Exploration to Execution

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When I started this blog, in April, 2008, all I knew was that we needed to explore new ways to fulfill our mission of being the “information provider of choice”.  After 21 months of exploration and experimentation we have a plan that needs to be executed.

There are many nuances to this plan, but the core of it revolves around a few concepts:

  1. We need to use all the tools at our disposal today, and the many that will be coming, to enable anyone in the various communities we serve to engage in the issues important to them and to ease their commercial transactions.
  2. Our products of today – newspaper, magazines, television, websites, shoppers – need to be recreated to fill a defined role in an integrated local information ecosystem.  These packaged products will all have roles, but will not be able to meet all the information needs of the people we serve.
  3. To best define our products, we need to adopt the best practices of brand management as used in many consumer products companies today.
  4. To satisfy the information needs of our users, we need to create information in the first instance in such a way that it can be easily flow into products, or be accessible to anyone with the properly tuned digital device.  The sources of that information should be transparent, and related information, and the context of that information should be easily obtained.
  5. To ease commercial transactions, sellers need to be able to reach audiences, down to an audience of one.

In order to pursue these concepts, we have had to make some big changes, primarily in reorganizing our legacy print and broadcast companies, although commercial printing, packaging and distribution have seen significant changes as we took on the work of printing two newspapers, and distributing one of those and another newspaper.

Last year at this time we were organized by product, with each product having its own integrated company – print, broadcast and commercial printing.  Print and broadcast each developed digital products related to their core product.  We were creating content in the first instance for the applicable packaged product – newspaper article or broadcast video.  We did not have a digital strategy focused on the user experience. So, changes were necessary.

The biggest changes were separating content creation from product creation, setting up a separate digital products group, and creating one sales force designed to connect audiences with advertisers.  We have only been experimenting with those changes for the last 8 months, and know we need to make further changes.  Change management is critical.  The first step in that process is understanding why changes are necessary.

Let’s start with the separation of content creation and product creation.  We cannot pursue our 5 core concepts unless information is created in the first instance without regard to product or display. When I asked Becky Lutgen Gardner and Steve Lorenz to tackle that less than a year ago, many people in our company could not imagine such a split.  How would the work get done, on deadline?  Steve and Becky did a great job making that initial split, but our experience has shown that we did not get it completely right.  The daily tensions between the two groups are not creative tensions, leading to a better system, but are the result of flawed expectations and processes.  The products have not redefined their role in the local information system and content creation has not defined the core local information they will curate.  So, I have asked Steve and Becky and their staffs to go back to the drawing board and create a better system.

Products cannot create their focus without understanding the user experience and the user’s core information needs.  Our industry, and our company, do not have a history of strong brand management focused on the end user.  So, we are looking nationally for a new leader of brand management.  If we can find someone who will accelerate our development, that person will be responsible for all product management and marketing, and Steve Lorenz will focus on print product management.

Our print, digital and broadcast products each need technical production of their products.  Print and broadcast each have a dedicated production staff.  Digital production is currently housed within our Information Technology department.  We are searching for a new leader of digital production, to partner with Shannon Booth, our leader of digital products.

For the last 127 years, our information has been designed for our products, and our products have defined our relationship with our communities.  We have created deep emotional ties to our products, both within our company and within our communities.  We need to begin to create emotional ties to an integrated local information ecosystem, and the multiple ways we can access that system.  That requires a definition of a brand promise and a new way to talk about the system, without regard to our existing products, which all have strong brands.

I will write more on the branding process later, as well as our content creation efforts and audience focused efforts.

What do you think so far?  What does not make sense?

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16 thoughts on “Exploration to Execution”

  1. Thank you for this post, it begins to point out a few issues we have to work on – I would like to focus on this one.

    “Products cannot create their focus without understanding the user experience and the user’s core information needs.”

    It seems a bit backwards to me that we’re looking for a “new leader of brand management”, this type of title is more of the same – looking at the business from the product side. Afterall, products and brands are really the same thing.

    What we need, in my opinion, is a “new leader of audience interaction”. We need to forget about brands and products and focus on the audience – both customer service, customer needs and dialog with customers. When we know what those are we will have a much easier time creating content they want. Otherwise we’re still stuck in the product/brand rut.

    It’s like Taco Bell started saying a few years back. “Think outside the bun”, we need to “Think outside the brand” and engage people, real people. Not get in their face with our slick brand…but get to know them and have a relationship.

    It’s not easy; customers are very smart and savvy people. If they sense misguided, or overzealous intentions they will run away (and are less likely to come back), but if we are genuine – we can work it our together.

