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Is Tomorrow's Business Strategy Already Obsolete?

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2015 at 11:45 AM

When developing strategic digital plans, anticipate the needs of your readers and advertisers before jumping on the latest device bandwagon.

By William Dunkerley

Many publishers have business plans that go out three to five years, or even further. It's always good to plan ahead. Just moving along issue after issue without much of a plan can often be quite an obstacle to progress.

To construct a plan, you've got to project conditions in the future. That was done more easily in the pre-digital age. Innovation was occurring much slower then, and there was a reasonably good set of past data that could serve as a basis for projections.

Today's situation is quite different. For too many publishers digital innovations have far outpaced publishers' ability to keep up. That's leaving publishers committed to plans that often have not anticipated new developments.

Gauging Content Functionality on Various Platforms

There is a lot written about the new hardware devices and apps that come along. Less attention is paid to the resultant changes in the behaviors and needs of our customers: the readers and the advertisers.

For instance, compare reading a print publication with accessing content on a smartphone. Even a moderate-length feature article might be challenging to read on a smartphone, whereas print is capable of producing a well-designed and well-illustrated article that is convenient to use.

On the other hand, a smartphone can present readers with a plethora of hyperlinks for readers who want to look deeper into some aspect of an article's content. That's really a more efficient way of presenting ancillary material. In print we rely heavily upon sidebars for that. In a way, though, hyperlinks are far more efficient. In print, every reader is confronted by each sidebar we include. With a hyperlink, readers are empowered to choose the sidebar-type material that is of particular interest to them.

There are demographic considerations, too. An older audience may not be as accustomed to using hyperlinks as a younger one. But younger readers have likely grown up using hyperlinks and are attuned to the capability and convenience they provide.

Planning in an Ever-Changing Environment

So how does this affect your business planning? The rapid adoption of emerging technologies for accessing content can leave us wondering what will come next. I've seen some publishers assume that a given new device will be our future. Take the tablet computer, for instance. A lot of publishers assumed it would be an ideal substrate for a digital magazine. The only problem is that tablets did not catch on with consumers to the extent many expected.

So what's a publisher to do in this ever-changing environment? I suggest that the answer lies in agile development of digital content. Be ready to move quickly when you see consumer trends changing direction. Put far less emphasis on a multiyear sequential plan. Instead, develop a methodology for adapting to emergent changes in technology and consumer behavior.

The Importance of Adaptability

Adaptability is another byword. It sometimes can be counterproductive to try cramming a publication designed for print into any of the digital reading formats. The same goes within the spectrum of digital devices. A publication designed with a tablet in mind may not be well suited for smartphone access. Learn what directions your readers are going in and adapt your content to their needs and preferences.

Don't hang on to old plans and practices in the face of such a dynamic environment. Alas, though, some publishers are clinging to familiar habits and ways of doing business.

"'If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change,'" says a character in The Leopard, a twentieth-century Italian novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

As contemporary magazine publishers we're usually more concerned that things not stay the same. We're always looking for greater success in an ever-more-challenging publishing environment.

But the plans you have now for tomorrow may indeed already be obsolete.

Now's the time to build greater capacity to function with agility and adaptability.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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