05 Apr 2013

Active Innovation Is the Key!

Article on - Active Innovation Is the Key!

The prognosis is frightfully scary! The media landscape has evolved so fast over the last 12 months that many legacy publishers across the world have been struggling to play catch up. The digital revolution has certainly morphed into an unpredictable phenomenon. Learning how to harness this “animal” in the most appropriate fashion is posing to be a challenge for traditional media companies unaccustomed to having to cut and change in order to continue to be relevant.

Jumping on the bandwagon and merely migrating traditional print onto a digital template has proven to be a poor call for many a player. Content representation and amplification on web, tablet, phone and more, and doing this well, is only but one aspect of the task the industry faces. Monetising these expressions via subscriptions, sponsorships and advertising are mandatory requisites to ensure healthy bottom-lines for the business.
Instead of looking at the digital world as a daunting proposition, I believe that opportunities exist for those who can actively innovate to connect with their audiences. Gone are the days where media companies and publishers can dish out whatever they feel like or want, thinking that the folks out there will automatically lap it all up. The “Inside-Out” approach has done its time. In this day and age, consumer centricity is the key to getting a buy-in from the people who count. With the exponential growth of social media and user generated content, the people living in our time-starved world want a big say in what they read, listen to, and watch. We are all spoilt for choice when it comes to data. The consumers of the NOW are all cued in to the fact that the articles our daily newspapers carry, the programmes available on free-to-air TV, the radio segments we tune in to, etc, are not our only sources of information anymore. You need only type in a key word into a search bar to instantaneously pull in more information than you will ever need on a subject matter of choice. “Outside-In” has got to be the way to go. We must always attempt to find out what our audiences want and see how this matches up with our ability to offer them the right products or services to fulfil their needs.
"Opportunities exist for those who can actively innovate to connect with their audiences"
Commoditised news has become so vulgar and common place that its value has been drastically depreciated in the eyes of the reader. Why would one pay for a publication or equivalent if the same information and perhaps even more can be obtained for free over the internet? Point taken that branded news sources do exude a healthy dose of credibility but this is very quickly becoming less and less important. One-source dependency for information is now officially extinct. It is our right to demand multiple points of view and have it in our better judgement to decide which of these sync more with the way we see a situation.
Take myself as an example. The only reason why I would even consider reading an article in a magazine or newspaper, stay more than a fleeting moment on a TV or cable channel, hover over a station across the FM dial, is the intrinsic and proprietary value I derive from the unique way that piece of news or information is presented to me in a connective and appealing fashion. This can range from “stalking” a particular journalist or by-liner for his refreshing point of view, or watching a TV programme for its in-depth news reporting and analysis, or reading a particular magazine for its wealth of specialised content not available anywhere else. With the many RSS pushes which I subscribe to, coupled with the regular updates which I get from Facebook and the like, I am more than exposed to the generic or commoditised stuff. What will add value to my intake of news must rise above the fundamental and basic level of deliveries.
Quality journalism and compelling content must form the structural backbone of any credible media platform. In the words of Jacob Matthew, WAN/IFRA President and Executive Editor & Publisher of the Malayala Manorama Group in India, he says that “there is a need for print companies to move from a mono media approach to multimedia to become a Smart Media company that understands the changing habits of its audience and adapts its offerings accordingly.”
Legacy media such as newspapers and magazines have been seen to be actively delving into technology in order to keep their readers enthused and updated on the latest trends and happenings. These initiatives range from QR codes right through to image-recognition. Augmenting the news you read via video-links or 3-D animated graphics seen through the “eyes” of the smartphone screen is quickly becoming a commonplace offering by most print giants. Multi-sensory advertising options are also being experimented with involving imbedded video screens on pages, sound chips administered onto creatives, encapsulated scents in inks, tactile formats on free-standing-inserts, and taste strips that challenge you to “lick” the advertisement to get a better idea of the product proposition.
 "Taste strips that challenge you to “lick” the advertisement to get a better idea of the product proposition."

Mass media companies have been challenged to look at niche publications servicing growing clusters of targeted niche audiences. Consultants in the industry are dangling new “carrots” for traditional companies to consider – these include the likes of in-depth database-oriented business considerations promoting one-on-one connectivity, content extension templates and mechanisms that ensure longevity for well-crafted stories and commentaries, opt-in print products to service specific reader interests, demographic targeting of segments such as youth and the silver  population, content amplification across phone screens which are getting bigger and tablet screens which are getting smaller, and the new smart TV hardware which are broadband enabled to accord users fully immersive and interactive experiences.
However, media companies and publishers are not the only folks getting their hands dirty and knees soiled romping around in the news, communications and information playground. Telco companies have for some time already been aggressively pushing their wares and going after the finite advertising dollar. The same goes for search engine brands and top-rung social media entities such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Youtube.

In addition, media companies around the globe has upped the ante and have been ramping up their integrated media capabilities through organic growth and strategic M&As. Offering cross-media or Print-Plus solutions to customers is starting to become the order of the day. Advertisers want to have one point of contact rather than multiple. Advertisers are constantly looking for novel and breakthrough ideas to connect with their target audiences better rather than just clamouring to purchase media inventory. Advertisers are demanding ROI and drilling deep down to seek out the most ideal weightage and allocations across paid, owned and earned elements that constitute our modern-day media eco-system.

In the recent WAN/IFRA World Newspaper Congress 2012 which was held in Kiev, Ukraine, over a thousand newspaper practitioners including editors, publishers, CEOs and Marketing/Advertising hotshots were challenged to reinvent print. Suggestions included the minimising of commoditised news, re-learning the art of story-telling, embarking more on content-driven design, killing off the multi-section, creating more newszines. Other suggested strategies include investing in more 30-second reads, improving typography and photography, and making newspapers “rippable” so as to tap on the keepsake attribute of print. The cry that rang out was not to shun e-books but to embrace the opportunity; to consider working from web to paper in a discipline known as reverse publishing; to review the case for untethered web-based apps so as to by-pass the Apple rev-share model; to look into automated widgets; to delve into omni-design that augurs well for content representation across multiple platforms and devices. And the list goes on!
And instead of keeping social media at arm’s length thinking that it is here only to eat up our lunch, the clarion call was to embrace “earned” media and take the high road to own the beginning and the end of any news conversation. In this way, a threat is pro-actively turned into an advantage. Publishers and media owners are quickly institutionalising social media policies governing Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest and using this community-oriented tool to create stickiness with their targeted constituents. In this way, our consumers can’t help it but come back to our brands to continue tracking the story.
"But instead of feeling downcast and depressed in unavoidable failure situations... the only way must be forward."
It has been said over and over again that the only constant in this ever-evolving world we live in is “change”. There is clear necessity for industry practitioners to innovate as we take on the future of media. The problem with thinking out of the box is the fact that the object is still always within reach and at any point in time when we encounter objections and hit a seeming dead end, it is so easily for us to climb back into the box or “security blanket”, and with this we regress. I much prefer a “burn the-box” approach where one goes forth passionately to push the envelope knowing that not everything will work. But instead of feeling downcast and depressed in unavoidable failure situations, and at the same time knowing that the box is no more there for us to take refuge in, the only way must be forward. Consider this: Steve Jobs created the iPod, iPhone, Ipad - products we never ever thought we would need. Mark Zuckerberg built up a community that is now one of the most populated in the world. Cirque Du Soleil re-invented the traditional circus into “a circus without animals”! I am a die-hard optimist who firmly believes that there are valuable and hidden gems scattered across the media stratosphere.
So the question remains: are we prepared to creatively and innovatively hunt them out?

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

Contributed by Marketing Institute of Singapore