Leaders from HuffPost, Mediahuis, The Atlantic, Nordwest-Zeitung, McClatchy, and Yahoo recently shared their strategies for gathering qualitative and quantitative data — and how they are defining groups or cohorts to better interpret and act on data — with INMA members.
“It’s essential to understand different groups of customers, their behaviours, and what motivates them in order to meet their needs,” Jodie Hopperton, INMA’s Product Initiative lead, summarised after her master class.
Here’s what they shared:
Where to find new data
“You need various pictures of your users, not just your current subscribers,” Ariane Bernard, INMA’s Smart Data Initiative lead, said. “Don’t just ask for one picture of your users. You want to take different pictures of how things are consumed and are not consumed.”
For some publishers, this means finding a way to talk to non-subscribers. For others, it means tapping into existing sources of feedback that may be overlooked.
In 2017, HuffPost wanted to find out what people — especially non-subscribers — really cared about. Hilary Frey, then-executive editor at HuffPost and current creator in residence at City University of New York (CUNY), said the team came up with a solution to talk to people directly: a country-wide bus tour.
“We really wanted to go out and hear what was most important to people out in the world,” Frey said. “And so we felt that going out and talking to the whole country was critical to our future journey.”
The team chose to visit 26 small- and mid-sized cities across the country and purposely left big cities on the coasts off the list. Although the goal was to interview 500 people, HuffPost ended up interviewing more than 1,700 — and had to turn people away at nearly every stop. Since all of those conversations were recorded, it had collected a tremendous volume of video by the end of the seven-week tour.
“Some really special things that came out of the tour,” Frey said. “Really what we heard was that people needed information about the things that most affect their home lives and their personal lives.”
“From a business perspective, we tend to make things more complex than customers ask us to,” said Riske Betten, product director at Mediahuis in the Netherlands.
The good news is that gathering information from customers — and implementing changes based on that information — doesn’t need to be complex. Betten said publishers already have a rich source of customer feedback in the form of complaints. They can be used to improve products, so publishers should be aware of the top three complaints that they receive.
It’s easy to think of these complaints as confrontational, Betten said, but it’s important to remember that there’s no blame in them, and every complaint is a chance to improve. Turn the complaint into a question, identifying the department that can help solve the issue and make a product even better.
The Atlantic is in the business of studying people and researching their habits. Even down to the nitty gritty in some cases.
“The level of nuance that people can add can be complicating in a positive way,” Emily Goligoski, executive director of audience research, said. “It’s essentially intel. I would much rather learn sooner in our process as compared to later.”
The Atlantic used diary studies to determine how people were listening to one of its podcasts, where the user agreed to keep a log that details how long they use the app and when they switch to a competitor’s app. Goligoski recognises self-reported data isn’t the most reliable, which is why The Atlantic uses it in combination with data analytics and surveys.
The surveys offer valuable insights the team could not have gotten elsewhere, Goligoski said: “These are questions that a survey or user testing, as much as we’ve gotten great value out of it, just simply would not be able to offer us.”
For Nordwest-Zeitung (NWZ) in Germany, an online, geographically-based poll and survey called The Geo-Check is helping drive leads. Silke Mohnsame, a CRM, marketing, and research consultant, said the survey doesn’t ask customers about a product or service. Instead, it focuses on the lives and opinions of the participants.
The Geo-Check features 35 questions that are divided into 14 different categories. A few of those categories include health care, traffic, climate, and more. No matter the region, each survey presents the same standard questions, Mohnsame says, for one simple reason: To provide data that enables the publisher to examine and compare the thoughts and opinions of those living across their distribution area.
A project like The Geo-Check takes the guesswork out of the process of understanding audiences, Mohnsame said: “I think that dialogue generates leads, builds customer retention, and creates user-generated content.”
Identifying and defining audiences
Understanding the context of data often requires knowing a little bit about the source — the visitor. To better interpret and act on data, publishers are building profiles of their audiences that guide product and engagement tactics.
A Web site like Yahoo has a huge number of visitors on their site every second, but a lot of those users are not super active. In fact, some of them visit the Web site and do nothing at all. They may visit directly, perhaps through a bookmark, and leave if they do not see something they are interested in, Don Matheson, senior director of audience data products at Yahoo, said.
“This got us thinking about how can we better understand and analyse those users and leverage them to build a deeper relationship and help them get the utility that they’re looking for and ultimately drive more engagement on site,” Matheson said.
Yahoo identifies disengaged users as those who have limited interactions with features compared to other users. This is the cluster they are targeting in their five step programme in identifying and re-engaging disengaged users, and creating the “disengaged user” label itself was critical to the process.
“Beyond just identifying disengaged users, this process is really important even just for basic analytics,” Matheson said.
To create a centralised view of its customers and enable dynamic experiences, McClatchy in the United States developed a data platform and segmentation framework. At the heart of this is a set of typologies developed by Jessica Parker Gilbert and the product and experience — or prodX — team.
Gilbert, who formerly led the prodX team, said typologies are a bit different to personas which most people talk about because they go beyond demographics: “Typologies are groups that are identified through their needs, habits and passions.”
People can move in and out of these typologies, Gilbert said, but they provide a solid foundation to begin building a strategy around an audience: “The typologies gave us this overall bucket to think about people and to think about what motivated those types of people and create tactics based on that.”