Blurred Lines and Innovation …. The Heart of Print’s New Reality

To thine own audience be true.

That’s been our mantra since the early days of the digital disruption. We joined industry voices in encouraging publishers and media brand to think “audience-first,” rather than blindly following the digital trend.

This measured, strategic approach to innovation is paying off, according to FIPP’s John Wilpers, quoted in UPM/FIPP’s Innovation in Publishing Report.

Rather than adopting a strategy simply because it’s new and everyone’s doing it, true innovation means staying focused on your core business and innovating in ways that move the needle.

“Companies are asking ‘what can we stop doing that is taking up much-needed resource without delivering return on investment, to free up time to pursue one or two things that we know will work for our business and help us thrive in the market?’,” he writes.

THAT is the million-dollar question. Rather than “what can we do with new tech,” the question is increasingly “what should we do?”

This approach silences (or at least quiets down) the very real FOMO element that has saturated the industry of late.

“There’s a lot of hype in the media about innovation,” says Lucy Keung of Reuters Institute of Journalism in the report. “There’s a desire to be first all the time and, actually sometimes, it may be worth letting someone else do the first iteration of something and make the mistakes, so you can do it better but not far behind.”

Keung cautions against the “we have to do something” attitude that’s permeated the media industry, warning this is the way to squandering resources and mind share. While there is something to be said for being the first in your niche to try something, there is tremendous value is letting others experiment when it comes to viability.

“Part of the reason businesses race into innovation too quickly is the fear of missing out,” she notes.

Taking a more measured approach means looking to your audience for cues, says Mittmedia’s Chief Digital Officer Robin Govik.

“While we operate in a competitive marketing – where this is a lot of disruption and a rapid pace of change – the drive to innovate comes from the end-user experience rather than from trying to protect our position,” Govik explains. “We look at the user’s needs and their behavioral shifts and use those as the basis for innovation.”

Govik cautions that every company’s approach to innovation will be different. Mittmedia, for example, favors a more agile approach to innovation, with a high number of smaller, iterative projects. This allows them to spot success trends or failures early, instead of waiting to see how a huge project may impact revenue once it’s finally implemented.

One of the key factors you need to continually evaluate is how happy your audience is with your innovations, notes Meredith’s Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Parents magazine. Their studies show 85% of their magazine readers feel the brand is innovating “rapidly and well.”

She notes that, while it is important to deliver content where the reader is and in a way that maximizes that media, “it’s important not to waste resources by jumping on every next channel.”

Their strong social media presence is carefully curated and balanced with the understanding that time spent with the print magazine is the end goal. She sees that going up of late.

“At a time when the more educated amongst us realize we need to put our phones down, people are taking social detoxes and social holidays,” she says. Vaccariello believes this is helping boost book sales and time spent with print magazines.

At the crux of innovation in a disruptive age is leveraging the best of each channel as it relates to your brand. For creative agency McCann Santo Domingo, this was at the heart of a campaign aimed at attracting visitors to less popular beaches in the Dominican Republic.

“Over a six-month period, the agency collected sand and water from each beach and created a geo-located print catalog which covered every beach,” notes the UPM/FIPP report,” each with its unique color signature of sand and water included.

The print catalogs were distributed worldwide to tourism organizers and Dominican consulates, as part of a multi-media campaign that also features a virtual version.

At the base of successful print innovation is the realization that every channel has its strengths, and should be leveraged accordingly. Innovation is critical, but the “spaghetti on the wall” approach isn’t sustainable for most brands.

Instead, understand what you are trying to say, who you are trying to reach, and how best to make that happen, with a blend of channels and blurring of the lines in the entire experience. Innovate, always, while keeping your eye on the prize – meeting the needs of your audience.