'There's a younger demographic that we're not serving today, and mobile is a way of getting to them. But do not think of it as a platform; you still have to do it through content and design.'
-- Doug Bennett,
Content, not platform, key to audience growth in digital age
One recurring theme during the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s 2012 Fall Conference was methods for audience acquisition and retention in the newspaper industry.
In his talk titled "Mobile
strategies to build your audience: What works, what doesn't?" at
the conference Oct. 11 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Natick, Mass., Doug
Bennett of Benwood Farm Mobile discussed developing mobile and tablet
strategies to achieve those goals.
Retention becomes a question of "How do you make sure that when a person turns their phone or their tablet on that they see what they expect to see?" Bennett asked.
Audience acquisition can be linked with the growing mobile market. Noting the growth in the percentage of smartphone and tablet use, Bennett said the demographic with the highest percentage of growth is those 24 to 44 years old.
"I bet you guys all understand where I am going with this: The fastest growing segment of the smartphone is this age demographic that currently newspapers do not reach," Bennett said.
The percentage of tablet use, the iPad in particular, is also growing rapidly.
Bennett described those trends as "incessant mobile growth."
The most appropriate way to court the sought-after younger demographic is to deliver desired content to smartphones and tablets, Bennett said. Most newspapers have an online product, and with the proliferation of mobile devices, the instinct is to push that online content onto a smartphone or tablet application, he said.
"The reality is we have got to be doing something about this younger demographic, and you cannot do it by just saying, ‘Let's put the newspaper on that mobile product’," Bennett said.
While working with the Orange County Register, based in Santa Ana, Calif., Bennett oversaw an iPad project that created The Peel, a dynamic tablet application devised to deliver daily content and multimedia content to the targeted 24- to 44-year-old demographic.
"The Peel was designed from day one to be focused on this younger demographic, to be focused on information, not on news, but on information about the community," Bennett said.
The Peel departed from traditional content offered in the daily newspaper. Instead, The Peel focused on the community and related topics that people were interested in learning more about. News, sports, lifestyle were covered, but almost never as the featured story.
“Our leader was always a magazine-style, daily discussion. It would tend to be more in the lifestyle section of the newspaper,” Bennett said.
“We started calling a lot of our original content ‘shows.’ And we followed a television programming format where each day we would put this product out at 6 p.m.,” Bennett said.
Mostly, the original content focused on the community. Bennett noted that the most popular “shows” offered a behind-the-scenes look at high school sports or followed local bands as they prepared for a concert.
Bennett also emphasized the importance of using the full technological potential that tablets offer. Using applications such as the one Bennett described as “rub and reveal” can help to create an engaging experience.
“The usage patterns were off the charts on this kind of thing. We put a car in here, and all we did was do the rub and reveal. You could see the engine on a new Ferrari,” Bennett said.
The Peel was "curated around a certain demographic," offering nontraditional content, and Bennett thinks that that’s what made it a success.
"There's a younger demographic that we're not serving today, and mobile is a way of getting to them. But do not think of it as a platform; you still have to do it through content and design," Bennett said.
If nontraditional content and design are the foundation of a successful mobile app, the same principle applies to advertising, Bennett said. Only fresh and innovative ideas that use the distinctive features of mobile devices will be profitable, he said.
“If all we are doing is trying to repurpose ads we run on our desktop, and then run them on mobile, it is not going to work for the advertiser in the long term,” Bennett said.
Throughout his talk, Bennett repeated his central theme about audience acquisition: It is the content that will build audience, not the platform.
“You cannot just publish your existing content to a new platform or a new device and think you are getting to a younger demographic. If I have not said it enough, I’ve said it again,” Bennett told the audience of about 30 people.
'The reality is we have got to be doing something about this younger demographic, and you cannot do it by just saying, "Let's put the newspaper on that mobile product".'
-- Doug Bennett,
© Copyright 1998-2012 New England Newspaper and Press Association. All rights reserved.