Formulate an Effective Mobile Strategy
The "Year of the Tablet" was heralded by the consumer electronics show in January, followed in March by Apple's release of the iPad 2. Amid all the tablet hype are even more telling numbers—according to Nielsen, smartphones will constitute the majority of mobile phones used by the end of 2011, and Morgan Stanley estimates smartphone sales will exceed PC sales in 2012. By 2018, research and consultancy mediaIDEAS believes smartphones will constitute 90 percent of the cell phone market.
All this growth makes formulating a mobile strategy imperative for publishers, yet, amid successive waves of device releases and competing ideas for building and monetizing mobile audiences, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Publishing Executive tapped a range of experts to clarify the picture.
Senior Vice President of Interactive at Meredith Corp.
When Meredith Corp. acquired mobile marketing firm The Hyperfactory last July, it signaled its commitment to a comprehensive mobile strategy. Combining smart use of audience data with a "test and learn" approach, the publisher has seen great success with apps.
Know what devices your audience uses-and track their behavior. Women are "huge mobile users," Wiener says, adopting smartphones at a pace equal to men. To understand audience behavior, Meredith began tracking distribution statistics to see how women were accessing newsletters sent to readers of magazines like Better Homes and Gardens. "What we started seeing is that increasingly the iPhone and the iTouch were showing up as device sources," she says. Information like this helped influence Meredith to prioritize mobile.
Optimize mobile sites. The data told Meredith more than simply how consumers were coming to the company's products. Web page use frequency was much higher when e-mails were opened from computers versus mobile devices—two pages per visit from mobile compared to 10 to 20 pages when accessed through a conventional browser. "[We found] when you open an e-mail from your computer it was a great experience, but when you open that same e-mail from your phone, if your website is not mobilized—if you do not have a dedicated mobile site that is specifically formatted for the phone—the consumer experience is not very good," Wiener said.
As a result, the company made improving the website experience for mobile users a priority. Meredith has mobilized its four largest brands—Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, Fitness and Family Circle, with plans for more.
Plan for an "interconnected brand ecosystem." At the same time it has optimized products to leverage each platform's distinct advantages, Meredith has prioritized interconnectedness across channels. "Our feeling is that we need to give a seamless, curated, entertaining experience every step of the way," Wiener says.
Each brand at Meredith has a "brand map"—a strategy document put together by an editor outlining the best expression of that brand in every publishing platform. "It definitely is not one size fits all," she notes. Based on this guide, products are given platforms and design elements that best speak to a particular passion point. Apps for Fitness, for instance, feature video because video has proven popular with that magazine's audience, whereas Better Homes' apps are designed around that audience's preference for slide shows and still images.
Know where to put apps in the content buffet. Meredith's audience of women use apps for "content snacking" in moments when they have discretionary time. "So we looked for snackable opportunities either for the mom or for her kids that were in alignment with the brand and that delivers something different than the experience that you can get from the website or from our mobile site," Wiener says.
Being in alignment with the brand means understanding what users are looking for. The Fitness Express apps for Fitness magazine focus on quick, efficient workout plans. Apps for parents provide ways to entertain kids at the doctor's, the airport or similar situations—thus Meredith's popular flashcards apps for toddlers, which reflect what Meredith already knew about its target audience of moms: They want products that are both entertaining and educational.
Consider a freemium/tiered pricing model. The initial apps put out by Meredith were paid, and while successful on a "limited scale," the company has lately focused more on a "freemium" model, where apps are free and upgrades come with a fee. "We think there's a greater opportunity with products that you can continually think of new versions of," Wiener says. "You get a large installed base and then continually get them to purchase more."
As freemium apps draw more and more eyes, Meredith will eventually experiment with layering in advertising.
Apps should offer utility and entertainment. Wiener calls these the "two key values that are important for mobile." To this end, Meredith plans to get more into gaming apps. A good example of fun, useful apps are Better Homes' pumpkin-carving and holiday-party-planning apps, both of which were "very successful" last year, according to Wiener.
Be ready to adjust strategy based on what your audience tells you. Meredith did not originally plan any apps for Android-based devices this year, but shifted strategy based on internal data about how consumers were accessing sites and external figures on Android sales. "As the consumer changes," Wiener says, "we'll change with them."
Annette Ehrhardt, Senior Director; and
Frank Luby, Partner,
Simon-Kucher & Partners LLC
Simon-Kucher & Partners is a global consulting firm advising publishers, many of whom are in the business-to-business space, on a range of issues in online, mobile and other digital publishing.
