I have had the pleasure of meeting with a variety of media companies over the last few months in my role with Affinity Express. One of the reasons I joined the company was for the opportunity to work with hundreds of media companies versus just one.

While we all know the financial and competitive challenges facing the industry, it has been interesting to see the approaches various organisations are taking in their attempt to right the ship.

Some proclaim digital first, others say digital agency, and there are some that say print first. Strategies are abundant and diverse, as nobody has really figured out the best way forward. And to all of this I say … stop the madness!

I do not see any of these as the right philosophical approach. This coming from the guy who created the digital-first sales strategy and plan at Journal Register Company.

The focus needs to shift away from the internal struggles of your company and toward the real opportunities in the marketplace.

Let’s all become customer-first! It is so simple — yet never discussed in many of the conversations I have been part of, read about, or listened to.

Sure, people will say they want to do what is best for their customers. But have they built their plans around prioritising the customer? Even before your own business needs?

Doubtful.

That’s OK, as it might sound ridiculous. However, prioritising your customers leads to better long-term relationships.

Media companies are fighting for survival. So are the local businesses in your community. And their mutual survival is connected.

In order to prioritise your customers, you must understand them, and that understanding will come from areas beyond experience and legacy beliefs. It will come from data.

Our future is now and will be driven by data. Information, metrics, analysis, etc. This data will help drive which customers to target, what you will offer them, and how to target the right audience for your advertisers.

Time to become customer first. And to do that, I recommend “Moneyball”-like tactics. If you have read the book by Michael Lewis — or even seen the movie starring Brad Pitt — you understand the basic principles.

The story chronicles Oakland A baseball team’s analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team.

The old ways of identifying talent and building a baseball team were not the future for a mid-market club like the Oakland A’s. The A’s could not compete with teams that had much larger budgets. They had to think differently.

So General Manager Billy Beane threw 100 years of history out the window and built a new model for success. This new data-driven approach changed the fate of the A’s and made them a consistent competitor in the league. And, of course, many teams have since employed similar tactics.

“Moneyball” means change. And change is good.

Do you need to understand baseball to adopt a Moneyball strategy at your media company? Of course not.

But you need to understand this: The way your business has been run is broken. You can no longer survive the long haul with the ways of the past. New ideas need to be embraced and success must greatly outweigh failures, with money being spent wisely and efficiently.

Here are some first steps:

  1. Stop trying to do things because other people are doing it. Start being creative and thinking outside of the box.

  2. Stop the relentless special sections, editions, and discount programmes. Start aligning your platforms and products into a properly organised sales model with a focused value proposition.

  3. Stop assuming you know what your customers want. Start selling things that your customers want to buy.

  4. Stop targeting the same categories of business over and over again. Start focusing on customers that have needs you can serve.

  5. Stop cutting spend in research and start heavily investing in it.

  6. Finally and most importantly: Start prioritising the customer.

Moneyball your way to a customer-first organisational philosophy, applying to both content and sales.

For example, the classic method of configuring a customer’s advertising budget is taking 3-6% of annual sales as a target for spend potential. You then fight with all media companies to get your piece of that perceived pie.

In reality, though, there are more dollars to target in the marketing and digital services category. These dollars sit outside of a typical advertising budget.

The trick is finding those dollars and presenting a more complete digital solution. For that, you will likely need a data or technology partner.

There are a number of companies that can provide data-rich metrics on Web presence and performance for potential customers. This information can help you better discover leads and craft a different opportunity analysis — one in which your Web, mobile, and social platforms create the foundational elements to build a more robust solution for your advertisers.

This data can show strengths and weaknesses online, provide a score, and start helping to guide you toward the right product set for your advertisers. And the logic can be customised toward what you choose to offer to the market.

Most importantly, beyond becoming a better marketing expert for your advertisers, you are now empowering your salespeople in ways that make them more efficient and able to generate more revenue.

Any big change in direction is not easy. It is not supposed to be.

I write this to suggest a more data-driven approach focused more on long-tail revenue opportunities and less on the big hits that crush you the following year. You will generate more revenue with a focused, consistent sales effort on your core than you will with the “end-of-month-discount-your-way-to-budget scramble.” (Or EMDYWBA, because everything in our industry must have an acronym.)

The next time you stop at a strip mall, it might not be the anchor or restaurant that is your best target. It might be the small mobile phone repair store, which has a big online business. Knocking on doors, while critically important, is not enough anymore.

Let data help identify your leads and use research to better prepare you for the customer engagement.