Editor’s note: This is one of 17 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “Making Big Data Smarter For Media Companies,” released in December.  

Zurich-based media conglomerate Ringier AG has so many businesses operating in such a variety of markets that it does not have a single, over-arching data strategy, according to Michael Voss, the company’s chief operations officer. 

Some units within Ringier are already far along in collecting and implementing highly detailed user data, while others have collected the data but haven’t yet sorted out how to use it.

At a company-wide conference on data in April 2014, executives determined that Ringier is so diversified that a single one-size-fits-all strategy did not make sense: “The question of Big Data is very different … company by company,” Voss says. 

The businesses within Ringier that are furthest along tend to be those most engaged in business-to-business commerce, and Ringier executives are in the process of studying the best practices discovered by those units and implementing them more widely.

A Ringier subsidiary in Poland, for example, is far along in capturing user interests and using that data to personalise ad campaigns. Now central management is working to bring other divisions to a similar place, Voss says. 

“We have implemented a project group with the strategic goal of using Big Data as an additional business model all over the company,” Voss says. “We haven’t set a number goal saying, ‘We have to increase by 10% due to using Big Data,’ because it is very difficult to find really a good figure there. But it was, from the beginning, ‘Big Data is a strategic goal where we have to get new information and new results within the company.’” 

While Ringier is seeking to implement ideas that have already proved successful, it is also encouraging experimentation at the local level, company by company, or with two or three companies within Ringier partnered, to test out new ideas and see what works.

It may be another 12 to 18 months before it has a concrete understanding of the increased revenue it can expect from its data, Voss says. 

Ringier has begun exploring, but hasn’t yet widely implemented, software to serve personalised content based on user behaviour, Voss says. The company tries to rely on recorded click-throughs and user purchasing behaviour as much as possible, avoiding asking customers to actively describe their preferences.

Ringier is careful even within its own walls not to share user data too freely and to respect the intent of the consumers who provide their personal information, he says. The company doesn’t want readers to “have the feeling that, ‘I have given to one newspaper my information, and at the end the radio, or the group-buying, or whatever e-commerce platform is coming back to me, and where do they have the information from?’” 

Ringier’s approach has been based more on protecting relationships and getting data correct rather than rushing to be first.

Says Voss: “This is, I feel, really the priority: Be careful and try, step by step, to develop what we could do with the data, and not going at the limits and trying to see what as a maximum we could squeeze out of any kind of personal information.”