Think in terms of convenience and practical relevance. Mobile phones first established themselves in the professional arena because efficiency gains made the technology's advantages obvious. Content providers thus far have "missed the boat a little" because they have not thought in these terms when strategizing for mobile, Luby believes. "The Wall Street Journal's professional services are woefully underpriced even today. So there's a huge market for the right kind of services in the business-to-business market. There is, in the professional market, a fundamental intrinsic value to be able to get people information on an as-needed basis, whether a weather report to the farmer or financial information."
Consider your security needs. Some companies have thus far not adopted tablet-based applications due to security concerns. With tablets being increasingly adopted by corporations and used like PCs, waiting until more security solutions are in place for tablet operating systems might not be a bad idea for firms that rely on sensitive information.
Have a "brand-global" view. Basing tablet products off of current content offerings without thinking about added value for users is a mistake. Brand-global thinking is also important as you look beyond content questions. "If you have different price strategies [for various platforms] ... it will be like pieces of a puzzle that don't fit together," Ehrhardt says. "So stop and rethink that strategy across the board."
When considering ROI, first clarify what your goals are. Are you looking primarily for profit, new revenue, new subscribers, keeping existing subscribers, brand awareness, to be hip and fashionable? "In order to understand how to get to our goals, it's helpful to break the goals down and [consider] measures like the number of new subscribers and revenue or profit numbers," Ehrhardt says. Revenues in mobile may be considerably lower than print, but profit margins higher due to lower overhead costs—these are the sort of considerations that should be factored into a revenue strategy.
Be patient, and plan long term. "Patience is something we need at this point because you cannot be sure what will work out in a trial-and-error phase," she adds. If you are trying a subscription model, understand how many subscriptions you need to do at a certain price to make back your investment in one, three or five years. "If I would need 10x more subscriptions then I [currently] have to make money, then I have to ask myself, 'Can I really be on track?'"
Luby says Simon-Kucher & Partners would have two questions for a publisher coming to them for strategy advice, followed by a premise. The questions are: How will a mobile solution add value to your customers? What is your path to profit?
"The premise is that switching to a mobile platform to serve customers better should not make you ... financially or commercially worse off. You should 'win,'" he says. "Some argue that penetration is a better approach when you go mobile, because once you have an audience, you can upsell them later. Publishers really do wrestle with this question, and most-if you really force the trade off-remain conservative, take it slow, and build a paid user base before expanding."
Consider higher prices at the outset. "Even if you have a 'sweet spot' for your content, you should end there, not start there," Luby says. "The people who see the value in your service will pay the prices, because they get an advantage and see how they can share in the value you've created. Our most common example of this is our belief that digital music singles should have started at a higher price point when iTunes launched (maybe $1.99 each), before progressing down to today's tiered structure with the three price points."
Vice President of User Experience, Siteworx
Siteworx provides design and development services in the mobile and online space.
Start by evaluating your current properties. Look at how your current websites are performing. How well are they achieving the business goals you've laid out? Are they trying to do something that could be done better through mobile? If the reach of your site is overly broad, for instance, you might think about certain aspects that could be transferred to mobile.
Calabro echos Wiener's point about understanding how users are coming to your site, and for what reasons. If you offer games, and people are coming to your site from mobile to play those games, that could possibly make a great app.
"You may find in tracking that there is a huge spike in people going to that type of content," he notes. "That might be something you have an interest in developing on your own. Do the homework up front—it's no different than basic business analysis, but the difference is you can baby test on the Web rather than jumping into the native application, which can be deceivingly expensive."
Think about your CMS. If your content management system (CMS) cannot efficiently and seamlessly switch between platforms, you will be at a disadvantage. "Are you efficient in your ability to manage [multiplatform] content, meaning, do you have a [CMS] that manages your website, and is it flexible enough to flip and also manage mobile content? I don't care how big or small you are, that question is very important, because it provides you with flexibility," Calabro says.
Strategize how best to use resources. Are you staffed to take risks? Huge companies like News Corp. can afford to invest a lot of time and resources in projects such as The Daily, but most publishers need to come up with a more limited vision of what an app will be, then flesh it out by concentrating in certain areas, such as games.
Understand audience behaviors, and design accordingly. Calabro recommends going beyond traditional segmentation to understand how your audience actually would use mobile, such as parents finding books for their children, news junkies seeing up-to-the minute information on particular topics, college students idly surfing, or sports fans checking scores between meetings. All of these behaviors require different approaches to your design for an app or mobile site. "Most companies do not dig into the defining personas of how [people] actually use mobile," Calabro says.
