Think Tank

Growth Hacking: Journalism and the Funnel – Part 1

Growth Hacking has become the priority for media looking for growth and in particular an expanded subscriber portfolio. It promises to supercharge activity thanks to data and the mastery of performance indicators at every point along the conversion funnel. For traditional media the challenge is more than simply converting passers by to paying customers; they also need to succeed in engaging younger, more female, and more digitally adept audiences. These are audiences who don’t just want to be informed, but to be actively involved.

It’s a complex challenge to take up and one that only an expert multidisciplinary team, mobilised around the conversion funnel, will be able to meet.

Here are my takeouts, based on work with a major regional publisher about how to embark on this new development strategy.

This is a three-part piece, the latest in the “3mn R&D” series (See part 2). It focuses on why you should know more about Growth Hacking, how it makes it possible to mobilise the skills and expertise required to solve the problems based on the issues facing a generalist regional publisher looking to urgently rejuvenate its subscriber portfolio.

1/ What is Growth Hacking?

Whether you’re a CEO, editorial executive, or marketing/sales manager Growth Hacking has become an essential culture to understand and master. Action based,  Growth Hacking focuses on the conversion funnel and the customer lifecycle from initial courtship to the transformation into a brand ambassador – all by means of data analysis.

The objective of Growth Hacking Is to boost revenue growth and in order to that we have to have an in-depth knowledge of our readers. Making that happen is the work of teams combining expertise in UX, design, data, marketing – not forgetting editorial and tech, of course, in order to create new solutions and products. The essential point of Growth Hacking is the ability to change your offer, and with it your product. 

2/ Growth Hacking and journalism, how does it work?

Simply put, the goal is to optimise the conversion funnel so as to transform your visitor/user into first a customer, and then an ambassador by means of the  6 key steps – AAARRR (see graph 1, below)

Awareness – This first step is crucial because it allows you to arouse the curiosity of target audiences so that they become aware of what you can offer. For established media, the challenge is to prove that it can satisfy a multitude of new needs. The traditional way of processing information, focused on bad news, is no longer sufficient for modern appetites. Your newsroom must diversify its themes and formats, better valorising them so as to generate more interest and engagement. Another essential point is the understanding and use of SEO to be “findable”, as well as proposing headlines that demand attention. As we saw in the first “3mn R&D”, it turns out that a very large amount of content published by traditional media still does not meet the classic 5W rule (Who,Why,What,Where When…). In the example I cited, 80% of the articles published by a regional media did not meet those time-honoured 5W guidelines; that adds up to a considerable loss of earnings in terms of SEO and social networks. Other areas to focus on are improving the reach and profile of your media through face-to-face or virtual events, SEO, social networks, advertising etc. The purpose being to open the mouth of the funnel as wide as possible.

Acquisition – What is your website’s audience? How many visitors are there per month? The purpose here is to design a content strategy of both “hard” (politics, international affairs..) and “soft” (celebrity, entertainment, lifestyle..) news as well as the originality of your angle so as to reach and engage a wider range of readers. In the logic of conversion this also means abandoning clickbait content that doesn’t help build quality relationships.

Activation – How many times a week is your app downloaded? How many users will want to log in to react to information? Is there a solution in place to hold back or let loose the comments? At this point it’s all about an opening act followed up by a succession of actions that ensure you’ve captured attention and are delivering in your relationship with your own publication and readers. Content and editorial positioning are powerful tools to inspire engagement and with it action and reactions from target audiences. Take, for example, Tortoise, the “slow journalism” project launched in 2019 as a direct riposte to traditional media judged to be both  too superficial and  too old school.  Understanding that new generations are looking for directions for action as much as simple information, Tortoise puts members’ responses at the heart of the editorial project.

Retention – The frequency of visits is absolutely key to the chances of visitors becoming subscribers. That became evident very early on from the data analysis of pioneers such as WSJ, FT, and others. In the same vein do you know the “retention point” of your publications? In the words of Sean Ellis, founder and CEO of GrowthHackers; “The Retention Point is when your subscriber decides that he wants to be a member of your tribe, that he’s engaged…. When they really understand the essential value – what the product is for, what benefit they get from using it.”

Revenue – Who is paying for what and how much? Are they urban or rural? How old are they? What occupations do they have? The fine-grained analysis of revenue and who your customers are will be very informative in helping you set new goals! In one of my projects, the average age of subscribers is 60. It is therefore vital for this medium to rejuvenate its subscriber portfolio or risk seeing its resources disappear very quickly and therefore its room for maneuver diminish in the coming years. From then on, the generations born in 1980, 1990… must become priority targets for this media and the newsroom must animate the AAA stages daily. 

Referral – The goal here is to encourage customers to be more than a “subscriber” and instead become ambassadors for your content, spreading the word about its quality/attributes. Did you know that Tortoise’s growth comes largely from word of mouth: half of new members come from recommendations. It’s an approach that has seen the Tortoise community grow to over 110,000 members. 

3/ From collaboration between Editorial and Marketing to a team dedicated to conversion

In a competitive digital world journalism is a very complex sell. This is not helped by the fact that the necessary collaboration between editorial and marketing to boost sales is complicated by mutual mistrust.  

Managers of Premium editorial services, for example, don’t incorporate marketing approaches, and those responsible for marketing remain ignorant of both the limitations and possibilities of Editorial when it comes to building relationships.

The solution involves orchestrating the differing logics of Editorial, Marketing, data, UX, and design in order to imagine new solutions to attract a younger audience. Which means a pivot point editorially engineered to be as close as possible to users’ needs. How? All will be explained in part 2 in the next “3 min R & D”.

David is CEO and Founder of New World Encounters and Upgrade Media. He has over 15 years of experience as a digital strategies coach and consultant in organisations like WAN-IFRA or his own ventures. David is passionate in serving the media community and shares here his expertise with us. This is a first episode from a series of articles on R&D Product Development.

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