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Motivating the Masses

Why do people buy newspapers? Some still do, apparently. If we can just work out what makes people part with their cash, then we can put together product development and marketing plans to encourage more to do the same. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it? Philip Preston has devised a Purchase Motivation Model, designed to improve sales.

By Philip Preston

For many relatively low cost purchases, such as newspapers and magazines, it normally doesn’t take too long for consumers to make a decision to buy.

Obviously if it’s a house, a car or a holiday the decision making process is a bit longer and consumers go through a number of stages before parting with their cash. These will include identifying a need, searching for information and evaluating alternatives before making a purchase.

They may even experience moments of doubt having just spent their money. Will the product or service live up to expectations (for instance, a season ticket for Norwich City FC)?

However, regardless of the value of the transaction, the starting point is always when someone identifies the need to satisfy a need. For example, "I’m hungry so I need a KitKat" or "I keep bumping into things so I need a haircut".

One of the last things I was working on before leaving the challenging world of regional newspapers was a Purchase Motivation model. I was coming to the conclusion that there were nine basic "needs" or motivations that could be exploited from a product development or marketing point of view. (It would have been nice to have found ten, then maybe I could have had a new career as a consultant, although Preston’s Nine Needs has a certain ring to it.)

However, identifying and rationalising what motivates newspaper purchase is only half of the answer – newspaper executives also need to translate this into action, either in the way editorial content is selected, written and presented or the way the newspaper is marketed.

Preston’s Nine Needs

In an effort to keep things simple, particularly for editors, I tried to summarise each need by using a single word: Read, Know, Look, Search, Win, Save, Test, Support, Dialogue. Marketers will understand all this straight away of course but for lesser mortals this is what it all means:

1. Read
Without wanting to state the bleeding obvious, quite simply if someone does not ENJOY the act of reading, then why would they buy a newspaper? So the first "need" that has to be identified and exploited is the need to relax and take some time out of an often hectic day. Reading fits the bill brilliantly as it is not only an activity that virtually anyone can do but also it has to be done exclusively – have you ever tried reading the newspaper while doing the ironing or making the kids’ tea? (Obviously, this is a rhetorical question for the female readers of this article only.)

Consequently, reading a newspaper should be promoted as an enjoyable leisure activity and it should not become a daily chore or something to be endured. There’s so much depressing news around at the moment, it is important to strike a balance with lighter, more entertaining content.

All the research I have ever seen that investigates the reasons why people read a regional newspaper always state it is for the local news (the bleeding obvious again). So, typically that is what newspapers promote – "get the News for all the local news".

I know it’s a crazy idea, but why doesn’t somebody just promote reading – as a leisure activity, as a reward, as something worthwhile spending time doing? Perhaps this campaign could be sponsored by the local newspaper.

Newspapers should also be available where and when there is an opportunity for someone to take five. There are only really four "reading occasions" to worry about: at home, at work, at play and on the move. This has obvious implications for distribution as well as marketing and promotions.

2. Know
We are all curious and inquisitive by nature. Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will know that once we are able to satisfy our base needs for survival, safety and love we all aspire to achieving self-esteem and the respect of our peers. To do this we have to have knowledge.

Being able to fully participate in conversation, debate and argument with friends, relatives and neighbours requires knowledge and much of this comes from newspapers. Even today, with information freely available on the internet, there is still a role for the printed word. Local newspapers in particular have a responsibility to impart knowledge that cannot be found elsewhere. This includes reporting comprehensively on the local business scene through to listing the child care facilities available in the area.

Marketing campaigns that focus on the benefits of acquiring this knowledge, rather than simple "get the News for all the local news" product features may do better in the long run. This assumes that newspaper executives are prepared to invest in marketing that evokes an emotional response and do not rely entirely on two-for-ones (but more of this later).

3. Look
This doesn’t mean that we all have the need to see. It refers to the satisfaction we get every time we pick up the paper and see or read about someone we know personally, including ourselves and our immediate family.

For example, how many newspapers have been bought by proud grandparents when a picture of their grandchild’s pre-school nursery class appears in the community news section?

