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Delivering a relevant and valuable reader experience

Readers are the most valuable asset of every newspaper. According to Margaret Snowdon, the challenge is for regional newspapers to not only retain existing readers but also to attract new readers. The key to this is in defining your market.

By Margaret Snowdon

Analysis of the Excellence in Newspaper Sales Initiative (ENSI) undertaken by Media Solutions earlier this year highlighted the fact that every newspaper recognises that its readers are important, but many couldn’t accurately describe the actual experience they are creating and delivering to their readers.

The Insight into top British Brands, part of ENSI, demonstrated that top brands all share a real understanding of their customers’ perspective. They use it to provide products that are truly relevant to their customers’ lifestyles and deliver a consistently rewarding experience. They think through every step of the customer experience and ensure that it is rewarding.

The regional newspapers who are achieving sales growth ask:
* Do our newspapers truly deliver a relevant and valuable reader experience?
* Do we really know what kind of experience we deliver to our readers?
* Have we ever asked our readers what kind of experience we deliver to them?
* Do we regularly ask our readers what kind of experience we deliver to them?
* Do we think through every step of the reader experience?

In many of the daily titles benchmarked in the ENSI, the focus was on trying to grow circulation in the short term. This is leading to mass canvassing campaigns to get high volumes of orders, with little consideration to how new readers are going to receive their papers. In many newspaper centres, the direct delivery infrastructure is struggling to cope with the delivery of papers resulting in erratic or non-delivery. This leads to dissatisfaction with the whole newspaper experience.

Many of the newspapers in the ENSI, who say that they are customer-focused, are still too focused internally. Many newspapers still produce what they think readers want; deliver it to the outlets where they think readers will want to buy their paper and charge readers what they think readers should pay. Only 33% of newspapers involved in ENSI had undertaken any specific market intelligence about their readers and their lives.

A new approach is being adopted - one that truly focuses on the reader at every turn. To be able to deliver a relevant and valuable readers experience, regional newspapers really need to know and understand their readers if they are to improve their reach into their market places even further.

The ENSI also highlighted that most of the research undertaken by regional newspapers consisted of finding and analysing data from readership surveys and then repeating the process a few years later. To really deliver a relevant and valuable reader experience, regional newspapers need to focus more on having a clear insight into their markets and their readers, lapsed readers and non-readers based on up-to-date market intelligence. A culture needs to be created which manages the whole reader experience. This needs to be managed strategically by taking five key steps:

1. Gain insight into readers’ lives by analysing the socio-cultural context in which our readers live; their needs, wants, lifestyles, desires, motivations and aspirations.
2. Create the ‘experience’ proposition by matching readers’ desired experiences with the relevance and value of the newspaper for that market.
3. Design the brand experience by defining every aspect of the brand for and from the readers’ experience.
4. Shape the reader connection by ensuring that every ‘connection’ the reader has with the newspaper delivers a rewarding experience.
5. Review the ‘experience’ constantly: by listening to readers constantly, newspapers can be tailored specifically to readers’ lives.

A great newspaper is the result of a great and consistent reader experience. A consistently rewarding reader experience will result in more copies sold and greater frequency of purchase. A first step to this is for regional newspapers to define their markets.

Defining your market

Papers that define their markets sell more copies! Alex Cummings, managing director at the Dorset Evening Echo (last ABC up by 1.9%) said: ‘ We pride ourselves on producing newspapers that reflect every aspect of local life. ‘If it goes on, it goes in’ is the motto’. The Paisley Daily Express’ (last ABC up by 1.47%) editor Jonathan Russell says, ‘The whole ethos of the Paisley Daily Express is to give readers and buyers exactly what they want. We try to see it through the readers’ eyes and give them what they think are good stories rather that what journalists think are good stories. We try to give them what they want, rather than telling them what to want’. Western Morning News’ (last ABC up by 1.45%) editor Barrie Williams adds, ‘We are very aware of our reader profile and target this definitively when deciding on our daily content."

Step 1: Market intelligence map

The map below has been developed in conjunction with a number of regional newspapers to provide an easy-to-use tool to help newspapers define their markets.

