I came of age in perhaps the last generation to remember an object getting tossed to my parent’s suburban porch each morning. It delivered a dose of local news, along with a dog bark. That paper was read for more than just my high school’s sports scores and local events – it also contained valuable ads and coupons. The newspaper was a source of all kinds of commercial information. We knew that the latest models of cars had arrived at the dealership, which plants were in at the hardware store and what was on sale at the local grocery store. When I was a kid, I eagerly read the toy circulars at Christmas, and the stereos in the electronics flyer appealed when I was a teen.
Now we live in a very different local media climate.
“In the U.S., weekday print circulation has shrunk from a high of nearly 60 million in 1994 to 35 million for combined print and digital circulation today — 24 years of decline.” – Washington Post, March 2018.
And while national newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the Times are thriving in their digital editions, local newspapers are struggling to convert readers to digital and replace the advertising revenue lost in print. When Gannett recently announced it would merge with the New Media Investment Group to encompass over 260 local newspapers, it was seen as a last-ditch survival effort for local newspapers.
The marketing ecosystem will continue to evolve and marketers over time have rightly shifted a portion spend towards digital/social/influencers, aligning with the current way consumers interact with brands. Similarly, traditional TV viewership is declining, causing marketers to invest more in non-linear and targeted TV efforts (e.g. Connected TV, Online Video, Addressable TV).
So, what do marketers do to stay ahead of changing consumer trends and ensure their advertising dollars are spent reaching the right eyeballs and ears, and in the right way? Is it possible to be proactive and stay ahead of trends, or is it enough to be strategically and swiftly reactive? What types of things should marketers be considering based on changes in consumer trends like readership and media consumption? How can we take advantage of current opportunities while planning for the future?
Here are some key points of consideration when trying to stay ahead of an evolving media landscape:
- Ensure you are structured to measure and react to these changes. Having a holistic measurement program in place is key to understanding the current state and baseline performance of marketing investments, to make the most informed strategic decisions going forward. Without a foundation for how advertising (e.g. newspaper circulars) is performing in the context of all other drivers, we are limited in how to plan, optimize, and react to marketplace changes and stay at the forefront of these developments.
- Consider the consumer journey. Traditional advertising, like that offered by newspapers, is a mass advertising vehicle, with typical exposure earlier in the customer journey or funnel. Understanding how top-of-funnel advertising interacts with and impacts lower-funnel activities such as Paid Search is integral to understanding how investment changes may have downstream impacts on other tactics/conversions. For example, if 15% of Paid Search’s impact is driven by a mass advertising vehicle like newspaper circulars, any cutbacks to that driver are going to also have an impact on your lower funnel vehicle performance.
- Test your way there. When considering investment changes, a wise approach is the same strategy used by a carpenter: “measure twice, cut once”. Large, wholesale changes to marketing strategies rarely play out well because there are so many variables across channels and tactics. Furthermore, marketing vehicles work together, so large cuts to one tactic have broader impacts than just its own. Employing a test and learn approach ensures that we first understand the implications of investment changes on a small scale, prior to a large, pendulum swing in investments.
- Optimize, Optimize, Optimize. Optimization is crucial, not only when we are making investment decisions, but even more importantly when we are considering investment cuts or shifts. Considering things such as saturation, scale, and frequency of executions all aid in making smarter, data-driven investment decisions. Optimization is two-fold, optimizing within investments as well as across tactics, strategically scaling back while re-investing in more efficient vehicles that evolve with the changing ecosystem.
- Consider your target. How different demographics of consumers interact with advertising is very different – when it comes to newspaper marketing, boomers typically read more traditional newspapers, vs. Millennials or Gen-Z’ers. Understanding your target demos and considering how changes in advertising may influence them differently is key to making sound marketing strategy changes.
Keeping these things in mind will ensure a strategic, data-driven approach to investment decisions, particularly as marketers look to stay ahead of changing consumer behavior.
One exciting aspect of working in analytics is that the baselines of media response can change dramatically in a short period of time. It was just 20 years ago that digital media achieved broader, more mass reach and changed everything we knew about traditional media. But it’s also been 100 years since newspapers were in a period of wild creativity with multiple titles competing in each market. It was the advent of television in the ‘50s that first cut into the impact of local newspapers. Now we are experiencing the latest evolution of that medium and the marketers who adapt, evolve and thrive with their spend will continue to communicate with their best customers in a manner that fits their lives now.
As industries, media, and consumers evolve and change in ever more rapid ways, it is more important than ever for companies to stay ahead and constantly adapt as well. Change isn’t always a bad thing – it opens up new opportunities to add competitive advantage and offers new lessons on the importance of being adaptive.
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