09 May 2013

Inside Out or Outside In

Article on - Inside Out or Outside In

Having spoken across a slew of major media and publishing conferences around the world in the last couple of years – Vietnam, Hong Kong, Philippines, Dubai, Copenhagen, Vancouver – one of the topics constantly discussed and debated about at these encounters hovers around how publishers and media owners re-purpose their content and have these pushed out to consumers at large.
Across most legacy businesses where content is still positioned as King, the most common practice across the industry is for editorial head honchos, who perceive such exceptional value in their stories, to rush headlong into commissioning and fashioning these into topical websites and branded apps. I term this the “inside out” approach. This stems from the fundamental premise that their content is so well researched and written that consumers are presumed to want to read them in whatever shape or form they appear in.
So that we all have a common understanding of what “re-purposing” means – it is defined as “The use of something for a purpose other than its original intended use. Repurposing an item can be done by modifying it to fit a new use, or by using the item as is in a new way. The practice is not limited to physical items, and is a common practice for marketing material and content.”
When editorial content is re-purposed from “inside out”, there is usually very little consideration as to how well consumers will take to it (the assumption is that it will always go down well. Formal testing and research is rarely done to assess concept acceptance and potential usage levels. You can almost hear the editor saying – “If our content is good enough for print, it should be good enough for the web, radio, out-of-home digital screens, tablets, and smartphones – so our readers should like it.”
You need only drill down a layer or two below the surface of this to realise that although the content and material is the same, the way this is consumed across platforms and devices can be totally different! It is not difficult, even without embarking on any formal surveys, to acknowledge the fact that consuming information off your monitor screen while you are seated comfortably in your office or home is dissimilar to reading it off a small form factor such as a mobile device while you are commuting and moving around. Re-purposed content also needs to be relevant in the way it is presented to the reader within the prevailing environment. The person reading a story on his laptop will usually have time to take in long-form content versus the occasions when he is using his smartphone.
The other consideration that needs to be factored in is how content is delivered across segments of the day. I’d like to say that the folks from Fairfax Media, Australasia’s largest multi-platform media group, do this really well. I had the privilege of attending the PANPA
(Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association) conference last year in Sydney where Fairfax’s CEO Mr Greg Hywood spoke about taking the content to where it will be consumed. In the past, their customers and partners came to their products and platforms lap up all they had to offer. Today, this is reversed in that they now diligently follow their customers wherever they go and spend time and energy to build the right partnerships.
Fairfax makes it a point to track product usage patterns by platforms across the entire day so that they are able to maximise the impact value of their integrated suite of media and engagement tools which include web, mobile, tablet, radio and newspapers. Traffic peaks across a work-day which include segmented blocs such as “home, travel, work, travel and home” accord intelligence to how media can be efficiently planned and flighted on an integrated schedule.
Fairfax found, in the context of the Australian market, that newspapers tend to be consumed primarily in the morning, at home. Tablets and mobile devices, on the other hand, are accessed voraciously in the morning “travel” commute period. Shortform web hits a high just before lunch time, whereas longform peaks round about 4pm in the afternoon and again at 8pm. They leverage on this intelligence and use it to advise their advertisers how they can effectively reach out to multiple audiences throughout the day. With such sophisticated understanding of consumer behaviour, Fairfax’s advertising sales team is now more equipped to customise their clients’ cross-media requirements so as to help them generate the most out of each individual touch-point. On the other side of things, with this, the editorial folks are also now more in the know when it comes to the projection of their content to achieve maximum connectivity with their audiences.

"User-generated content is pretty much the order of the day!" 

Now coming back to the “inside out” syndrome – with the proliferation of social media and the inculcated habit of sharing opinions, views, and reviews, pushing content out across a one-way pipe to who you think are your readers just does not cut it these days. Just witnessing how significant the role social media played in the last American and Singapore elections tells us that the community at large really wants to be heard. User-generated content is pretty much the order of the day! With this prevailing scenario in mind, content amplification is now better achieved through an “outside in” approach – get out there and find out what the customer wants first and then package the content to appeal to them. It is gratifying to see more and more media companies around the world embarking on formal research to understand what today’s modern consumer is looking for and subsequently using these findings to develop more targeted websites, mobile apps, games, etc to engage them with.
With the rise of social media – by now there must be well over 250 of these entities around – publishers are quickly incorporating select parts of this avalanche into their communications infrastructure and encouraging their communities to post and share their comments, views, and photos. It is now no more what expertise the content owner has that fuels a compelling application. It’s getting the fans and friends of your brand to validate your material and have them further contribute their recommendations and opinions about it. Some industry people call this the 360 spectrum – a holistic template that gets a total buy-in by all stakeholders. Over and above these considerations, media owners are also utilising geo-location capabilities and contextual understanding of their audiences to serve up news and advertising at the most appropriate times and in the most relevant fashion.

“Outside in” also involves according the customer the best experience possible by configuring your product to satisfy their every requirement. And since we are on the topic of customer experience, I had the privilege of visiting OCBC’s Group Customer Experience facility recently and was enthralled by the amount of attention the company places on ensuring that every touch-point is researched into and then treated with the most user-centric design that results in delivering total delight. So whether it is a customer walking into a branch, or filling out a form, or engaging in internet banking, OCBC’s Customer Experience department is responsible to make it the most pleasant encounter possible. Think about this – if businesses focus more on delivering superior customer experience on the front-end, then the amount of service recoveries on the back-end will surely be minimised!
"You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology"

Media owners over the world can afford to take a leaf out of OCBC’s customer experience book. It is obviously not good enough for content developers to feel gratified about just dishing out its wares but be conscious about aligning them with the expectations of its readers and viewers.
Even Steve Jobs realised this when he said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”
Looking broader, the “outside in” approach is not just applicable to publishers. Marketers and business owners should take heed of this as well. Many a time, we develop a product or service because we think it will sell. And many a time, we do this because it is comfortably linked to our expertise and experiences. How about turning this around and first finding out what the customer wants and then see if you have the capability to fuel the requirement?
Having said this, with market scenarios changing faster than ever in this day and age, it is mandatory to move really fast through all the necessary paces. At another point in his life, it was also Steve Jobs who said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
If you are still reading this piece up till now, I’d like to suggest that you take away from this whatever appeals to you as “positive” and leave the rest behind on the shelf. I’ve always lived by the adage that everything I read, view or listen to has a certain value – to what proportion and extent this knowledge can contribute to making me a better person both professionally or otherwise is for me to internalise and apply.

By Geoff Tan
Geoff Tan is the Senior Vice President & Head, Strategic Marketing
at the Singapore Press Holdings.

Contributed by Marketing Institute of Singapore