Developing audience loyalty through data-driven publishing

Publishing may well have been the first data-driven industry. After all, selling copies of your newspaper, magazine or book depends upon writing about things that people care about and are engaged in.

Finding out what things people cared about used to depend upon annual reader surveys or responses mailed in on a postcard. In 2016, it means getting granular insights into actual readers’ preferences, priorities and behaviour from a data management platform.

The publishers that understand this are the ones that make headlines and succeed today. The digital natives — Buzzfeed, Mashable and Refinery29 to name three — know the power of delivering personalised content that resonates with their audience.

They have also recognised that the key to engaging people in the content they’re creating is adding value to the audience’s lives. Rather than seeing content as merely a vehicle for rendering ads, it can be created to serve as a utility for their audience, a way to educate, entertain and inspire publishers’ readers in a way that is consistent with their voice and brand.

The insights publishers now have about their audiences' reading and shopping behaviours not only helps them create more compelling content, it helps them create content that appeals both to readers and to advertisers, a necessary union for funding publishers. Rather than create mass-appeal content with generic advertising around it, publishers can now leverage data to create precision content and marketing pieces for maximum benefit to all parties.

The area of content and marketing where this is most effectively achieved is commerce-related content, or ‘comtent’. Also known as shoppable content or commerce content, comtent is editorially-driven content about shopping, products, brands and trends. When done well, as it is increasingly done by top publishers such as Refinery29, Wirecutter and Buzzfeed, it is entertaining, informative, a utility guiding their readers to make more informed or novel purchases. People refer to shopping as ‘retail therapy’ because for many people, shopping is fun, and creating content that helps people on that journey not only creates engaging experiences but incredible opportunities for subtle and unintrusive monetization.

Comtent can initially be a concern for publishers of the old guard who are still trying to reconcile their historic church and state delineation: the commercial and editorial teams. There is a fear that commerce could influence editorial integrity and impact upon longer form or investigate journalism. But, comtent doesn't have to come at the expense of editorial integrity. On the contrary, leveraging comtent as an incremental content form and revenue stream can help support and subsidise long form news reporting.

Furthermore, interactions with comtent give publishers insights about the brands and product categories their audience is interested in, which fuels not only future engaging comtent creation, but informs the direction and focus of the publisher’s advertising teams. Data can therefore create loyalty both with a publisher’s audience as well as their advertisers.

Alicia Navarro is CEO and co-founder of Skimlinks

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