Embracing a ‘digital first’ approach to publishing is key to survival. But it’s no longer a matter of simply pushing content to a website.
Survival today means ensuring your content can be read, heard, and seen across a breadth of new and emerging customer touch points. It’s why, as a publisher, your digital innovation strategy is now as important as your content itself.
The Economist has been fast to embrace this mentality. Known for the value of its journalism, the premium publisher is establishing itself as an innovative media organisation with the agility to keep pace with the needs of its customer base.
Speaking at this month’s Inviqa Digital Publishing Seminar, Mark Brincat, CTO for The Economist, explained how the organisation has evolved its digital innovation strategy to focus on experimentation and learning.
Here we share his top tips for a digital innovation strategy that continues to deliver value.
Tip #1: Think Big, Start Small
SlideShare presentation: The Economist Customer Platform
The ‘think big, start small’ ethos is at the heart of The Economist’s digital innovation strategy. “We have evolved our thinking,” explains Brincat. “We have the confidence to take risks, and we continually learn from our experiences.”
The Economist has recognised that the best way to start learning about new customer touch points is to opt for small, measurable experiments through iterative work, rather than focusing on developing fully-fledged solutions.
It’s an approach to digital innovation that keeps The Economist ‘value-driven’ and ‘data-driven’ – with the flexibility to test and learn, but also the freedom to ‘move on’ if something is not demonstrating business value.
Embracing an Agile mindset is key to ‘Think big, start small’, but it’s ‘about more than stand-ups and sprints’, cautions Mark. Instead, it’s about ensuring digital products are tackling real customer needs against measurable objectives. With this approach The Economist is able to continually learn about its customer base and quickly adapt to its changing needs.
“At each iteration, learn and evolve. Be ready to pivot.”
– Mark Brincat, The Economist
Tip #2: Go On And Off-Domain
A snapshot of distribution channels used by The Economist
Underpinning The Economist’s digital innovation strategy is a move to embrace the complexity of the content distribution landscape. The media organisation saw two main options, according to Brincat — one where “content discovery happens entirely off-domain,” and another where customers “get tired of endless content streams and return to brands.”
But the publication recognised that its response didn’t need to be so clear-cut. Choosing “the middle ground,” it has decided to “hedge its bets” with tackling customer reach both on and off-domain — to explore both scenarios, measure, and learn.
Speaking at the Inviqa Digital Publishing Seminar, Brincat explained that thinking of content in terms of a domain or off-domain silo is simply not a scalable model. It’s why The Economist is embracing a breadth of content aggregators and distribution channels ranging from Facebook Instant Articles and Medium, to Apple News, Facebook Live, and Amazon Fire TV.
Tip#3: Structure Your Content
Build components, not templates, advises The Economist’s Mark Brincat
This year the number of connected devices is expected to rise to 20 billion – a number that will surely continue to grow. Many of these devices will be capable of consuming content, and there’s clear value in making your content available to them.
But your content needs to be customisable for each unique platform to provide valuable user experiences, and it needs to be accessible to new devices that can’t even read the type of data you’d typically store in a content management system (CMS).
Achieving this requires a new mindset towards content tools and models – and The Economist is a leading example here. Its digital innovation strategy includes structuring its content for where and what it needs to be in five years’ time by using a content platform.
“The content platform is as important as the content you produce as a publisher.”
– Mark Brincat, The Economist
Using structured data, the publication ensures content is customisable for individual platforms, and that this is no longer a journalist or content creator’s responsibility. Content is exposed to different media platforms and services through an application programming interface (API) layer in the content platform. This layer is responsible for ensuring content is optimised for the design and presentation that suits the platform being targeted.
To help visualise this concept, Mark describes the content platform as an ‘army of workers’ that takes content and pushes it wherever it’s needed, in the form it’s needed. Content is ultimately deconstructed and then reassembled by the API into the right experience for the right destination.
With this modular, microservices-based architecture, it’s far easier to build flexibility into digital products, to make quick changes, and to scale individual services as your business evolves.