How do you know if you are really satisfying your audience? You talk with them – and, more importantly, you listen.

As a media executive, I’ve found that I can find a wealth of data on almost any audience behaviour if I just ask the right people the right questions.

Smart executives have come to rely on carefully crafted scorecards and regular metrics to measure the critical things like reach, time on site, number of pages deep a consumer goes, etc.

But I’ve come to realise this is only the beginning.

Often when we set out to conduct research, hold focus groups, or talk with consumers, we already have a product idea or feature in mind. We’re seeking their validation or feedback.

But something magical happens when you take the time to walk out into the street and actually get to know your audience. You can’t just listen to prepare your response. You have to listen to understand.

This way of thinking seems so logical and easy, yet few media companies embrace it.

The Dallas Morning News has been no different. After 130 years as a successful, well-trusted brand, we often think we know what satisfies our audience.

But admitting what you don’t know can make you stronger, and that’s one of the many reasons we announced our participation in Matter last week. Matter is a San Francisco based entrepreneurial accelerator seeking to build the future of media through human-centered design and a prototyping approach.

Small start-ups from all over the world apply to be in the class of Matter for the opportunity to accelerate their businesses, culminating in a demo day in which the industry and investors can learn more about their companies. (Read more on this year’s class.)

The Dallas Morning News is among four new media partners who have joined the Matter mission. For us, the reasons are simple:

  1. To learn more about today’s entrepreneurs.

    We need to understand young companies’ approaches to solving challenges in the media industry. These may be companies we can begin to work with and may not have otherwise found, or they may be future disrupters to our industry that make us think differently about our own approach.

    Either way, we win by being at the forefront of the technological solutions that are coming to market.

  2. To give back.

    We hold “office hours” with the companies that are in the Matter class so we can give them real-world examples of problems we face and they can help to identify ways in which their companies can help solve them.

    I’ve found a direct-to-consumer company that is sitting on fantastic technology that we could deploy in our newsroom, and suddenly they have a business-to-business distribution channel they hadn’t even thought about.

  3. To transform our company culture into one of consumer focus and discipline.

    We are intentionally taking all levels of the company from the CEO to the reporter to the product owner through Matter’s version of a “boot camp.” They will learn there simply is no other approach to designing your next solution than by placing the user at the center of design.

Ultimately, time will tell whether we are able to get the kind of religion around human-centered design and rapid prototyping that Matter and the participating companies have. But we believe accelerating our thinking around the consumer and applying our company’s proud history of journalistic curiosity to product development can only help. 

Who knows? In our attempt to reinvent the way we look at our audience, we may just reinvent ourselves.