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These 4 themes will help you set 2022 product priorities

By Jodie Hopperton

INMA

Los Angeles, California, United States

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Hi there.

Happy New Year! I hope you managed to take a break over the holidays. 

We closed off last year looking at the Product Advisory Councils challenges in 2021. Now let’s look at what they have coming up in 2022.

All the best, Jodie.

Looking to 2022: priorities from the field

A lot of the discussion I have with product leaders is around strategy, operations, and process. It is clear product is still finding its place within many news organisations while becoming more and more important in the quest for businesses to delight customers while driving business goals. There is still a lot of work to do around merging systems, updating legacy platforms, and ensuring we have the internal tools and skill sets to deliver great products. And delivering great products is what is happening. We’re seeing the fundamentals of growing subscribers and improving engagement being honed to a fine art. And we’re seeing some exciting new products being developed. 

Here are four big themes going into 2022 that I have taken primarily from discussions within the INMA Product Advisory Council meetings.  

1. Driving subscriptions and diversifying revenue are key business goals

For many, there is a continued evolution from ad-based to subscriber-based product experience and business. This means that much focus is on engagement, which of course also benefits advertisers. One advisor noted that they have massively grown their reach and audience, but that success hasn’t been reflected in their subscriptions. 2022 will mean re-examining and experimenting with subscription packages. 

For another advisor, they are looking at moving beyond the core products and features, experimenting to find the things that customers will pay and stay for. Anecdotally, I hear about a move to utilities that customers come back for day after day. 

E-commerce, like that done by BuzzFeed, is one way media companies can diversify their revenue.
E-commerce, like that done by BuzzFeed, is one way media companies can diversify their revenue.

Balancing the business portfolio is on people’s minds, and for some this involves dipping their toes into e-commerce. Others are more advanced in their offerings and spoke about using deep tech and personalisation to diversify this further. (We wrote about the opportunities of e-commerce on the product blog here.)

Last, but far from least, there is discussion around partnerships and bundling. An advisory spoke about collaborations that serve, including those outside of the industry.

2. Culture is more important than ever

In 2021, we saw a lot of labour movement, particularly in product. It’s tough to keep good people when other companies, particularly in the tech sector, are offering much more lucrative salaries. We wrote about some ways to combat that in the Product Blog here, and many on the Advisory Council see mission and culture as key ways to help retain and acquire great talent.

The right culture is key to keeping key employees.
The right culture is key to keeping key employees.

Supporting this is creating a healthy environment by establishing or improving storytelling capabilities of both product and technology teams. As we saw in both the Product and Data Summit and the Product Master Class recently, we can build a great culture by ensuring communication and securing buy-in at every level. 

We also see that using rigorous analytics, testing, and a commitment to data-informed decisions make for a strong culture that works on facts and driving towards common goals, not individual ones — or to use a new acronym I learned in 2021, HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion).

3. Data is instrumental to everything product does

Something that has struck me in conversations about product is that data comes into everything — goal setting, prioritising, developing hypotheses, testing, staying on track. Yet sometimes”‘data” sits on a pedestal, making it feel complicated and thus slightly out of reach to us mere mortals. But using data doesn’t have to be complicated. Data scientists aren’t needed for everything. 

The importance of data is well understood. Now, media companies must think about the accessibility of data.
The importance of data is well understood. Now, media companies must think about the accessibility of data.

One of the key things echoed by many in my Product Advisory Council is making it accessible. We’re seeing people invest in data literacy for all to enable product teams and others around the business to extract information and power insights. This means getting the right insights to make decisions. I often hear the phrases empower teams with data and democratise data.” (INMA has a report coming out this week on the topic, actually. Check here on Thursday to find it.) 

Of course there is a much more complicated layer of data where data scientists are invaluable. For many, that includes connecting sources into one, usable data pool, or lake; growing and maintaining first-party data as a strategic investment and user benefit; using data for personalisation; and in-depth data interrogation. 

External research and data is vital to our strategies, too. To have foresight, we need to look not only at what current customers are doing within our products, but also try and get an understanding of what else they spend time on. Where can we help them? What do our customers enjoy. Or, perhaps it is better to think of them as “potential customers.” Having robust customer and market research is essential to improve and develop new products. As one advisory member says, this gives us a strategic fishing pool for new ideas, features, and products.

4. Getting creative: developing new products and features

One of the joys of working in product is solving problems for users. For me, a prime example of this was overcoming the frustration of wanting to share an article with someone but not knowing if they were a subscriber. One friend was so sure I’d love an article in her local title she gave me her login details (thank you R!). This, of course, isn’t an ideal or sustainable workaround. So being able to “gift” paid articles has been extremely helpful.  

