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Nation Media Group accelerates its digital transformation journey

By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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As a company founded in 1959 in Kenya, Nation Media Group (NMG) has a powerful reputation and is the largest independent media house in East and Central Africa. But as print revenues declined, it began looking at how to accelerate its digital transformation journey, said Max Okeyo, head of strategy and innovation. And, although the journey is not complete, the company has made impressive strides in its transformation.

In looking at its strategy, Okeyo said they had to look at what was driving industry trends. They defined several important factors, including:

  • Disruptive technologies and trends, largely driven by the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, robotics, mobile, and supercomputing.
  • The impact of Big Tech and the use of AI to lure away NMG’s audiences.
  • NMG’s underinvestment in consumer data to help them better understand consumer needs in both mobile and Web platforms.
  • Declining print circulation and revenues.
  • An increasingly fragmented digital audience.
  • The possibility of reader revenue models.

“The other [thing] is the convergence of industries; media entities will not survive on their own,” he said. “It’s important that they converge with other industry players in different sectors, including the technology companies, just to see how they can create ecosystems and drive new value for the customer.”

Nation Africa identified the areas that affected its digital transformation and the role each one played.
Nation Africa identified the areas that affected its digital transformation and the role each one played.

A new kind of customer

Recent trends and changes have led to the rise of a new type of customer, one that is more discerning and more informed. Being able to provide more for them to discover on the NMG platform is critical, Okeyo noted.

“So as opposed to just content, what else are they willing to do while on our platforms? Are they willing to engage suppliers or service providers of different things? Is it health education? Is it gadget reviews? What else are they willing to achieve when they get onto our platforms?” he asked. “And how do we leverage that opportunity to be able to derive more value in monetary terms?”

These considerations have all been central to NMG’s digital journey as it looked to transition audiences from the newspaper and traditional TV and radio into consuming content — both premium and free — on its digital platform. That journey began with getting company executives on board and helping them understand the objective. With a shared vision, they were able to deploy the mission and ensure everyone across the company understood and supported it.

It also required bringing in new talent to fill new positions: content creators, data scientists, indigenous statisticians, content marketers, and more. “We need people who help drive this agenda,” he said.

Then, it focused on the brand equity that had been built throughout the company’s history — and looked at what new value it could bring. That value came in the form of creating new product like podcasts, video, infographics, and other ways to remain relevant and forward-thinking.

Pulling it together with tech

And of course, it required one important tool to move the plan forward: “Technology is a big part of the digital transformation journey,” Okeyo said. “[You must] invest in tools that help you continuously understand that new consumer whose needs keep changing on a day-to-day basis. How best are we investing in this data technology or data tools to understand users? You have to use data to continuously understand how they engage with your platform.”

Nation Africa learned several relevant and important lessons as part of its digital journey.
Nation Africa learned several relevant and important lessons as part of its digital journey.

Reducing churn is also a critical success factor, something Okeyo said they do by developing content, opportunities, and experiences to keep people more engaged while on the site.

One obstacle on the journey has been reluctance of readers to accept a paywall, and that’s a challenge they are still working through. But, he noted, this transformation is a journey, not a quick overnight trip: “It’s a mindset shift. A lot of them were so used to consuming our content for free on the Web site, so we have to give them a reason to make that transition. We have to develop content that helps them make that shift.

“And so quality journalism then remains key in driving subscriptions for the products that we’re developing.” 

About Paula Felps

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