Customer loyalty must be our mantra

He said this was his most important customer. In a hotel that ran conferences, exhibitions and events, this was his man.

He calculated that one person coming in every night for two beers was more valuable than any event, banquet or party.

Oh for Keith to be running the publishing business.

Loyalty and intensity must be the mantras for media companies in the next decade.

Intensity is the combination of frequency of consumption – the mix of visitor numbers, visit frequency and visitor activity.

In print, reading times are falling.

On the traditional internet, visitors are rising, relative to print circulation, but pages visited are not.

Meanwhile mobile devices, phones and tablets, are generating great intensity but in relatively small numbers.

Loyalty is out of the window.

Media consumers are increasingly, and rightly, turning to a wider range of media sources – something they have been doing so since the invention of radio.

And – as I have reported many times – the more valuable the customer, the less loyal they are.

To turn back to my analogy: does our value lie in irregular visitors, or our steady loyalists? The Times, of London, and New York Times have concluded they can make more money from a few paying loyalists than from the advertising a thin mass-audience attracts.

Both are smart companies that invest cleverly in strategic analysis. But to me, the math simply doesn’t stack up, either in terms of the relative value of content payment, or that of pay-per-click.

Oh, how I’d love to be wrong.

Multipliers are one of my favourite strategic tools: small incremental, manageable, targetable actions, at each step in the value-chain that collectively, geometrically build into enormous growth performance (or in some case, deletes negative performance by focusing on the causes of dilution).

One small change in, say, the frequency with which print readers are coming back to the product each week, backed up by an increase in the number of print readers referred to a masthead’s website, can translate to a massive increase in total readership.

But what are we doing about it? Zip all.

Given the dramatic news of the last month, I’ve unusually been watching a lot of television.

Whether it is CNN, BBC World, Al Jazeera, Sky or Fox, they all share one thing: Obsession with intensity.

Between every programme is a lookahead promotion demanding that we come back for more.

As a non-TV viewer, I’ve been finding myself diarising viewing for nature programmes, comedies, and even (and don’t tell anyone I said this) Piers Morgan on CNN! Every presenter, anchor or reporter points viewers to their website.

I’ve been arguing for more decades than I admit, that newspapers must forward promote, only to be told variously, “we mustn’t give our plans to our competitor”, “we don’t have the space”, “we’re being attacked by an alien species from planet Zog”.

All of which translate to “I’m lazy, insecure, and can’t be bothered with your marketing nonsense”.

Tough.

Today it is critical we take this onboard.

The Columbia Journalism School has recently produced an excellent report on the “business of journalism”, which presents the need for journalists to be more commercially minded.

It’s a great report, so I hesitate to say: “I told you so!”

Our industry – in every department, at every level – must wake up to the reality of intensity, or our lack of it.

It is an actionable and potentially profit-generating concept.

The New York Times can boast a ratio between monthly web users and print circulation of 188, The Guardian’s ratio is 125, El Mundo in Spain rates 69 and the Sydney Morning Herald 22. And they all enjoy enormous international audiences, according to Nielsen numbers.

It’s a different story for regionals.

US regional newspapers average 5.7, Spain’s 16.3, UK 9.1 and Australia’s 6.4, says Nielsen.

My analysis from working with publishers is that the “best of breed” publishers, which focus on local markets, can apply the multiplier concept to achieve page impacts per circulation levels of 13 times those of the average pack, by focusing on these few simple factors.

But I look at the average newspaper, or average newspaper website: do I see a single look-ahead, or a single invitation or incentive to come back? Rarely.

Is there an adequate cross-over between print and web? Rarely.

Is a penny or cent spent on branding? Hardly.

Many of the major digital companies are now resorting to TV advertising to raise their brand profiles.

Ironic isn’t it that these digital guys are turning to traditional media for branding, and we don’t get it?

We’re not losing friends because people don’t like us.

We’re losing them because we’re simply not welcoming them back.

Jim Chisholm is an independent media consultant based in France. He can be contacted at jim@jimchisholm.net

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