BoSacks Speaks Out: Takeaways from Digital Innovators Summit 2017

By Bob Sacks on July 26, 2017

 I have the privilege of attending about 16 publishing media conferences each year. The shows I go to run the gamut of media publishing enterprises. I attend meetings with editors (ASME), circulators (MBR), and production folk (PRIMEX). I meet with various groups of media professionals such as regional publishers (CRMA, IRMA), large publishers (MPA, IMAG), Digital Book Conferences, and International Conferences (FIPP World Conference). It is by attending these broadly different events that I gather my perspectives on media and deliver the opinions that you read each day. 

In most of these events there is a discernable pattern. In some spiritual way most of the meetings open up with a similar chant or mantra. The audiences hum to "print is not dead, print is not dead, oh lord please agree that print is not dead." After that apparently mandatory professional obeisance, the conversations are all about digital processes, digital strategies and new digital revenues.   

You've heard me say that I live in the future and only come to the present to give lectures about what is ahead for publishers. There is one show that I go to each year that doesn't follow that mantra trend and is as much a part of the future as I am. It is the Digital Innovators Summit hosted by FIPP and held each year in Berlin.  It is by far one of my most favorite events. The agenda there is all about successful digital methodologies currently and actively in place. If you work for a company with vision, get them to send you to DIS. It is an event that I would recommend to any company that wants to see the future of our business in action today.  

Among the running themes at the conference was the reinvention and revitalization of Journalism for a profit. In case after case it was shown that advertisers are once again willing to invest with premium publishers, and also that consumers are once again ready and willing to pay for high-quality journalism.  

 Here are a few random additional idea captures from my two days in Berlin.

There was an amazing presentation yet again by John Wilpers, who scours the planet looking for exciting media trends. He calls the talk and the annual book he produces on the subject The FIPP Innovation World Report.  He focused on new technologies, apps, and monetization strategies and quirky offbeat innovations from magazine media around the world.  He laid out that the ideas and strategies we are all wrestling with are to get the consumer's attention. He said we need, "content that is appropriate for and relevant to the consumer's needs at the moment," in the format and on the platform of the moment. This idea of precision content delivery was a repeated theme by many speakers.  

The next speaker, Quartz's Jay Lauf, insisted that the path to success is to focus on the human beings we are trying to reach and not just the technology we use. Jay then ran through some of the changes of the last 15 years and cited how much more time is now spent on mobile devices than on desktop. He said that 70 per cent of Quartz's audience is on mobile devices, and this presents both a "huge opportunity and a set of hazards." "Mobile is much more intimate," explained Jay. "People aren't multi-tasking; they are focusing on the content in their hands. So, if publishers aren't careful they could just as easily repel readers as woo them. And one way readers respond negatively is by using ad blockers." Jay pointed out that as many as 29% of mobile owners in the US and Germany are using ad blockers. He suggested that "consumers don't necessarily hate ads, they hate bad advertising experiences. We spend so much time to draw people into the site and then put up a wall to prevent them from getting the content. Ultimately it is about treating others in the way that we like to be treated." I think that is great advice often ignored.  

Next was a presentation by Sergio Liscia, Digital and Business Development Director at Wolters Kluwer, who offered advice on turning "suspects" into "prospects". I thought that was an interesting way to approach it.  He discussed their process of matching consumers with professionals.  "We had the numbers, the audience - but converting them was not as satisfactory as we wanted." So the team at Wolters Kluwer started to look closely at users' interactions and tried to attract the right people for the right content at the right time.  "We want to catch 'suspects' (non-registered) and turn them into 'prospects' (registered users)." Again there is the running theme of right person, right place at the right time.  

The New York Times and a few other presenters suggested that "Bringing the Audience Inside" was a valuable lesson to learn. One publisher set up a process where on a regular basis the readers voted on what local news was important to them and then the paper went out and covered it. The results and circulation growth were very impressive.  

Another interesting presentation was by Laurie Benson, CEO of Upnexxt. She discussed how Chatbots allow for two-way personalized interaction between the consumer and brand, and they provide immediate access in a conversational interface. People will interact with bots like they interact with people, according to Laurie.   "Chatbots also declutter our mobile experiences, when we need to find or know something," she said. "Bots are being developed at a dizzying pace. Today there are more than 50 thousand bots on Facebook. Publishers like CNN and the Washington Post are experimenting.  

Benson said If publishers thought the explosion of smartphones and mobile behavior was a massive shift in behavior, chatbots will provide the shift, but this time, seismic in scale. "As things evolve, bots are now doing everything from distributing media to delivering services," Benson explained. "This will transform how business and consumers will interact. You no longer have to search, you just ask." Chatbots will change the way users interact with the world around them, she went on. Chatbots may replace brand websites. In three years Benson said Gartner predicts customers will manage 85 per cent of their relationships with chatbots instead of humans. If that is true, we all may have to rethink yet again the what and how of our investments for future delivery of our content. Are you thinking along these lines?  

It would take me a dozen pages or more to fully explain what I saw and what I absorbed. Below are links to each speaker and they are well worth looking over as your future employment is right here in these presentations from the Digital Innovators Summit. I hope I see you there next year.

By Bob Sacks| July 26, 2017

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Bob Sacks

Bob Sacks

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