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Future-proof your business

No matter what you do or which sector you’re in, change is constant and will only continue. The winners will be the businesses with the mindset to embrace transformation, says Jessica Norell Neeson.

By Jessica Norell Neeson

Future-proof your business
“We now have the highest volume of paying subscribers since 2012 spanning across the paid-for app and print.”

In my two-decade career, I’ve worked in various sectors and geographies and have observed two key themes throughout: digital transformation and ever-changing consumer habits. And since joining Immediate last year, I’ve seen that there’s clear parallels from my time in banking, with digital-first innovators helping reshape established sectors.

Disruptors such as Monzo and Starling transformed banking with agile, customer-focused digital products, forcing traditional banks to re-evaluate their offer and business modes. Simply put – traditional banks have higher operating costs with their expensive branch network and staffing model. The digital disruptors had the advantage of building a digital-only self-serve customer proposition without carrying a legacy operating cost model. On the other hand, the traditional banks have the reputational advantage of security and trust.

Similarly, legacy media businesses need to leverage their strength and experience as trusted content creators while adapting to behavioural and technological trends to stay relevant.

It’s worth reflecting on these trends and strategies for responding:

  • On-demand consumption: With the shift from linear to on-demand consumer expectations, brands need to be platform-agnostic, with content taking precedence over the medium.
  • Algorithmic influence: Algorithms increasingly shape consumer behaviour, creating challenges of how to stand out from the competition.
  • Information overload: In today’s content heavy world, how does quality content cut through amid all the noise?
  • Generational shift: Younger audiences’ media habits have changed dramatically, preferring social video, with less trust and loyalty to traditional brands.

To be successful in the digital-age, businesses either need be at the forefront of trends or to react quickly, both behaviourally and technologically. How do you do it?

1. Adopt a customer-first mentality

Understanding and agilely responding to the ever-changing lives of customers is crucial. It’s essential to meet audiences where they are, leverage digital technology, and provide content that’s relevant to their wants and needs, so using digital audience data is vital to developing a strong content-led proposition.

Today’s consumers have unprecedented content options, guided by algorithms delivering tailored recommendations. Publishers need to adapt by building strong relationships with their audiences with tailored, relevant content to deliver brand loyalty.

At Immediate, Good Food’s evolution from a monthly print magazine to a truly multi-platform content provider, as the UK’s leading food website with over one billion page views, a digital edition, premium app, live shows, podcasts and millions of followers on social media channels, consuming content in a variety of formats, provides a great blueprint of how to adapt to the new media environment. We now have the highest volume of paying subscribers since 2012 spanning across the paid-for app and print.

This hasn’t happened by accident; we’re acutely aware that the food space is a hugely competitive market and we need to meet the audience wherever they are, understanding behavioural drivers and tailoring our content to resonate across a diverse range of platforms. Pivotal in crafting this stronger customer experience is the leveraging of data from our digital products to better understand our customers’ habits, helping to expand Good Food’s reach and solidifying its position as the nation’s favourite food brand.

A brand that deeply understands its audience, the platforms they engage with, and builds tailored experiences will foster greater audience engagement.

2. Invest in high-quality content

There’s an abundance of low-quality content out there, so rise above it; brands need to invest in high quality content. Quality and brilliance in content creation, will always be the cornerstone of audience engagement.

The New York Times is a great example: testament to the power of content quality. Its successful digital subscription model has been driven by investment in high-quality investigative journalism and multi-media experiences, amassing almost 10 million digital subscribers. They’ve attracted customers through an all-access model with attractive bundling propositions across various products – from news, to puzzles to cooking, etc.

At Immediate, we’re committed to the high editorial standards that have built our brands’ reputations across all our content touchpoints, to maintain and build trust. Whether that’s through triple testing recipes and attracting the best expert talent for our history, food, entertainment or gardening podcasts, to continuing to invest in our print models and ensure our content works across all platforms for a seamless audience experience.

3. Adopt a growth mindset

Transitioning from a non-digital heritage needs a culture of continuous learning.

The rise of AI is possibly the biggest challenge – and opportunity – for our generation. AI is not just a technological shift but a cultural one, developing a culture of fast failure, encouraging educated risk-taking, and adapting strategies swiftly. At Immediate, we have embraced the AI revolution by taking our people with us in a series of AI immersion and hackathon days, featuring best-in-class speakers and practice, externally and internally from our wider Burda Group. It has also seen new ideas, generated over a hackathon, turned into funded products being rolled out in the business.

Crucially, we’ve cultivated a culture of fast failure. If a project isn’t working out, we share the learnings and adapt our strategy quickly. Encouraging educated risk-taking and learning to fail quickly and transparently is a vital part of any company’s long-term success, and ensuring our people have the confidence to adapt to this change.

And it’s not just AI. Video needs to be at the heart of any content strategy as the preferred medium of choice for younger audiences. At Immediate, we’ve invested heavily into our video capabilities and training, democratising video creation across our editorial teams, providing future-facing skills development across publishing, video, and tech. Last year, we had over 52m views for our video content across our entire portfolio.

Beyond technical skills, embracing the future also has to be about championing the talent of the future. Remaining culturally relevant is crucial for any business and listening to your team and identifying new talent is key to this. Taking a lead from the PPA, we’ve also recruited a Next Generation Board, led by talent under 30, to give them valuable experience of working with our senior leaders on key strategic projects, but, as importantly, to get their perspective and input on our future direction.

4. Ensuring investments add value

Aligning technology investments with existing value propositions is critical. Technology should seamlessly integrate into customers’ lives, offering practical solutions that enhance everyday experiences.

Selecting the right acquisitions and tech investments requires a strategic approach focused on becoming a habitual part of customers’ lives. As AI promises transformative potential, maintaining high standards is paramount. Investments should add tangible value, supporting customers in their daily lives and streamlining their experiences. In essence, businesses must invest in tech and content that simplifies and enhances their audiences’ lives.

In 2022, Immediate acquired Nutracheck, the UK’s leading calorie and nutrient tracking app. This strategic acquisition broadened our food brand portfolio offer from content to tools and services. Nutracheck boasts a best-in-class UK food database, verified and updated hourly by its data team.

“Every customer comment and suggestion about changes to the app or new features is meticulously reviewed by the Nutracheck team.”

Prioritising customer feedback, Nutracheck continuously develops new features and app enhancements, with a dedicated UK customer care team available seven days a week. Every customer comment and suggestion about changes to the app or new features is meticulously reviewed by the team. The Net Promoter Score (NPS), a key metric gauging customer satisfaction, stands in the high 70s – in a class with companies like Apple – and is testament to their commitment to customer understanding and focus.

The acquisition of Nutracheck was not just a good strategic fit to Immediate’s existing food and wellness portfolio. As a key element of our focus on driving our digital subscription business, building on the expertise we have in print subs, Nutracheck (with around 300,000 digital subscribers at the time of acquisition) brought valuable digital subscriptions know-how.

Working collaboratively with centre of excellence teams at Immediate, cross-marketing and editorial opportunities, including the launch of Immediate’s first digital-only magazine, Healthy Balance, have helped drive significant new subscriptions and revenue growth.

In conclusion, consumer media businesses that understand their audience’s needs and behaviours, deliver high quality content, foster a culture where change is embraced, and invest in tech with value added, are most likely to stay relevant and be successful in an ever-evolving landscape. There is one certainty – the only thing that is constant is change.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.