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Looking back on media innovation in 2015, surging ahead to 2016

December is my favourite month of the year.

The Christmas street lights have all been turned on. The malls are all decked out in yuletide splendour, awaiting the jury’s verdict for the “best dressed building” accolade. Age-old carols and music of the season can be heard across the airwaves and in public precincts including restaurants, cafes, pubs, and shopping malls.

As they say, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

When I heard this song on the radio again recently, it intrigued me enough to want to find out more about this perennial favourite. It was written in 1951 by Meridith Willson and became a hit for Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters. Soon after, Bing Crosby recorded a version which was widely played and, as the saying goes, the rest is history!

Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song in their 1961 and 1981 albums. Big Bird from Sesame Street fame sang it as part of a medley. Johnny Mathis’ version, which he recorded in a 1986 album entitled “Christmas Eve with Johnny Mathis,” gained popularity after its inclusion in the 1992 film “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” And in modern times, Michael Buble and Harrick Connick, Jr. have more than done justice to this great Christmas hit.

The point I’m trying to make? That classics never die – they just get re-invented over and over again with the hope of living forever! The way they are treated, the way they are sung, and the form they come in will change (from reels to vinyls, tapes, CDs, MP3s, and Spotify), but as long as the expression and interpretation continues to connect with listeners of choice, these songs could trend on for an incredibly long period of time.

Could this be said about the newspaper medium?

As a proverbial optimist who would rather see the glass as half full rather than half empty, and as one who firmly believes in the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” I believe the print platform still has a long way to go. You ain’t seen nothing yet!

In my last blog post for this year, allow me to look in retrospect at all that I’ve shared in 2015, and pull out the succinct takeaways.

I started the year by citing the story of an Austrian toothpaste salesperson, Dietrich Mateschitz, who took an inconspicuous Thai energy drink called Krating Daeng and ingeniously transformed it into the phenomenon we call Red Bull today.

The brand has since claimed world domination by leveraging on content marketing, which led it to become an international media player with assets traversing print, television, feature film production, content acquisition, production, and a magazine (The Red Bulletin).

Taking a leaf from this case-study-in-motion, I challenged publishers worldwide to be brave in daring to take their equity along the value chain, and birth new and innovative business models to shore up their bottom lines.

In February, I suggested that traditional publishing companies should replace their chief marketing officer with a chief growth hacker. I wrote about Sean Ellis’ concept of growth hacking, which is a marketing technique developed by tech startups utilising creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to drive up their businesses.

In a blog post by Sean entitled “Growth Hacking is for Smart Marketers – Not Just Startups,” he challenged traditional marketers to innovate and take more risks. He talks passionately about how desperation leads to innovation.

For media owners like us, changing how the game is played should be our minimum acceptable norm. Innovating voraciously and testing relentlessly must be the living and breathing mandate for our survival. When this stops, our companies die.

In March, I shared about how culture eats strategy for breakfast, innovation for lunch, and passion for dinner. Basically, the best tactics in the world, the most creative of ideas, and spirited exuberance amoung colleagues is insufficient to guarantee your company a bright future and continued success.

Fundamentally, we need to establish the right corporate culture before anything can move forward – one that is high performing and attempts to understand the nuances of the real world. This includes embracing disruptions as a necessary part of the re-invention process.

In April, I went on a vendetta to get publishers thinking more “outside in” rather than “inside out.” In other words, they need to be more consumer centric – walking a mile in our customers’ shoes, seeing through our customers’ eyes! Or as the late Steve Jobs puts it, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”

In May, I encouraged media companies to consider learning “The Art of Roulette,” citing the SPH Plug and Play Accelerator programme as a collaborative effort to invest in, build, and grow digital media start-ups with high global potential and strong capabilities so as to transform the media sector.

I took a break in June, and in July, I wrote about the major revamp of our national flagship English newspaper The Straits Times, which celebrates its 170th anniversary this year, and how we, as a company, are taking the bull by the horns and confidently re-inventing ourselves across all fronts (platforms, content, work processes, etc.).

We remain cognisant of the fact that a crucial sense of urgency must prevail. There is no glory in resting on one’s laurels. Future-proofing must be the order of the day!

I went on to say that if the organisation you work for is not plugged in and thinking like a start-up, if it is not regularly trialing new concepts and business models, and if growth hacking does not feature prominently across the day to day, there will be no podium finish.

In August, I kicked off my “learning from the best brands” series of discussions by placarding the Share a Coke campaign and discussing how we as publishers can take a leaf out of this engaging activation. I explained why we should strive to build a level of personalisation and customisation into our products, which in turn brings us closer to our readers.

In September, I shared about the efficacy of brand extension and cited Carlsberg, which had recently launched a line of men’s grooming products that includes shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. This example is a timely reminder for legacy publishers to continue innovating. As we are all aware, ideas are ideas – none will guarantee us a 100% success rate.

However, my take is that if we don’t try, we will never know. If we experiment with 10 ideas and two take off, we (more specifically, the company we work for) could well be laughing all the way to the bank!

In October, I suggested to publishers how they should be thinking about investing in brick-and-mortar outlets to extend their businesses and elevate their offerings, citing Nespresso boutiques and Nestle Toll House cafes as best case examples.

Instead of having our staples perceived as hard cold commodities displayed at staid newsstands, why not weave them into the lifestyles of our consumers across every fabric of society?

For example, why can’t a publisher give birth to a chain of artisanal coffee outlets and have its range of media offerings subtly embedded amidst the aroma of freshly ground beans and brewed concoctions?

The ambience in these cafes could comprise physical copies of newspapers and magazines casually displayed for patrons to browse, free wi-fi courtesy of our digital network, music piped in from our radio stations, and digital wall screens showcasing content fresh from the newsrooms and lifestyle portals.

Last month, I ranted about “solution selling” and elaborated on the consultative selling methodology which we at Singapore Press Holdings have inculcated across our sales teams. We practice a consumer-centric approach where we first find out what our customer is really looking for before developing and recommending cutting-edge ideas that address these needs.

In conclusion, let me leave you with three quotes:

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright said: “An idea is salvation by imagination.” For news media publishers, we must always recognise the massive value great ideas can contribute to our survival. So never ever try to sell media to your clients. If you sell them the idea, they will then buy the midea! Spell it right, sell it right!

There is much for us to learn from the digital and dynamically evolving world out there. If we are not already, we should be getting all excited and soak up everything it is teaching us. Internalise the words of Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Last but not least, heed the famous words of the French poet Guilliame Apollinaire when he exclaimed: “Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge. It’s too high! Come to the edge! And they came, and we pushed, and they flew.”

May the positively positive attitude you choose to take on the year ahead give you wings!

About Geoff Tan

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