Publishers are turning to senior marketers to counter the rise of Silicon Valley giants
This year has seen more publishers creating senior marketing roles, a move they hope helps them to wrestle back control of a customer experience increasingly happening beyond their own platforms.
Senior marketers were somewhat of a rarity in the publishing world but over the last six months News UK, Time Inc UK and the Telegraph have all looked to change that. With more publishers having to cede traffic to the likes of Facebook and Google, their riposte is to stake future growth on their ability to market their intimate understanding of their readers and use those insights to create new products and services.
It’s why News UK made the decision to promote chief marketing officer Chris Duncan to a newly created chief customer officer role at the turn of the year, giving him added audience insight and analytics responsibilities. He along with chief commercial officer Dominic Carter have steered the development of The Sun’s upcoming online gambling service, which will act as its stake in the ground for fusing content and commerce together.
For a media owner like News UK, adapting to digital isn’t just about managing the publishing experience, it’s about managing the customer experience too. By that, the publisher is now more mindful of how people are consuming its content beyond those platforms it owns. "You have to understand the relationship with Facebook should be something that works with your business model, it shouldn’t become your business model,” says Duncan.
The Sun and The Times have always been amongst the most recognisable brands on newsstands, though on a platform like Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles they don’t own as much of the customer experience. Consequently, marketing at the media business has gone from promoting its brands to both marketing customer experience and understanding audience management for the company.
“You can brand on it [Google AMP] but the publisher doesn’t control overall any of the design of how that reading experience is going to work," explains Duncan. “The skills of understanding how all of the different customer experiences across all of the different platforms we distribute on make up an overall brand experience is going to become a challenge that gets bigger and bigger for publishers.”
Part of the challenge for publishers is recognising that they’re always going to be in state of reinvention. For those that have, they’re now banking on the strength of their brands to help people curate what to read through what is now a tsunami of content.
The Economist was quick to pounce on this demand, first appointing a chief marketing officer, Michael Brunt, a year and a half ago. Brunt says the main focus of publishers now is monetising readership, an objective he believes marketers - whether it's a chief customer journey officer (a role the Economist is soon to create), a chief customer officer or a chief marketing officer - are best equipped to fulfil. To Brunt, this means putting more of an emphasis on product development centred on fulfilling readers’ unmet needs instead of just concentrating on the needs of the advertisers.
That shift in emphasis is reflected in the way many publishers have accepted (somewhat begrudgingly) the need to host their content off-platform, recognizing that they have to distribute their brands where their readers are. But with tech giants increasingly setting the rules when it comes to distribution, the concern among publishers is that they’re sacrificing a direct relationship with their readers.
The challenge then for publishers is how they navigate that uneasy alliance with technology to keep their brands visible and strong.
To that end, Time Inc. UK reorganised its business around the customer journey, taking a more holistic approach to all the touchpoints their readers experience the brand on. The publisher has two types of customers, the end customer, who increasingly define themselves by what passions they have and who crave the exclusive content it creates for them. Then there are B2B customers, advertisers who rely on its output to better understand who the customer is so they can reach them in a more personal, targeted and contextually relevant way.
Michel Koch, Time Inc. UK’s recently appointed CMO, claims his role is “very similar” to that of a chief customer officer, adding that the creation of roles like this are “more of a statement than anything else” that signal how publishers are starting to think about their businesses differently.
“The whole rationale of our marketing transformation is about putting the customer at the heart of everything we do; positioning our brands and content in the most engaging way to support our audiences in their passions; and then delivering the right value proposition across the whole customer journey rather than just the initial engagement piece,” continued Koch.
If advertising was the only source of revenue for publishers now, then today's fragmented media space would be a very difficult place for them to compete in. What makes sense for the likes of News UK, The Economist and Time Inc UK is to look at how they monetise a reader’s willingness to pay for their content.