INMA’s product initiative lead Jodie Hopperton had a simple message for delegates to the organisation’s World Congress: “All roads lead to product”.
During the session, she joined product managers from four media companies in sharing best practices for developing new products and leading product teams.
But it’s what she’s learned since the beginning of the INMA initiative – which launched in January 2021 – that has reinforced her view of the power of product in today’s news media landscape.
Three core elements at the core of the initiative are the meaning of customer-informed products; how to manage conflicting objectives; and how to “go beyond traditional news products” to become part of the customer lifestyle.
Distribution which has become “massively fragmented” over the last couple of decades had created new challenges as well as opportunities for publishers: “We used to have one product in one format – now we’re distributing across a wide and growing number of platforms,” she said, noting different screens, social media, text, audio and video.
And she said consumption patterns were also changing, as people started leaving their homes in a post-lockdown world created a greater need for seamless integration between devices to keep them engaged. “And that engagement becomes more important as competition thickens,” she added.
“Today’s news media companies aren’t just competing with other news companies; they’re also fighting to draw consumers’ attention away from podcasts, streaming entertainment services, social media, and apps.
“We really are competing for time and we’re in the information economy.”
Hopperton said convincing consumers to spend their time and money with news media brands meant “giving them an experience they love”.
Her ten ideas on becoming consumer-centric from the past two years, were:
-starting with the organisational culture – “product has to be infused within the organisation”;
-acknowledge the differences in cultures between departments – journalists think differently to product people – and emphasise outcomes to find common ground;
-use personalisation – “if you’re optimising for one person, you’re not optimising for the majority of your readers,” she said;
-use data to recognise behaviours – look at cohort groups of users, typically five or six target groups;
-have understandable objectives and metrics so everyone in the organisation understands what they’re working toward;
-“love the problem, not the solution,” she says. “It’s not looking at the what, it’s looking at the why. It’s not just what people are doing, but why they’re doing it. Ask what the problem is they’re trying to solve”
-prioritise ruthlessly, acknowledging that we don’t have unending staff, resources or time. “We really have to evaluate impact and effort to decide on what to work on.”
-then communicate those priorities – “it’s not just about deciding them, but telling people what you’ve decided to do and what not to do”;
-keep teams informed – regular communication is crucial, and it provides a way to celebrate what’s working;
-use a framework for product development – such as the seven-step framework INMA created, and which is the subject of a report she authored – and share not to only share success stories, but to also share things that didn’t work. “Not everything is going to be a success, but if you’re working to the right assumptions and you can explain that to people, then it’s understood.”
INMA’s World Congress continues until May 26; find details and coverage here.