I’m Jennifer Mirsky, Principal at Mirsky Digital, a digital media consultancy. This is a presentation I gave at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, at The George S. Turnbull Center, in 2011. The conference was called “Dispatches From the Frontiers of Multimedia Journalism.” My presentation: “The Audience Is in Charge. Why Every Business Model Should Put the Audience First.”
First, let me start with a joke that’s relevant. It is said that in Cold War Russia, there were 2 radio stations: the KGB station and the station that told you to go back to the KGB station. Second, let me tell you what I want to talk about today. There are 5 questions worth asking.
This is why the audience is in charge — because the rules of the road have changed. What do I mean by “the rules of the road?” You know what I mean by the “5 w’s”. The who has changed (demos), the what (1,000+ TV channels; millions of websites; hundreds of thousands of apps), the where (home computers, tablets, smart phones, social networks), the when (24/7, always on, on demand, vs. “appointment TV”) and a little upstart named “how often” has also changed. (We used to talk about site frequency in terms of monthly, weekly, daily . Now a site like Pop Sugar updates 20x a day. ) Italians have just the right expression to describe something like 1,000 channels. It’s called “an embarrassment of choice.”
The “why” is what gets a user to visit you in the first place, stop to get to know you, and return in the future.
As content creators and consumers, “we can have our cake and eat it too.” The technology is catching up with our multimedia plans and implementations. I remember years ago someone asked me, “Have you ever seen a website that made you cry?” My answer was “no.” The web didn’t have the immersive qualities of television and film. It still doesn’t, but we’re getting there. Now, with the tablet, we can have the best of all worlds in a lightweight, portable device: the beauty of print layouts, the functionality and customization of the web, the video of TV, the portability of mobile — and the seamless integration with social, which is now intertwined with every digital experience, vs. being cordoned off from the content as it used to be. Let me show you 3 examples from brands that I’ve worked with.
Did I hear “cake?” An app like Real Simple’s “No Time to Cook?” is right up my alley. Here’s why…
I can see right away as a member of the audience that this app is going to save me time. It asks me to identify two things: “What’s your main ingredient? And how much time do you have?”
This app is going to make me more efficient and shorten dinner preparation for me. I can email the shopping list to myself.
Not sure what to make? I don’t know about you but I’ve spent a solid 20 minutes discussing what to eat for dinner. Get access to over 850 quick and easy recipes. If you’re at a total loss, click on “surprise me.” That’s where the notion of delight enters the picture.
Following a recipe can be overwhelming for some people…Now I can take this into the kitchen with me and follow along step-by-step. I can also set a timer.
OK, so we’ve just eaten a great meal. Now maybe we want to work it off! I find there are certain things in life where you really need someone to show you how it is done. For example: cooking, driving a car, learning how to use a computer mouse for the first time if you’ve grown up with typewriters or handwritten notes, and mastering a fitness routine. Let’s have a look at Fitness. Thanks to the Fitness digital edition and Express Workout app, you can take Fitness with you wherever you are, on the go. Better yet, you can watch the beautifully presented Fitness videos and experience your own private training session.
But let’s not just focus on our bodies. Our minds and perhaps our souls could stand for a little inspiration! Sotheby’s iPad app, Sotheby’s at Sudeley Castle, lets us visit a castle, watch video from the curators, and experience sweeping panoramas of the beautiful grounds.
I’ll try not to lead the witness, but here goes.
Look at this example of an Editorial Package. “Where’s the beef?” Or rather, where’s the edit? I see a top banner, a big ad covering the main editorial tout, an ad on the right rail, and a survey pop-up.
An implementation like this “red surround” for the TV show Glee is an example of an “advertiser skin.” It gets your attention, but it can overwhelm everything else on the page. I’ve seen some subtle treatments where the skin is black and white to distinguish it more from the rest of the content. The lines between editorial and advertising are blurring more and more. Some would even say the line has disappeared altogether. Advertisers want “integration” and “rich media” experiences, and it’s confusing the user about what’s edit and what’s advertising as well as overwhelming the visual weight of the content. We need to figure out clever ways to give advertisers what they want without interfering with the user experience. Some rich media ads are incredibly creative, such as adding gifts from an ad unit to an editorial gift guide on the site. I can live with that because it’s only possible via user initiation. Otherwise all bets are off.
Magazine sites also have pop-up subscription offers. People hate them. But they work.
I’ve worked on a lot of redesigns of major magazine websites over the years, and when it comes to redesigning the homepage, I always have a visual in my mind of the carving up of Africa by the colonial powers. Everyone wants a piece of the page — there are many stakeholders (magazine subscriptions, newsletter subscriptions, ads, registrations etc.) — and they all want to be “above the fold.” Who loses in all this? The user.
As you can see from the homepage that I’ve marked up here, we have several stakeholders on the homepage: Advertising; Registration; Social Media.
Can you blame my former colleague for skipping the web altogether and instead reading all the articles at his leisure on his iPad on his commute home with Instapaper’s “distraction-free” reading optimization? The tablet takes the web experience from a "lean forward” / uncomfortable / work at your desk experience to a "lean-back," cuddle up on the couch experience better suited to reading a book or magazine. Sure, you can do this with a laptop. But it’s heavier and it gets hot. I never took my laptop to bed with me. This is not the case with my iPad. I heard a stat recently that 40% of people use tablets while watching TV, which is similar to a magazine experience.