Being in the app store with a bad product is worse than not being there at all. It's tempting to establish a presence early on in the app marketplace, since it provides an opportunity to get impressions that cannot be gotten anywhere else. "Right now there seems to be a mad rush where everyone is trying to stick their flag, but not really sure what to do with it," Calabro says. "It's not to say it's not useful. But we highly recommend that if you take that approach of keeping up with the Joneses you do have to be very cognizant that if you put a bad product out there just to keep up you are actually hurting yourself a heck of a lot more."
President and CEO, Applico
Applico is a mobile product development firm that has worked with Rodale, Pearson, NBC and others on mobile strategy and design across multiple platforms.
Don't repeat the mistakes of the early days of the Web. People are already used to paying for content on mobile to an extent they never were on the Internet, Moazed says. With the variety of monetization models available, publishers must think in terms of how, rather than whether, to charge for content. "You're are able to get back to your original business model of convincing people why they should pay for your content rather than your competitors', [whereas] on the Internet you are fighting over convincing people that they should buy into your business model of paying for your content versus the other people who are free."
Consider whether to build out a custom platform or license one from an outside vendor. If you can afford it, the advantages of a custom platform include owning all the rights and IPs, as well as complete customization. If you choose to work with a vendor such as Adobe, what you sacrifice in design flexibility you make up for in cost and design predictability, affordability and a faster time to market.
Custom applications allow the developers to differentiate the reading and viewing experience. "You can make the platform accentuate certain types of content, design it the way you want it to be [and] translate the user experience that you think your readers like," says Moazed—whether visual features carried over from print (brand-defining elements such as the quality of the paper or printing) or other digital products. "But if you're more skeptical, if you want to try to hedge your investment and get familiar with the platform by trying something that's already there vs. really going all in and building your own custom platform, then using someone else's platform really makes a lot of sense," he adds.
Build in a solid marketing plan. Publishers must think beyond app stores in considering how they are going to drive people to their apps. TV networks, for example, coordinate with their promotional teams to do promos of their apps after shows, which creates awareness and drives downloads.
"If you're a publisher, there's a direct correlation [to what the TV networks do] with marketing your app in your existing channels," Moazed says. "If you're a magazine, put it in your print magazine, put it on your website, put it in all those touchpoints that your existing user base is going to see, so that when they have an iPhone or an iPad, they will know they can go view an existing magazine on their [device]. Getting the word out there is a big part of it."
Corporate Vice President of Digital Media, Schurz Communications
Schurz Communications is a diversified media company serving small and medium sized markets with TV, newspapers, websites, shoppers and directories. It recently has built out an aggressive, targeted mobile strategy in partnership with mobile app developer iSites.
Promote "definitional consistency" within the company. A coherent strategy requires that all decision-makers be on the same page. Make sure everyone in your organization means the same thing when they talk about mobile.
"At Schurz we are trying to bring some definitional consensus to what mobile is for us, and what it is not," Oslund says. "I can tell you in the early throes it's not gaming. It's not in our wheelhouse—not yet. It doesn't relate back to what we already do and the content strategies that we're involved with."
For Schurz, mobile currently means browsers, e-mail, applications, texts and social media, expressed with a handy mnemonic: BEATS.
Don't just reach for the flashy and sexy. It might seem exciting to jump into tablet apps, but make sure that's what your market actually wants. If you want to be on the iPad, for instance, look at how many iPads are in your marketplace, and whether you're in a 3G market. "It's so tempting to get romanced by the next new thing, and the next new thing will be here tomorrow, if not this afternoon," Oslund says. "So we have to check ourselves."
Start by mastering the fundamentals, such as making sure your website looks good on all browsers. "Start with where the eyeballs and dollars are, and work your way to the other things," he says. "It's the whole Apollo 13 thing. You know everything you need to get done, but if you don't put it in the right order, you crash and burn."
Another fundamental is proper content management and feed formatting. "Unless we are really good on the feed side, and moving data from our databases to feeds that are properly formatted to these multiple devices and applications, then we are not ready for what's about to hit us in the mobile space," he says. "That's where I back it up to: Let's become better feed provisioners, so that regardless of what new app device comes out tomorrow, we're ready, and all we need to do is skin the thing."
Don't neglect your e-mail strategy. E-mail is cool again—because more than half of all mobile devices are going to be smartphones by the end of this year, and e-mail usage is exploding on mobile. "To have an e-mail strategy is partially to have a mobile strategy because people are accessing e-mail on their mobile devices," says Oslund.
Match mobile strategy to your overarching strategy. Schurz is a big player in small to medium-size markets, and the publisher's mobile strategy is designed to dovetail with this larger strategy of being the dominant local player. "The approach to apps fits into this, with the idea being to add to the experience for local audiences and bring in new audiences," Oslund says.
