Hamburger Abendblatt uses interviews, surveys to determine what is missing

By Ruth Betz

Blue Engine Collaborative

Hamburg, Germany


Data tells us which articles converted, how many subscribers were active on our Web site today, and who discovered our articles on Google. But it does not tell us one of the most important things: What is missing?

At Hamburger Abendblatt, we kept asking the same questions again and again: Do we publish the right stories — or are we missing out on important local stories? Why did our Web site audience not buy in even though we displayed what we thought was an attractive sales subscription offer? Why does my neighbour not subscribe even though we keep talking about Abendblatt stories when we meet?

So, we decided to dig deeper. After some strategic discussions, we chose a quantitative and qualitative approach to better understand two target groups — digital subscribers and potential subscribers. The questions we asked were:

  1. What are our subscribers’ needs that we do not currently fulfill?
  2. Why aren’t people who know of Hamburger Abendblatt — and perhaps even reading free articles — subscribing to the publication?
The publication invited subscribers from local markets to a readers’ conference to provide feedback.
The publication invited subscribers from local markets to a readers’ conference to provide feedback.

For the first target group, we conducted one-on-one interviews with digital subscribers. We also invited subscribers from our local markets to a readers’ conference with editorial colleagues and asked them to bring ideas for topics that we haven’t covered.

Both formats provided deep insights into people’s needs and features our products are missing. Subscribers from a specific local market told us about a “feeling of being left behind” — about cables hanging from the hall in the subway stairway and insufficient public transportation. “Find out why we feel left behind” was the message from our readers in this region. Other readers told us about sporting events we were missing, local business heroes, and volunteers who should be given more space.

In the coming weeks, we will focus on our second target group, which consists of people who know about Hamburger Abendblatt but have not subscribed. In qualitative interviews with sophisticated questionnaires, we will try to understand what keeps young, digitally savvy people from subscribing. Our goal is to create a customer journey map that shows expectations, topic interests at different touchpoints, and price sensitivity of our desired target group.

Additionally, we recently launched a new survey format on our Web site, which is displayed to non-subscribers only. We ask them if they are generally willing to pay for content for any brand, what they are interested in, how often they visit our Web site, and if a special offer would be attractive. We want to keep this survey up and running for a longer time period, enabling us to understand the barriers for regular non-paying visitors.

What is missing? At Hamburger Abendblatt we are finally closing that gap by using interviews and surveys to see what the data doesn't show us. Thanks to our subscribers and potential subscribers, we are finding the key to a treasure chest full of inspiration.

About Ruth Betz

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