What “brand lover” as a North Star metric looks like at one media company

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there. Recently I went to my first in-person conference in three years, and I’d forgotten how inspiring it is to have discussions face to face. And boy were there some discussions. From why (and if) we should put users at the center of news products, if NFTs are all hype, and the beast North Star metric I have come across to date. In today’s newsletter, I’m summarising some of my highlights. 

Thank you to all the folk at Newsgeist N America. Not only is this a collection of smart, inspiring people, but they are all open and willing to share and debate views. You often won’t see names attached to statements. That’s not because I am claiming these thoughts as my own, it’s because the event is run under Chatham House rules.

If you’d like to discuss or debate anything in this newsletter, please get in touch: @jodiehop on most social channels or at jodie.hopperton@inma.org.

Thanks, Jodie

Brand lovers and encouraging daily habits

Given that I harp on about the necessity of having clear goals everyone can relate to, my mind was blown when I heard Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media, speak about their “brand lover” metric as a North Star. It’s a simple formula they have used for a number of different markets. 

Village Media is a Canadian-based organisation. They have 71 local Web sites — some owned and operated, some run on a partner model, mostly in North America. They are dedicated to “making community news sustainable.” To do that, they need clear revenue lines and everyone working towards the same North Star goal.

The North Star metric at Village Media focuses on its "brand lovers."
The North Star metric at Village Media focuses on its "brand lovers."

Here is how their model works: 

A “brand lover” is anyone who visits their site more than 15 days/month. Often they visit more. In a profitable market for Village Media, these brand lovers account for 50% of all traffic and 25% of total audience. 

Their North Star metric is simple: They want 25% of the total addressable market to be brand lovers.

Many titles measure for some kind of DAU (daily active user) as it is a proxy for other key metrics such as engagement and retention. At Village Media, they have differentiated this in two ways. Firstly by identifying a core group of reader in an easy to understand way, and secondly tying the metric to the population to give more context. 

Their “brand lovers” are also willing to share more personal information (which they usually get through e-mail), which means that they can monetise them more easily. The formula is also an indicator of revenue. They earn approx C$1/population/month, or C$20/RPM for pageviews in display advertising.  

They are aiming for habitualisation of a core group of people. That is what all teams are working towards. Interestingly, I had a couple of other conversations around how to encourage users to form a habit. One executive told me that when he joined the organisation, he asked the team where the horoscopes were and was met with deadpan faces. Many journalists and hard news organisations are skeptical of what they see as light entertainment, thinking it takes away from the more serious issues of the day. 

It’s a conundrum. In product, we often focus on what can be done to encourage daily active users. Some examples we know work are content-based: games and puzzles, horoscopes, results, and information. These fall under content but are often frowned upon in newsrooms as it's not serious news. 

So how do we marry the two?

This is a subject I want to dive into over the summer. I’ve spoken to The New York Times about this following their acquisition of Wordle. Do you have thoughts on the subjects? A good example? Or is there someone you want to hear from? If so, drop me a line at jodie.hopperton@inma.org

Date for the diary: INMA Webinar on June 15

Are you doing any form of personalisation? Or thinking about it? I’m having many discussions on the topic and will present some of the lessons I’ve learnt during this Webinar, plus we’ll have a couple of members of the INMA Product Advisory council to answer questions such as:

  • How do you think about active vs passive personation?

  • In which area would you start on personalisation?

  • Where is the biggest bang for buck?

  • What does a minimum loveable product look like to test? 

  • How do you onboard customers and/or talk to them about how you are personalising content?

Come ready with questions, anecdotes, and/or your experiences to share with the group. There is so much we can learn from each other. Sign up here.

4.5 insights from Newsgeist

As I mentioned in the intro, I recently attended a conference, Newsgist to be exact. This is a place where people are curated, not the agenda. It sounds strange until you are, there but the agenda flows from this group of people in an unconference format. It’s hard to do justice to all the smart things that were saidm so consider there a few “aha” moments I had.

1. Is there a place for NFTs in news media?

I’ve been convinced that in the future, web3/blockchain will have benefits for journalism — particularly in tracking the origins of a story and changes to any information. But NFTs have been a bit of a conundrum.

NFTs likely will be beneficial to journalism, but maybe the time isn't now.
NFTs likely will be beneficial to journalism, but maybe the time isn't now.

One person I spoke to had tried launching an NFT (or “minting NFTs” as the terminology now goes) — limited editions of the front cover following a major event. And in his mind it had bombed. They made a decent amount of money, but they didn't sell out.

I’ve heard similar stories from others. I think NFTs will have a value once the metaverse is actually being used and we have “digital” lives as well as real world lives. Then there will be value to owning limited-edition digital goods such as art and branded clothes.

2. The free speech debate

“Where to draw the line” is already a big topic. And as Newsgeist is hosted by Google, it is a forum where this theme is augmented. Google is keen to listen and take part because we all seem to want a solution. It’s finding a consensus that’s so hard.

I love hearing smart minds deliberate potential solutions. In the U.S., the First Amendment states that no law should “abridge the freedom of speech.” But what the debate is really about is whether people have the right to have their speech amplified.

When the law was written, people could say anything on the street corner. But the proverbial street corner has changed. At that time people were faced, literally, with the consequences of their words. Now they can hide behind anonymous online personas. Legal and financial consequences could be put in place, but that also has its challenges. To enforce a law means that platforms would need to ask for a form of ID, which doesn't work outside protected environments — and that same form of verification opens up the likelihood of persecution. 

Being a gatekeeper is a bundle of judgment calls. It will never please everyone. But I think we all agree that there is a long way to go to solve this.

2.5 Is there still a place for comments?

The above directly relates to comments for news organisations. We haven’t been able to solve this for ourselves. Allowing commenting opens up toxicity, and many news orgs have opted out of comments altogether.

Comments are no longer a free for all at most news organisations.
Comments are no longer a free for all at most news organisations.

Others have moved comments behind a paywall, which seems to work for subscription-based titles. And (apparently) some have experimented with only allowing people who have spent a certain amount of time on the page before they can comment (if this is you, please tell me more about this).

3. What actually moves the dial for news organisations?

In a discussion about understanding user data and what that can do for news organisations, someone who works in the consulting space articulated these three things as the major reasons people subscribe to a news source:

  1. Societal shifts such as elections or COVID.

  2. Differentiated content (particularly for retention).

  3. Value and brand connection.

4. What didn’t get talked about?

What doesn’t get talked about is also worth looking at. Interestingly there was little about audio and voice, which I thought would be bigger topics this year (although I think I said that in 2019, too!). It’s been high on my mind after Karl Oskar Teien at Schibsted gave us some serious stats when he spoke at the INMA World Congress recently: 

“We see more and more people listen, and each person also listens more. Online audio went up 16 hours per week just from 2019 to 2020 in the U.S.” He followed up with: “We know that users increasingly want the ability to multi-task. People like to consume something while they’re doing something else.” 

I see this as an untapped opportunity for news and am actively looking at case studies in this area.

Tweet of the week

Do you know your DAUS from your CSATS and your LTVs? If not, here is an excellent list of the metrics you should know inside out.

Recommended reading

The INMA World Congress has been taking place over the last couple of weeks. If you didn’t attend, here are some great blog posts to catch you up on key product thinking:

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

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.