  2. I think the term ‘brand’ might be too easily misinterpreted in this instance. Brands and products aren’t necessarily the same things, though many perceive that they are. That’s one of our biggest problems right now.

    The brand allegiance that exists for our company right now is tied to the PRODUCTS, which is not a good thing. We want our company brand to be associated more with our mission than any single product we might offer. So, if our mission is to be the information provider of choice through a dynamic mix of innovative products, does our brand support that? Currently, no.

    Why? Because the only recognizable brands we have are KCRG and The Gazette. While these are strong, viable and important products, they really don’t fulfill the mission on their own. They are pieces to a larger puzzle and a different, more pervasive and encompassing brand which needs to be created.

    It’s also worth mentioning that I agree with Tom that we should be focusing on audience. I think that is what a good product manager does. They understand the needs and desires of the audience first, then structures (or re-structures) the product around that. I think (hope?) that is what we are looking to do with the position Chuck describes.

    My assumption is that the person who carries the global responsibility of the corporate brand is going to have to be the person who ultimately answers to the audience as to whether or not we are living up to our mission.

  3. Excellent thoughts Chris.

    But when you say:
    “We want our company brand to be associated more with our mission than any single product we might offer. So, if our mission is to be the information provider of choice through a dynamic mix of innovative products, does our brand support that? Currently, no.”

    I cannot agree – I don’t think people care about our mission, they care about THEIR mission. Our mission drives us and their mission drives them. No one knows (or cares) about Procter and Gamble and more – they just know they like Pampers, or Oral-B or Herbal Essences or the Mach3 razor. They don’t say “hmmm, I really like KCRG – I wonder what other products/brands The Gazette Company has that I would enjoy.” They talk to their friends and find out how they get information and then copy them. So I would hate to see us spend money to brand our mission/over arching company.

    Example: It’s not a secret that everyone I know has school closings from KCRG/Gazette Online. Why? I did it for them. I went to the computer, signed them up, waited for the confirmation text and confirmed. They had seen me get the school closing before they could see them on TV or the computer, they wanted them on their phone and they asked me to help. I did. They came to me for the opinion and I gave it to them, as a conversation from our relationship.

    As far as a focus on audience – IT HAS TO BE. I have to credit Jason Kristufek for getting me straight on audience focus…I’d like to take the credit, but if I did, he’d find out. 🙂 We need to focus on our relationship with our audience. At this point, we don’t even know their name and we need to know their name, their kids name, their pets name and as many details about all of them our database can hold.

    But the one thing you said Chris, that resonates more than anything at all: “that is what a good product manager does” Yes, amen and hallelujah. This is HUGE and where I start get confused again. I just don’t see the difference of “leader of digital products” (what we have now) and “leader of brand management” – are they not one in the same? Do we really need both?

    So that, Chuck, is where I would love to see some more clarification. And would like to see a real focus on – why heck do we need to be adding more Chefs when the cooks cannot keep up with the current orders?

    1. Tom and Chris –

      Thanks for engaging in this discussion.

      Tom –

      I will try to clarify, as you suggested, by offering these points:

      1. Brands and products are not the same thing. Chris is correct when he notes that our strong brands today (Gazette and KCRG) are attached to products. However, we are developing an information infrastructure whereby any individual can get the information they want, when and where they want it. They will not be limited to information in “products”. So, we need to have a “brand” for that information infrastructure that connotes trust and relevance. It is not a brand for our mission, but helps fulfill the mission.
      2. Our products by necessity are packaged, and “pushed” to audiences in such a manner as to attract an appropriate audience. Each of those products needs to be crafted, branded, monitored and achieve appropriate profitability. Those products need to fit within an integrated local information system.
      3. Knowledge of the tasks the information seekers are trying to accomplish, and what can and cannot be achieved by packaged products, will inform the creation of information content and commercial content in the first instance. Someone needs to drive the exploration and monitoring of these needs.
      4. That knowledge of our users’ needs has to be translated into an integrated system of products and “tuning” applications driven by users. That is the primary job of the brand manager, the total integration of all products and services, which is greater than any product manager.
      5. We cannot, and should not, know everything about anyone who wants information. However, anyone should be able to “tune” their device to access the information they need at the moment.

      Does that help, or hurt?

      Thanks,
      Chuck

  4. Chuck, I like the way you’ve responded to Tom and Chris.

    I would only emphasize the importance of providing audiences with frameworks by which they can access and interact with information.