This year, I am excited to hear about more new products and features being developed. Here are a few of the themes I am hearing about, which I will be following closely. 

  • How to aim products at light users as well as heavy users. My INMA colleague Greg Piechota, who heads up the Readers First Initiative, told me that based on research by The Wall Street Journal, stories that appeal to the light readers usually appeal to the heavy readers, too. But the stories that appeal to the heavy readers less often appeal to the light readers. He pointed to the tepid response of light versions of full products (such as Economist Expresso and NYT Now). Yet news products aimed at light readers sold as part of the all-access bundles thrive – New York Times’ Morning Briefing e-mail has 5 million active readers every week.

  • Guiding users within products to improve engagement. What is the next action you want a user to take? What is going to keep them around for longer? 2022 will see a rise in AI for personalisation and a lot of multi-variant testing working with our design and UX colleagues. 

  • Building audio into great user journeys. As audio becomes a more integral part of our day (or perhaps its more of a resurgence), how can we make great audio products that complement our existing products and enhance a user experience? One example of this is linking narrated articles so users can pick up a written story through audio part way through or vice versa. This means less of a reliance on screens and brings a new dimension into our relationship with readers.   

  • Ad-free and ad-lite products are being discussed more and more. The consumer demand is clear, and as one Advisory Council member told me: You’d have to have blinkers on to not consider this consumer trend. And, interestingly, one publisher has created an ad-free product to make data compliance easier because it was getting so complicated with many different ad cookies. In essence, you either agree to their cookie and privacy policies or you pay a subscription to get an ad-free product.  

  • Development of utilities or non-news products. Some publishers are looking to non-news for growth amongst certain reader cohorts or around life stage. There are numerous case studies of these from stock trackers to cooking, to e-commerce, to sports. We’ll be looking at more of these examples throughout the year. 

What are you working on this year? I’d love to hear. Drop me a line at jodie.hopperton@inma.org.  

Date for the diary: Global Media Awards deadline January 28, 2022 

I’ve been privileged to learn about many of the incredible news products that you have all been building over the past year. Even just in the last few weeks in the INMA Master Class, we’ve learned about Newscorp Australia’s Project Bob, how Schibsted solved user needs through new products, and The Straits Times’ gamification. 

Now it’s time to show them off! The INMA Global Media Awards are excellent way to give you and your teams recognition for the hard work you put in last year. More about the awards and how to enter can be found the INMA Awards Web site. 

Tweet of the week

Nic Newman and friends at the Reuters Institute at Oxford just released their report on the trends shaping journalism in 2022. Check out the thread with key findings here.

Recommended Reading: 

• Netflix’s VP of Product: Why Your Team Might be Overly Agreeable“Maintaining a team culture where people aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, ask the tough questions, and push back is crucial to staying ahead. People who spike in all of these areas can sometimes be exhausting to manage, but they’re key players to have on your team and the pros far outweigh the cons. If your team is overly agreeable, you’re making your life easier in the short term, but diminishing the long-term potential of yourself, your team, and ultimately your company.”

• Digital 2021 Global Overview report has a vast amount of data on global and social trends. Did you know there are close to half a billion new social media users and 1.3 billion years spent using the Internet? Plus trillions of dollars spent on e-commerce. This is a broad view of digital insights and consumer trends.  

• Lastly, here are a few points that struck home from Journalism.co.uk’s 2022 predictions:

Edward Roussel, head of digital, The Times and The Sunday Times: “For consumers under 25, media Web sites are as irrelevant as newspapers. Instead, the chances are they get their media from one of three social-video apps: TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram Stories. Media companies have been slow to adapt, seeing those social networks as entertainment channels rather than primary sources of information.

“We will also see more of audio-plus-video. YouTube is hiring podcast editors, moving from video to video-plus-audio, whereas Spotify is moving in the opposite direction, urging its podcast creators to also shoot video. Expect more media companies to commission stories that are a hybrid of podcasts with video — a new genre of episodic content where audiences can choose between listening and viewing.”

Charlie Beckett, director, Polis, LSE:Human journalism will become more, not less, important in 2022. Robots, automation, personalisation, data investigations, and much more will continue to allow news organisations to become more efficient, better connected to audiences, and smarter about news gathering and content creation. But here is the paradox. The more that the machines or algorithms augment our journalism, the more that added value will come from the human element.

Gary Liu, CEO, South China Morning Post:Blockchain technology is disrupting industries, including the media landscape. Blockchain technology can meaningfully elevate the news industry and the way journalism can serve readers and the community. For example, blockchain’s shared ledger system can foster trust, transparency, efficiency, speed, and security. It enables greater transparency of the source and production of media content, and this is crucial for readers to rebuild trust in the reputability of legitimate news sources.”

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at jodie.hopperton@inma.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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