6 growth opportunities for media operators in 2024

    Last updated: June 14, 2024

    Editor’s note: This post was adapted from our June 2024 webinar with James Capo and Jacob Donnelly. We’ve edited their quotes for length and clarity. 

    We are halfway through 2024. While some nagging hurdles exist across the business and consumer media, breakthroughs are happening. 

    But with so many platforms and channels to cover, what opportunities should operators prioritize moving forward? How can they grow and engage their audiences while still keeping the lights on?  

    Streamline your tech stack: Boost efficiency, unify data & retain talent! Get expert tips now:

    Our CEO, James Capo, recently sat down with Jacob Donnelly of A Media Operator to answer some of these questions. Their 50-minute conversation covered a lot of ground, ranging from the media industry outlook to the impact of private equity and AI, and the power of audience-first strategies.

    But sometimes you just need some pointers. So we’re summarizing their best tactical advice for media operators looking to grow and engage their audiences this year and beyond. Read on for more. 

    6 growth opportunities for media operators in 2024

    Invest in your first-party data 

    You can’t serve your audience if you don’t know them — who they are, what they care about, and where and how they prefer to engage. 

    So step one: Collect and unify first-party data about your audience. 

    “You have to get that first-party audience data,” Capo says. “Whether you use Omeda or other tools, that to me is an opportunity to create value for your service.”

    Besides learning about your audience, data will also make it easier for companies to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by AI.

    “AI, while a threat in some ways, is also a massive opportunity,” Capo says. “I think audience data creates these opportunities and I think AI is going to allow us to find new opportunities, new segments and create new products, build new experiences for the service of our audience with that, and I think we can do it faster.”

    Some places to start: 

    • Unify all your first-party audience data by using a customer data platform. This way, all of your teams can see how your audience is interacting with you across every channel — then use the improved data to segment, personalize and monetize your audience more successfully. 
    • Implement progressive profiling so you get more information about your audience as they continue to engage with your gated content, email, events, etc.
    • Use interactive polls, surveys and content to provide more value to your audience while getting more submissions. (Pst, that’s why we integrate with CredSpark. When the integration’s active, you can administer interactive surveys and polls to your audience via CredSpark, and each response automatically flows to your Omeda database for further targeting and segmenting.)

    Increase unknown to known conversion by perfecting your user experience  

    You can’t connect with your audience if you don’t know them. Sounds obvious, but that’s the case for most media companies. Unknown conversion is one of the biggest audience development challenges for media and audience teams today, according to our new State of Audience report.  

    So why aren’t teams able to convert their website visitors? Donnelly attributes it to a combination of passive strategy and bad UX.

    “If we think about why anonymous conversion doesn’t happen,” Donnelly says. “It’s because A) we might be pushing hard enough on our newsletter. B) We might not be gating our content well enough. Or C) Maybe the ad experience is so abysmal that the person comes there, you’ve got a cookie on them, but then they leave because they just got to get off their laptop and their fans are spinning like crazy to handle all the [ads on the page].” 

    “One of the mistakes many media companies make is that they view the relationship with their reader as only existing at that moment in time,” Donnelly says. “I think the overreliance on social and Google and all of that makes that a reality. Because so much traffic is coming to our sites, we don’t understand that if we give someone a bad experience the first time they’re not going to come back.” 

    He mentions news sites he avoids because of the intrusive, unusable ad experience. (We won’t name names.)

    “We are so focused on that one first-click monetization and that first-click CPM that we might get that we’re losing sight of the experience we’re providing audiences,” Capo adds.

    Sometimes it’s worth taking a softer touch with first-time visitors in order to give them a better experience, encourage them to come back, and eventually drive more engagement and revenue from them long-term. 

    “People really need to think about the order of prioritization. It’s okay if you under monetize on that first user visit,” Donnelly says. “Because if you can catch up and acquire them and get some information about them, you can monetize them so much better later.” 

    Complement subscriptions and ad revenue with premium experiences 

    We often say that audience = revenue. So let’s get specific. How are companies are leaning into their audience? What kinds of products, services and monetization tools are they using to grow, engage and monetize their audiences? 

    Donnelly points to Hoffman Media, a women’s interest and lifestyle publisher with, among other publications, Bake from Scratch, a bi-monthly baking magazine. 