The approach is designed to be both consumer and brand-centric, "taking what we do with our brands already and making it easy for our consumers on the go to connect." This means developing apps that take Internet content and move it into a better user experience for the consumer, with products such as the "Catch it Kansas" app, built around high school sports and already-strong teen engagement with mobile.
"Our filter is always ... is it going to help us grow audiences, is it going to help us grow revenue? If the answer is 'yes' to either, those are worthwhile discussions, If the answer is 'yes' to both, those are priority discussions," stresses Oslund.
Look for niche opportunities in your areas of focus that could be popular on apps. With apps, it's hard to charge for content that is already ad-supported on the Internet, so Schurz looks for specialized content that they can attach paid models to. The publisher's first paid app product focuses on coverage of Notre Dame sports, leveraging a passionate fan base and global brand.
Using outside vendors allows you to experiment. Look for models that support innovation by allowing you to try products without breaking the bank. "This allows us to say 'yes' more often, to take risks," Oslund notes. "... The model supports the idea that you have not put so much money into it up front that you become married to it. If you put $100,000 into something, you're married to it, and sometimes you make poor choices based on having to make that investment work."
If you can create 100 apps fast and efficiently, even if 75 fail, "that would be a pretty good story to tell, that we have 25 apps out there that are a hit," Oslund says. With large, up-front costs, apps come less frequently, and the stakes are higher. (Schurz hopes to have 50 apps on the market by the end of this year.)
Integrate with social media efforts. "To have a social strategy is to have a mobile strategy, because that's how people interact with the social space." Schurz is trying to leverage its "social databases" in interesting and new ways, tying apps back to Facebook and Twitter via social hooks.
Founder, Mobile Strategy Partners LLC
Mobile Strategy Partners is a consultancy specializing in mobile marketing and commerce.
Understand how people like to consume mobile content. That is, in bite-sized amounts, often through social sharing. Knowing how people integrate the content you have to offer with their mobile use habits is key to any mobile strategy.
Consider your mobile and social media strategy together. "It's kind of hard to tell where social media ends and mobile begins because social media often manifests itself as mobile," Eads says. People on mobile devices are far more loyal, frequent users of Facebook compared to desktop users; understanding social media's compatibility with mobile is important to formulating a more general mobile strategy. "Mobile is always with you, always on, you can do it in bite-sized consumption. it allows more and easier access, it's right there. So when you add in the viral aspect of social media and people consuming it on mobile, mobile supercharges the viral effect."
Think about how to make this same thing happen with mobile content, Eads says. "Lets say you have a magazine that is really interesting to somebody. If you make it super easy to share it with your social network then that can encourage it to go viral ... and you've drastically increased the readership of that article and number of ad views."
A mobile strategy can begin with social media. Build a strong presence on Facebook or Twitter, and you've established a beachhead with audiences receptive to your mobile products. "You can do [that initial step] without a huge investment," Eads notes. "... Do this social media stuff as the development [of your mobile products] is going on."
Cover every base. Don't choose apps over browser-based versions of your content—do both. "If you are only offering one mode of access, its like saying certain customers can't come in, or 'I'm not going to let certain people read my magazine.' If you want to have a large readership, the first step is that you've got to make it easy to read and make it available where the eyeballs are."
Tiered content brings multiple revenue opportunities. A level of free content will bring users to your site, which will help you build a monetization strategy through ad sales. Over this, layer in-app purchases and fees for exclusive, high-demand content. "Having lots of free content ... builds the brand," Eads says. "Use that as a platform to upsell more exclusive content from the people who are at the top tier and willing to pay even bigger price points. Depending on your publication, I think that is what is most likely to work in the tablet and mobile world."
Focus on your product roadmap. There's much to be distracted by in the exploding mobile space, with new devices or platforms announced seemingly every week. "Essentially we are all forced to place bets on what the next device in the market is and race to get it done really quickly and innovate on the house of cards we've built," Eads says. Whether you buy software from a vendor or build products in-house, "Find tools ... so you can focus on the product roadmap, the features you want to offer, the right way for readers to consume this and how it ties into social media, so you have time to think about those things and implement those things, rather than dealing with the turns [in the marketplace], because everybody is just consumed with ... that fragmentation right now."
Don't wait. When it comes to readership trends, the writing is on the wall: time spent with mobile now equals that spent with magazines and newspapers combined—and mobile is on the upward curve. It's important to formulate your mobile strategy now and capture this growing audience. PE