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Understanding audience preferences versus reality

I live in a world of planes, trains, and automobiles. I travel extensively, to say the least. But in this world of crazy, I get to experience life in various countries, cities, and economic and infrastructural stages.

We in the news media industry fundamentally believe that each of our markets is unique, as are our publications and what we represent. We’re right. We’re unique – just like everybody else. This fact makes one thing ubiquitous: We all have the same struggle – audience.

This blog is about “satisfying audiences” and I think that’s key, but I want to highlight one big point: The difference between understanding audience preferences versus reality.

We’re all doing the research, looking at the data, remembering days long gone by, and trying to change reality. We ask our readers what they prefer. Many prefer the printed product. We see it with glossy magazines and our Sunday newspapers. Well, here’s the dirty secret: Preference is not reality.

I prefer to eat French fries and any sort of salty, crunchy chip product I can get my hands on. That’s my preference. My reality is that I don’t (too often) and stick to my leafy greens and healthy diet.

That reality versus preference is the same for newspapers.

Although the bulk of our older readers may prefer print, the reality is this: We are now in a digital age. We’re more likely to leave the house without our wallets, watches, or lunch – but not without our phones or tablets.

This is the reality of today. We’re married to our devices. We read our e-mails, browse our news, and consume the content we prefer on these devices.

Do we prefer to be reading/answering our e-mail sitting comfortably at our desks, with our ergonomic keyboards and large dual monitors? Sure. But do we? Not always. That’s part of our reality, which we supplement with the rest of our reality – mobile digital devices.

Each market is unique, and your content is the local voice. That’s reality. Making your content your audience’s preference is key, and offering it to them in a variety of formats that suits their reality is the secret to satisfying the audience in your market.

Print should be supplemented with digital. Digital should be supplemented with print. Advertisers need to be taught – dare I say, consulted with – to understand this reality and work with your ad sales teams to have their preferences (eyeballs to their ads and sales as a result) become a reality.

Teenagers and twenty-something adults are glued to their phones. These are the future readers. They never started on print and likely won’t ever switch to it. But they consume more content than any other generation in history. Make your content their preference … on the platform that is their reality.

The reality is the migration is happening. Print readers are migrating, either by transitioning from print to digital or leaving life for the hereafter. New readers are digital, fickle, savvy, and high maintenance. Their reality is that if you’re not easily accessible on their phone/tablet, you don’t exist – and never will.

You may prefer to believe a different reality, but French fry diets and print growth dreams will be the death of all of us.

About Maria Terrell

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