, are also looking for an innovative approach from their regional newspapers. Two comments from the research programmes endorse this:
"The problem for me is that the paper is the same every day. It would be good if they surprised you now and again."
"It’s a bit boring, to be honest – it needs something amusing, a bit of light-heartedness to give it a bit of a sparkle!"
So, creating a culture where innovative ideas are encouraged is essential.
As Barry Dennis, managing director of Archant Norfolk, says: "it’s all about involving staff and getting them to think creatively. More importantly, there must be no blame if a new idea doesn't work. Think again and move on."
Checklist for encouraging innovation
1. Have a clear newspaper sales mission that is understood and supported
2. Constantly re-enforce the importance of innovation, design and creativity
3. Have a system for encouraging and capturing all ideas
4. Stay close to customers and markets
5. Nurture and reward innovation
Encouraging innovation works best for those newspapers who really understand their customers and markets. This helps to reduce the considerable risks that can be associated with innovation.
By understanding their market, targeting the right segments and taking an innovative approach to the creation of the new Norwich Evening News, they were ready for the third step – excellent implementation.
A review we undertook of recent launches and re-launches showed that 73% have suffered from poor implementation. This was due to a lack of proper understanding of their markets, the failure to create the right products for their markets and having no clear marketing strategy.
It is perhaps not surprising that all successful launches and re-launches had undertaken product research in advance to ensure they were creating the right papers for their markets.
David Bourn says: "we produced a working dummy based on an actual paper which we decided to robustly test in the market place. We needed to build a younger reader profile and improve readers’ perceptions of the paper whilst not turning off our older six day readers."
Excellent implementation means getting the right paper to the right segments of readers at the right price in the right place at the right time with the right promotion.
Checklist for excellent implementation
1. Test your launch/re-launch paper extensively in the market
2. Test your target clusters/segments
3. Determine what value potential readers place on the new paper
4. Find out when, where and how people want their paper
5. Ensure the marketing campaign is consistent with the brand image of the paper
6. Plan how to reach new readers who don’t currently read your title
Segmentation, Innovation, Implementation!
It will be a few months before the real sales pattern emerges at Norwich, but initial reaction has been very good. We will be watching their progress with interest.
There is not one magical answer for achieving sustainable newspaper sales growth, nor is it desirable to go for the ‘quick fix’. Still too few newspapers really understand who their readers are, their needs, wants, motivations, aspirations and purchasing behaviour. The key is for regional newspapers to get a clear understanding of their market and customers.
By adopting a consistent strategy of effective segmentation, encouraging innovation and excellent implementation, regional newspapers can achieve sustainable newspaper sales growth.