The basis of a successful research department isn’t cutting-edge research. It’s the everyday nitty-gritty grind of analysing syndicated research and tracking the opinions of readers and non-readers.
Cutting-edge research and big-market surveys are all fine and dandy, and sometimes needed for a newspaper to make some sort of paradigm shift. But let’s face it, how often does that happen? And how many of you feel there are no budget restraints on research at your newspaper? Instead, the ability to make the most of syndicated surveys and basic tracking of your readers and non-readers is what brings the greatest rewards in the long run.
For instance, apart from socio-demographic data, the national readership survey in Sweden contains an abundance of information about our readers and our competitors’ readers: media consumption, lifestyles, interests, shopping habits and preferences. By mastering all that information and spreading it across all departments of the newspaper, everybody is up to speed on what makes our readers tick, enabling us to make better decisions on behalf of the newspaper.
However, the National Readership Survey is for everybody and although the postal survey in Sweden runs for 48 pages, there are no questions about what people like and dislike about our newspaper. That is why Dagens Nyheter has complemented the National Readership Survey with our own continuous market survey for the last 20 years or so.
Obviously, our surveys aim to dig a little deeper in areas of special interest to Dagens Nyheter. By doing this several times a year for several years, we have amassed a great deal of information about what our readers think is important and what they think we are good (and bad) at.
One of the benefits of this kind of perseverance is that many times when we are contemplating changes or new initiatives at the newspaper, chances are the information is already available and there is little or no need for further market research.
By committing to a number of market surveys each year, the cost is actually quite reasonable considering the number of questions we ask and the number of respondents we reach each year. The survey is based on questions about the sections of Dagens Nyheter to monitor how they are perceived by our readers. Each survey is also sprinkled with questions about more pressing matters that the editorial, advertising or marketing departments have on their mind here and now.
There are a couple of benefits of this kind of basic tracking; let me exemplify those benefits by giving you a recent example of how this is at the core of making good decisions. DN World, a monthly foreign news supplement, was launched in October last year. This spring it won second prize in New Brand/Product/Audience Development at INMA Awards in New York.
There was very little specific market research being done ahead of the launch of DN World. Editors already knew our readers think foreign news is very important, and they knew our readers think we are good — nay, great — at reporting foreign news. Because of our continuous, cost-effective research, they knew our readers have thought so for the last 20 years. In my view that is a more solid base for a decision to launch a new product than focus groups or a big survey where you ask people if they would like something they have never seen (which by the way is how many market surveys are set up, providing very little useful information at a high cost).
Not only do we know that our readers value and like our foreign news enough to give the editors confidence in launching a new product, we also know which readers value and like foreign news the most and are most likely to read a magazine-type supplement entirely about foreign news. This is, of course, a huge help to the advertising department when they try to attract advertisers to help make it a profitable product. It also helps the marketing department to communicate the value of our new product with subscribers and potential subscribers of the newspaper.
Continuous tracking means knowing instead of having to find out. This creates another important advantage, which is reducing the time to market from conception of the idea. Instead of getting an idea and doing market research to find out whether it is viable, you can start planning how to implement the idea right away. Or, it helps to nip some bad ideas in the bud, since the basic knowledge is already there to act on.
In the best of all possible worlds, the research that leads to the intricate knowledge of editors and sales managers will actually be the inspiration behind a good idea. Just like a good newspaper brings the readers news they didn’t know they were interested in, good basic research can provide knowledge you didn’t know you needed until suddenly it gives you an idea.
I’m not saying we’re doing anything unique at Dagens Nyheter. In fact, I’m sure many newspapers complement NRS with continuous surveys or some sort of tracking. My point is, it’s the basic and comparatively inexpensive research that reaps the biggest rewards, and it’s important to remember that.
With the challenges facing newspapers the last couple of years, there has been a tendency to look for new and innovative research methods to find answers that will eradicate the problems. That’s fine, if you can afford it and if you are lucky to hitch your wagon to the “right” new method, but don’t forget the basics. That’s probably what helped bring success to your newspaper in the first place.
And judging by DN World, Sweden’s most-read news magazine six months after it was launched, the basics can still be pretty useful.