    In addition to a paid subscription and ads, they also run baking retreats in France, where guests can practice their craft with leading chefs. 

    Since they charge $10,000 per registrant, only a few people will ever participate in such an experience. But one of those registrants will have enormous lifetime value, compared to thousands of readers with a $5 bi-monthly subscription. 

    Just as important, they’re providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a highly passionate, self-selecting audience. 

    Not to beat a dead horse, but first-party data helps make those highly curated experiences possible.   

    “That is exactly the type of stuff you can do with first party data — the ability to create these ancillary opportunities,” Capo says. “They may not even be a subscriber to the magazine yet, or the publication or his website from there. So what is that LTV of that individual of those individuals and how does something like that create other product opportunities?” 

    Turn your marketing funnel on its head 

    Media companies tend to overemphasize one-time conversions at the expense of long-term audience development, Donnelly says. 

    To keep someone engaged, you can’t just stop once they press subscribe. You need to provide multiple products, experiences and content pieces to engage them and maximize their lifetime value over time. 

    “Typically with the marketing funnels, we provide a lot of free stuff up top, and then you push someone down maybe through webinars or whatever until you finally convert them to something,” Donnelly says.

    “I think that that does a disservice to media companies because it only thinks about the first conversion. Great, you’ve got money from them. But we need to think about it as a multi-product experience.”

    So who’s doing this right? Donnelly points to Skift, a travel industry news site that’s since expanded to provide market research, events, and advisory services to their core audience of travel professionals. 

    “They provide free content and the paid subscription,” Donnelly says, “Then there’s the more expensive paid subscription, which is the research business and then there is one level down which is their event. Then they also have a recruiting business that they just launched and they also have an advisory business and then suddenly, you see you could touch so many of these different business models all at the same audience.” 

    The most successful media companies are essentially running several different businesses, all under one umbrella. So how can you launch all of these new revenue levers effectively —  while staying connected to your audience? 

    Ground everything in your first-party data. This way, you know your bets are backed in observable actions, behaviors and preferences. From there, you can create content that provides a concrete service to your audience — all with less time and resources. Audiences get more opportunities to learn and engage — and media companies get important revenue. Talk about a win-win.

    “I think the first party data and content is where media companies can create significant value to their audiences and significant profit as well,” Capo says. 

    However, this is highly culture-dependent. 

    “Depending on your organization’s culture, it’ll dictate whether or not you view content as the product or audience as the product,” Donnelly says. “If you’re an audience-first company, you will view content as the product. Because ultimately what you are doing is you are selling to some customer, so therefore your audience is your customer.” 

    Really, it comes down to one question: Is your audience the product or are they the customer? 

    “If however you see the audience as the product, that is because you are a culture that sells advertising primarily and sponsored content and things where the goal is serving your customers. I think the issue for B2B media is that for a long time that was all they cared about. The question was ‘How are we going to productize our audience?’ And it was never, ‘How are we going to serve a product to our audience?’ And I think that’s where we’re starting to see a shift.” 

    Make audience development an organization-wide priority 

    Capo also thinks media businesses are undervaluing the work of audience development. Most companies are maintaining or increasing their audience spend, but they don’t have a senior audience leader managing the company’s overall audience development efforts. 

    To Capo, that’s a major missed opportunity.  

    “I think the profession of audience needs to be raised,” he says. “Media companies need to think about the concept of a chief audience officer at media companies because otherwise you have no one owning it.” 

    Because audience-first strategies are the new shiny object. And if there’s not a dedicated audience expert in senior leadership driving decision-making and influencing strategy, teams could over-index on quick wins over long-term engagement – and lose sight of their audience’s needs again.

    “So I think that’s something we need to be careful of,” Capo says. “Because I think we can quickly get ourselves back in trouble with following the pretty lights on this.” 

    Niche down 

    Operators also overlook the power of scarcity, Capo says. Find an underserved niche, cover it effectively and suddenly, the barriers to success are a lot lower. 

    “Scarcity drives demand,” Capo says. “We tend not to think about scarcity as a value driver. But if you have scarce audiences and you have scarce but valuable, those things will be valuable.” 

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