TThe newspaper business has gone through some dramatic changes in the past 10-15 years. But perhaps the biggest is the change in the relationship between the product and its consumer.

For decades, newspapers enjoyed the enviable status of “destination product.” In other words, people made a point of purchasing a newspaper. It was a “must-have” product, and people would make special trips to purchase one.

Newspapers, of course, provided news, sport and information. But more than that, they helped people live their lives. The newspaper helped you get a job, buy a home, select a movie or TV program to watch, choose a restaurant, find a new recipe, get relationship advice, sell a car, find a roommate and much more.

In addition to all that, the newspaper provided an escape from the rest of the world. It was an intimate media which provided a handy physical barrier between you and strangers on the train, work colleagues and even, on occasion, your mate.

It’s no wonder that people went out of their way to buy or subscribe to one.

Much of that has changed. Today newspapers are not, I think it is fair to say, a “destination purchase.” They have become a highly discretionary purchase. Newspapers don’t just compete with other media, but fight for share of wallet; competing with chocolate bars, greeting cards, lottery tickets and soft drinks.

As a destination purchase we had to be very good at producing and distributing newspapers. And we were. Publishers met the needs of the audience by producing a quality product and making certain that it was easily accessible. But as a discretionary purchase we must market differently. We must be very good at selling newspapers. There is a big difference.

It is no longer good enough to just produce and distribute the newspaper. Nor can we hope the front page headline or a free gift will convince people to buy it. We have to create a demand for our product. Or should I say “re-create” that demand.

Although there are now many more options for news, sport and information, newspapers can still play a special and relevant role. We do more than just report news, like so many other news media. When we are at our best we help improve people’s lives.

So yes, our product needs to change with the times, and so does our marketing. Perhaps we need to start emulating some of those brands with whom we find ourselves competing: Coca-Cola, Mars, Hallmark. Like them, we must build a relationship with our customers and make our brands as important as the products that carry them.

If we want to stop declining circulation (and even build it) we’ll need to better understand our audiences, our customers. And metrics like “brand preference,” “brand affection” and “brand advocacy” will have to move up the priority list to live comfortably in the Board Room along with Circulation, Readership, Revenue and Income.

To be continued ...