What is at the heart of decision making? “Data and customers,” said Andy Day, News UK’s business intelligence director. And this twin focus is what helps to drive success, even for “old guard” newspaper publishers, he told delegates at INMA’s Big Data for Media conference at Google London on Friday

But it wasn’t always this way. A quick look at newspaper sales over the past decade shows that the figures are in decline. So why did Day, a self-described “data geek,” join a dying industry?

Because he believed in News UK’s core mission: People should be paid for good journalism, content should be differentiated and distinctive, and the industry should be customer-driven.

Plus, there’s room for a data geek to maneuver because there’s value in the data game. Day has found that companies that invest heavily both in advanced analytical capabilities and in developing analytical skills see huge bottom-line payoffs.

Putting data in the broadest sense at the heart of business has been key to News UK’s success. The newspaper publisher uses a multi-pillar strategy:

  1. Putting all of its data in one place.

  2. Democratising the use of this data

  3. Making customers the center of the decision-making process.

  4. Helping to deliver a significant measured value.

Adhering to this multi-pronged model has been one of the underlying mechanisms that’s driven success for News UK.

But take care: This may come as a surprise to attendees, but it’s not all about data. This data has to be valuable in order for customers to find it significant. There’s a tendency in editorial rooms to pitch content to one type of person. However, it’s crucial for staff to be in sync with their readers and put out information that keeps an audience active and engaged in the content. Or to put it more plainly, Day said, “forget the customer at your own peril.”

Even the most basic of insights can start to challenge a business to do better by thinking better. “It’s all about gut feel and looking for simple stuff in data,” advised Day, whose takeaway point is that companies shouldn’t get too wrapped up in this burgeoning talk of Big Data.

Changing the mindsets of business-side and journalism-side employees to focus on customers hasn’t been an easy task for News UK, but it’s paid off. The trick is not only in harnessing the power of data – data without context is just data – but also in leveraging data to empower the editorial workforce to think more about customers and potential and existing products, and to understand and predict consumer behaviour in a more nuanced, thoughtful way.

Keeping in mind both data and customers will ensure that you’ll never lose sight of what makes your product great.