Would you rather hear from someone who calls you with no agenda or someone who is trying to push subscriptions, ads, and registration offers on you? Independent bloggers who are blogging as a labor of love are garnering loyal frequent followings. Major media companies have had to swallow their pride and desire for control and reach out to these voices, including them in their core sites. Often these are the most popular areas of the site. This design blog run by Brooklyn-based writer Grace Bonney launched in 2004. The site updates 6-8x a day and was called a “Martha Stewart for the Millenials” by the NYT. It has a global audience with 75,000 daily readers on the main site and 350,000 followers on Twitter. Grace runs a national series of meet-ups for women running design-based businesses called the D*S Biz Lady Series. It’s a passionate audience, just like the growing success of Etsy, which just the other day announced a milestone of hitting 1 billion! An independent blogger like Grace Bonney feels authentic — she’s someone you can trust. Her site is chock-full of information and has ads but they don’t get in the way of the great content.
How are brands attracting an audience?
Like others, I’ve been involved in the search engine arms race, but it’s a risky race. As soon as Google changes its search algorithm, you can be in major trouble and witness a sudden traffic drop. You have to diversify your traffic sources and not hold your brand hostage with one source. And people — not algorithms — need to be part of that equation. Great SEO isn’t the same as building an audience. They’ll come, find what they need, and leave.
Search is fast but sifting through results isn’t. 85 million results. Seriously?
Put your audience to work for you as a brand evangelist. People will trust a recommendation most from someone they know.
Let’s take a look forward. - EBooks for adults with good visual displays for photos and videos - Seamless transitions from reading a magazine to shopping the issue - More digital “screens” around us - The promise of local + mobile + social - Leveraging all the data being collected - Layering digital data on top of hyperlocal places or shops - “The magic mirror” - Artificial intelligence. Siri’s just the tip of the iceberg.
When he introduced the iPad, Steve Jobs talked about “holding the Internet in your hands.” But is it the Internet or your data? Your smart phone will be your wallet, your purchase history, your preferences. Maybe also your guides, your personal assistant, or your interactive personal shopper. (btw, I worked with a personal shopper once, and I’m still wearing those clothes 10 yrs later!)
MyLowe’s is a great new example of forward usage. It's designed to track your shopping habits at Lowe’s, down to the paint color, room sizes, etc. So if you want to paint a hallway to match the room you did last summer, your tablet will have the paint colors you chose, the square footage to tell you how much to buy, and recommendations for some accent pieces to go with the color.
Don’t be fooled by the cute graphics or the young spirit of this product. The possibilities are endless. Picture standing in a hardware store and scanning the bar code of a coping saw. Bob Vila knows what to look for in a coping saw. And he can even show you how to use it. Or imagine standing in a grocery store and scanning the bar code of an avocado and getting editor suggestions for how to cook it and what to pair it with.
Have you heard about “the magic mirror?” You would stand in your personal dressing room in a retail store and access data about which other colors and sizes it comes in and which other pieces of clothing would best complement it. It’s radio technology that could change the world we live in. People get freaked out about the privacy implications. But the GPS we already have in our smart phones and tablets could be more cause for alarm. Then, in the privacy of your home — for example, in your bathroom — you could access weather and news and other vital pieces of information while you’re brushing your teeth! (If you choose to that is. You might just cherish those few minutes of not being connected to the information superhighway.)
The audience is now in charge as they never have been before. Think of it as a power play. They now tell you where, when, and how often. 2) Never forget the most important “w” of them all, the “why.” Remember, they have an embarrassment of choice. If you don’t give them a really good reason to visit you, they will just go somewhere else. 3) As technology improves, you can provide a more immersive and meaningful experience. Don’t just do something because you can. Do it because it’s the best way to tell the story via the medium you are using. 4) It’s humbling, but the audience can teach us a thing or two. Listen to them. See which experts they are embracing. Find creative ways to still meet your business goals without putting the audience last. 5) We’re not just going to be holding the Internet in our hands, we’re going to have our data in our hands — either on our tablets or smart phones, or physically in. our. hands — and layered and leveraged properly, this is going to allow us to deliver true personalization, whether in the privacy of a store’s dressing room or in the privacy of a person’s home. Remember, the audience is in charge. Every business model should put the audience first.
The Audience Is in Charge. Why Every Business Model Should Put the Audience First.
The Audience Is in
Why Every Business Model Should Put the Audience First
Digital Media Presentation by Jennifer Mirsky, October 27, 2011
Turnbull Center, University of Oregon School of Journalism
5 Questions Worth Asking
1. How have the rules of the road changed?
2. What hasn’t changed?
3. Why are we excited about multimedia again?
4. Who’s breaking through the clutter?
5. Where is multimedia going next?
#1: The Rules of the Road
In Conclusion: It’s All About the
You are there to serve them. It’s on their terms.
Give them a real reason to visit you.
Maximize each medium’s unique strengths.
Earn their loyalty and trust through authenticity.
Layer and leverage the audience’s data to
deliver true personalization and value.
About the Presenter
Mirsky is a digital media strategist who has led
editorial teams in the creation and production of
award-winning sites, including those of Hearst
and Time Inc., as well as Meredith, where she
served as Editor-in-Chief of Women's Lifestyle.
She heads up MIRSKY DIGITAL. Consulting
clients include start-ups, non-profits, academic
institutions, hyperlocal, and global luxury brands.