At the other end of the scale, the "hatched, matched and dispatched" BMD section of the paper is avidly read by many people in their twilight years to keep tabs on the current status of their friends’ health and to check that they are still alive themselves (this is based on their black humour, not mine). So why do many newspapers make the BMD section one of the hardest to read by using the smallest font size they can get away with?

4. Search
You should be getting the hang of this by now. This one is probably dead obvious. It’s all about satisfying the "information gathering" stage of the purchasing process and relates specifically to the classified and listings sections of the newspaper.

In other words, "I need a new car" or "I need a plumber" – this is where the newspaper’s searchable online database comes into its own. Or it should, provided it has something genuinely better to offer than the competition, which includes popular sites such as Yell, Monster, Rightmove and Auto Trader.

5. Win
I’m not a great fan of this one, but it does have a role to play. There is something inbuilt in all of us that makes us want to take a chance, to gamble, to win. The popularity of the National Lottery has always amazed me – it has nothing to do with donating to charity or good causes. It’s all about the prize money, even though the odds of winning a fortune are 14 million to one.

The danger is that newspapers may see competitions and prize draws as a one-size-fits-all marketing solution and focus too heavily on this type of promotion as the answer to their circulation prayers. The least they can do is add some excitement to the whole affair, either in genuine money-can’t-buy or must-have prizes or the entertainment value of the competition itself (I say bring back Spot the Ball).

6. Save
Long before the credit crunch arrived, people were looking for a bargain. The success of discount stores, such as Aldi, Lidl and Primark were partly driven not by a lack of disposable income but by the satisfaction we all get, including the 10% of the population paying the highest rate of income tax, from getting a good deal.

These days, we all demand value for money. So we are back to the good old buy-one-get-one-free promotions and other money saving offers. Many years ago when I launched the Big News reader loyalty scheme, we asked readers what sort of things they wanted to save money on. The answer then was ‘food’ followed by ‘petrol’. I guess times haven’t changed that much.

7. Test
This has a particular resonance for me. While I was commuting daily between Ipswich and Norwich, I became hooked on the EDP crossword.

It was doing a number of things. It was entertaining me for 45 minutes or so each day, it kept my brain active and it gave me great satisfaction if I came anywhere near solving all the cryptic clues. It also became the main reason for me buying the paper.

I think there is a case for even more puzzle pages in newspapers – some, like the Norwich Evening News, have already identified the same gap that companies such as Nintendo have started to exploit. They have been extremely clever pitching the Nintendo DS and their range of brain-teaser games at the more mature end of the market and have made a killing.

8. Support
We all want to belong; that is why most of us choose to live in communities and enjoy the social interaction we have with neighbours and others sharing a common interest in where we live.

This is something that local newspapers have been exploiting for years. Actually, "exploiting" is not an appropriate word to use because the best newspapers have a genuine affinity with their patch and will do anything they practically can to support local community projects and good causes. This has always been a core element of the newspaper brand and newspaper executives should not underestimate the long-term good that can be done by listening to local people’s concerns and giving something back – or the damage that can be done to a brand’s reputation by ignoring them.

9. Dialogue
Ever watched Question Time? People love to ask questions, get involved in debate and have the opportunity to either agree or disagree with someone else’s views. People get very emotional at times, but that’s a good thing – we all need a bit of passion.

Sometimes newspapers have to sit on the fence rather than stick their neck out – but that’s not so much fun for the reader. Some controversy, with a small ‘c’, is needed and this is where a newspaper’s opinion pieces, leading articles, feature writers and columnists, a lively letters page and online forums come into their own.

How to become a super-consultant

So that’s a quick run through of Preston’s Nine Needs. I had put them into a table with the nine needs running down the left hand side and three additional columns for Rationale, Content / Content Development and Marketing. This meant I had to fill in a 27 box matrix, which would have made me a super-consultant, but I couldn’t be bothered. I’ll leave that up to you.

Incidentally, if anyone can come up with a tenth ‘need’, please let me know. I need the money.