“All roads lead to product.”
So said Jodie Hopperton, lead of INMA’s Product Initiative, during Thursday’s module of the INMA World Congress of News Media, sponsored by Meta, Hopperton and product managers from four media companies shared best practices for developing new products and leading product teams. The World Congress continues throughout May on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Registation is available here for all or individual sessions.
Hopperton is biased on the topic, of course, but what she’s learned since the beginning of the initiative in January of 2021 has reinforced the power of product in today’s news media landscape.
The initiative is focused on three things:
- What it means to build customer-informed products.
- How to manage conflicting product objectives.
- How to go beyond traditional news products to become part of the customer lifestyle.
Distribution has become “massively fragmented” over the last couple of decades, creating new challenges as well as new opportunities for publishers, she said.
“We used to have one product in one format,” she said, noting how much things have changed in recent years. “Now we’re distributing across a wide and growing number of platforms. We’ve got … different screens, we’ve got social media platforms, we’re using text, we’re using audio, we’re using video.”
Consumption patterns are changing, too, she said. As people start leaving their homes in a post-lockdown world, there’s a greater need for seamless integration between devices to keep them engaged. And that engagement becomes more important as competition thickens.
Today’s news media companies aren’t just competing with other news companies; they’re also fighting to draw consumers’ attention away from podcasts, streaming entertainment services, social media, and apps.
“It’s not only about reading; it’s about watching, reading, listening. It’s about social, it’s about connection. So we really are competing for time and we’re in the information economy.”
Convincing consumers to spend their time and money with news media brands means giving them an experience they love. That requires becoming consumer-centric and focusing on their needs, Hopperton said. To do that, she provided 10 suggestions that have emerged as product best practices over the past couple of years:
- Start with the organisational culture. “Product has to be infused within the organisation,” she said.
- Acknowledge the differences in cultures between departments. Journalists think differently than product people; emphasise the outcomes to find common ground rather than getting sidetracked by the differences.
- Use personalisation. “If you’re optimising for one person, you’re not optimising for the majority of your readers,” Hopperton said.
- Use data to recognise behaviours. This practice looks at cohort groups of users, and Hopperson said most of the organisations she has spoken to about this have, on average, five or six target groups.
- Have understandable objectives and metrics so everyone in the organisation understands what they’re working toward.
- Love the problem, not the solution. “You’ll hear that time and time again from product people,” she said. “It’s not looking at the what, it’s looking at the why. It’s not just what people are doing, but why they’re doing it. What’s the problem they’re trying to solve?” It’s essential to get to the bottom of those problems to create the best experiences for customers, she said.
- Prioritise ruthlessly. “We don’t have unending staff. We don’t have unending resources and time. So we really have to evaluate impact and effort to decide on what to work on.”
- Communicate those priorities. “It’s not just about deciding them, but telling people what you’ve decided to do and what not to do.”
- Keep teams informed. Regular communication is crucial, and it provides a way to celebrate what’s working.
- Use a framework for product development. There are many different frameworks out there for product development, she said, sharing the one INMA created, which has seven steps (and is the subject of a report by Hopperton), starting with the goals or mission and ending with sharing results. It’s important not to only share success stories, Hopperton said, but to also share things that didn’t work: “Not everything is going to be a success. But if you’re working to the right assumptions and you can explain that to people, then it’s understood.”