    Some people like the ability to customize a product and they like a choice of products. At the same time there are plenty of people who don’t care about customization, they just want to know that their product is good as-is because it comes from a trusted brand. It sounds like Chuck’s ideas about a new kind of information business would appeal to both kinds of people.

    Chuck the one part of your blog entry I couldn’t quite grasp entirely is the one that begins with “Let’s start with the separation of content creation and product creation.” Perhaps you might elaborate on what you don’t think is working there and what you hope might be integrated into a new kind of system.

    1. Bonnie –

      As we have discussed, focusing content creation on the product in the first instance is too limiting. If, however, we focus content creation on truly making a topic accessible to the community, we have more options as that information is highlighted in products, and individuals access it directly, without going through products.

  5. “5. We cannot, and should not, know everything about anyone who wants information. However, anyone should be able to “tune” their device to access the information they need at the moment.”

    I feel like I’m misreading this comment. Are you saying we shouldn’t want to know who is getting our information (email, age, sex, location, etc…)? Wouldn’t it behoove us to store such data?

    1. Paul –

      There are many issues to be resolved as we create the local information network. I do think that those who think that knowing lots of demographic information about an individual helps deliver relevant content are not thinking specifically enough. And, people are nervous about sharing significant personal information. However, allowing each individual to “tune” their device according to their location, intent and mood, so that our stream of content results in highly relevant information to that individual is the best bet.

  6. Chuck-

    Thanks for the feedback. I guess what I am saying, for clarification, is that it should not be a prerequisite as a consumer to give us all of their information before they can get to our content. I can get on board with that.

    With that said, having specific information that is voluntarily given to us by said consumers provides us with a better network to provide targeted content. Not just in reported content, but targeted ad’s as well. Just knowing the mood of a consumer doesn’t tell me how old they are (Unless they are grouchy, I could confer that they are old!). I just want to make sure that when we build a local network, we don’t find ourselves in an awkward position down the line of wishing we had more information. Its never a bad idea to get as much information as possible, even if we don’t know what to do with it yet.

    1. Agreed, so long as we are not limited in our thinking to “pushing” things at people. We also need the ability for people to “pull” exactly what they need.

  7. This is good discussion. As we talk about audience, there is a great opportunity for us to understand our audience more, as it relates to their needs and habits. We have collected a large amount of information over the years on our audience. In general, we have a pretty good view of what a newspaper reader looks like, or a TV news viewer, or an online user of media websites. We have a good macro look at this. We understand in general what their news and shopping needs are of these media vehicles. But we need more. A lot more.

    If time allowed, I’d like to talk one-on-one with thousands of Eastern Iowan’s about their needs. I’d like to view their media habits. I’d like to ask probing questions about their habits. This is what is really needed. It is this information at the micro level that help us translate the users needs into an integrated system of products that Chuck refers to in a previous comment.

    I’ve always had a high interest in understanding human behavior related to media usage. I’d like to start this massive data collection project to help guide us to where we need to go. Is there enough time in the day and days in the week to tackle this beast? We need to find the time.

    1. Thanks Jeff. These are not minor issues. Getting to the root of what people want for local information, to accomplish what jobs, in what manner, will take some real creativity and persistence. We need to keep trying to figure it out!

  8. Chuck:

    I think you bring up some good points and I agree that the industry is moving in the direction you see it moving. But I think it’s moving that way in the same way we are moving toward landing a manned mission to Mars.

    While the generation that is in its 20s and mid-30s (and the ones to follow it) might be moving toward instant, electronic content, you still have at least a couple of generations that depend on that daily print product, with it’s “outdated” delivery methods and content for much of it’s daily news. At my age (52), I would be lost without a physical daily newspaper. As a high school coach, my athletes and their families would be lost without actual physical clippings of their activities.

    In the case of much of the oldest living generation, they aren’t even computer literate (or barely), and while mine is, we still primarily depend on the printed product for the “complete story.”

    I fully agree that, for survival and future growth, the company needs to start planning for the day that the print product and regular TV news broadcasts become outdated. But for now they — to a big part of your consumers — are highly important. Before you start making wholesale changes, I hope you think about that fact. It would be tragic to see two whole generations thrown to the curb in a rush to reach the future.

    1. Jeff –

      Thank you for the comment. We certainly do not want to “rush to reach the future” in advance of the market, and leave generations behind. And, as I often say, I think there will always be a role for print, broadcast and websites. I am still looking for ways to better integrate these products into a local information ecosystem. I think that will make the products stronger. Or, in another way of saying it, while we do not want to be ahead of the market, pushing where it is not ready to go, we do not want to be stuck only in packaged products.

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

      Chuck

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