The first tenet in business is “know your customer.” In the news media world that translates to “know your audience.”

So why are news media companies around the globe pushing back from the ability to not only quantify but also qualify their audiences across communications channels?

Whether we’re talking about online registrations, contests entries, or even posting news, sports, and feature articles online, a significant number of news media companies have opted for quantity over quality when it comes to growing and/or understanding their audiences.

News media companies are failing to request audience contact information – as in first name, last name, address, city, state, zip code, phone, and e-mail – fearing that fewer audience members will register, sign up, or respond when they are asked to provide personal information.

It is true that fewer audience members will register, sign up, or respond if they are asked to identify themselves. But based on discussions with several news media business leaders from markets in North America, most are experiencing a drop-off of no more than 15% to 20% in audience engagement.

The remaining 80% to 85% of audience members are willing to identify themselves, providing their names, where they live, and how they can be contacted.

They do so for one simple reason: They believe that by providing their contact information they will receive something of value in return (e.g., targeted and relevant communications based on who they are and where they live.)

A North American newspaper chain recently attempted to integrate more than 400,000 contest entries into its consumer marketing database. While all contacts had e-mail addresses, fewer than 10% had physical addresses or phone numbers.

This lack of contact information significantly hindered the ability to match and integrate contest entries with the newspaper’s centralised consumer database.

Yes, there are “reverse append” services that can find a physical address for an e-mail address. But the match rate (30% on average) leaves 70% of remaining records with just an e-mail address and occasionally a zip code.

What a lost opportunity.

Had those contest entries included basic contact information (name and address) instead of matching and integrating 60,000 contest players, the results could have been the addition of more than 180,000 unique new contacts gleaned from contest entries with contact information.

There are several barriers preventing news media companies from requiring their audiences to identify themselves:

  1. The belief that requesting information (name, address, phone, e-mail) from audience members will reduce total audience response. The truth is the drop off is 20% or less, and most people I’ve discussed this with indicated they saw no significant drop-off in revenue.

  2. The belief that more audience is better. The truth is local advertisers are interested in reaching audience members who live in their market or neighbourhood. Given a choice of reaching an anonymous audience of 10,000 or an audience living in areas around their retail locations, most retailers would opt for the known audience.

  3. Ongoing debate on who owns the audience or customer. Too many news media organisations have relegated and delegated audience ownership to individual departments or business functions.

    News owns the audience that communicates with them about news and opinions. Advertising owns their audiences – consumers placing classified ads, consumers entering contests, businesses placing ads. And circulation owns their audiences of current and past subscribers.

    Unfortunately, audience members believe they have a relationship with the brand, not a department or function.

  4. The inability to bring together information from disparate sources, AND/OR no plan in place to put audience information to use in an effort to improve the quality of every contact and the ultimate value received by audience members.

What if all audiences were brought together in a single place where each audience member’s relationship with the news media company could be identified, understood, and then used to improve the overall relationship with the company?

Too much work? Too hard to keep up-to-date? Too difficult to coordinate across departments?

Seems strange that a business that has prided itself on local audience delivery and is in the best position (credible brand, daily contact with community, etc.) to know its audience would pass on what might be its greatest asset and competitive advantage going forward.

Death to the anonymous audience. Know your audience – and your customer – and succeed!