External Audit

Economic Environment
1Political – ownership, regulation
2Economic – income and employment levels, GDP and inflation
3Social & cultural – demographics, lifestyles and cultural values

Technological – IT, Internet, digital TV, mobile, palm

5Legal – relevant UK law, EU law
6Environmental – changes in the community
Local Competitive Environment

Current degree of competition from all media

2Possible competitiveness from current competitors and from new entrants
3Threat of substitute products and services
4Evaluation of key competitor activity – positioning
5Data on other competitive concepts – mobile technologies, web-logging
Local Marketing Environment
1Total market size, growth and trends

Market characteristics – population and housing trends, new developments, ethnic diversity


Products – including ents / county magazines, what’s on publications, Metro, web sites


Prices, discounts, special offers

5Distribution channels – CTN, supermarkets, new media
6Customers and consumers – demographics, lifestyles, interests and aspirations
7Trends in marketing
8Industry trends and practise

Internal Audit

Financial, Sales and Marketing Data and Trends

Newspaper sales by postcode, day, outlet type, home delivered v casual

2Canvassing conversions and retentions, direct delivery trends, bulk sales, causes of circulation loss, availability
3Financial data – turnover, ROS, circulation revenue, costs, net per copy, market share
4Product rating – editorial content analysis, classified platforms, supplements
5Effectiveness of current marketing mix, 4P’s – product, price, place, promotion
6Market research data – readership surveys, 5P’s – profile, penetration, perceptions, preferences and propensity to read / purchase, qualitative
7People – quality and training
8Processes – measure 3E’s – effectiveness, economy, efficiency

Step 2: The 5P’s

The ENSI highlighted the fact that only 15% of titles benchmarked defined their markets by the profile, penetration, preferences, perceptions and propensity to read of their readers by demographics, lifestyles, interests and aspirations. 51% of newspapers said that they monitored at least one of the P’s on a regular basis.

Below is an example of a simple 5P’s grid.

Interest groups

This analysis is being used by a number of regional newspapers to help them define their markets as they want to really understand the market in which they operate so that they can grow newspaper sales by producing the local newspaper that the people of the area want to read.

Step 3: Your paper uncovered

Those titles which are showing readership and sales growth are fully uncovering their readers, lapsed readers and non–readers and with that in-depth market knowledge, are producing regional newspapers which have the potential to be attractive to the optimum market segments in their marketing areas.

These papers strive to:

* Understand the type of people who read the newspapers in detail; their lifestyles, motivations, preferences and aspirations.
* Appreciate what they like and dislike about the paper and why, what they read and don’t read and why, their rating of key platforms and why and how they actually read the paper.
* Uncover the types of news which readers like and want to read about in detail, as well as sport, features, leisure and entertainment.
* Diagnose to what extent the paper’s sections and supplements most strongly correlate with reader satisfaction.
* Identify the main readership drivers for their title for each readership segment and type of purchaser and highlight current strengths, vulnerabilities, opportunities and threats from other information sources.
* Fully uncover reader’s perceptions of their newspaper, the brand image and personality they believe it has now and what they would like it to be.

They also recognise the importance of monitoring the lapsed reader experience. They try to fully analyse the type of people who have stopped reading the paper in detail; to find out what they liked and disliked about the newspaper and to investigate the real reasons why they no longer read the paper. Part of this process is to establish what enhancements could be made to bring them back.

The third key group of people that need analysing is non–readers. As with readers and lapsed-readers, newspapers need to understand the type of people who don’t read their newspaper. Specifically they need to ascertain this group’s reactions to and perceptions of the current newspaper, to investigate the real reasons why they don’t read the title. This will help newspapers identify the key satisfaction drivers by lifestyle, motivational, preferential and aspirational classification segments and to discover the optimum readership propensity model for attracting new readers.

According to Plymouth Evening Herald editor, Alan Qualtrough, "it’s basically all about developing content and connecting with the readership." Paul Bentham, managing director of the Mansfield Chad (a paper whose latest ABC recorded a 22% rise) stresses "we continue to work hard to improve the service and the experience we are offering our readers." Newspapers which put the effort into understanding their readership and then set about refining their product in light of their knowledge will continue to thrive.