As rich and revealing as it is, data analytics is not the same as actually speaking to readers to truly understand your audience.
Many media people confuse audience data with understanding their audience.
Data analytics is indeed fascinating stuff full of insights. It is extraordinarily effective in guiding story and product decisions. And it is essential to our success these days.
But it is bloodless.
You could even say that it’s the lazy approach to truly understanding the needs and pain points of your community of readers.
There’s the audience, and then there are your readers.
The only way to really know your readers, to understand deep-down what will make them view your work as essential in their lives — so essential they are willing to pay for it — is to actually talk to them.
Not in focus groups. Not via surveys. Face-to-face. In person or via Zoom. Look them in the eye, and convince them that you are sincere in wanting to hear their thoughts and opinions.
They will open up. They will share their likes and dislikes about what you do and how you could make it even more valuable to them. Incredibly, they will even thank you for the opportunity, and they will often offer to help you reach out to their own circle of friends.
It may sound like a difficult thing to do, but people really do love being asked for their opinion, especially if they have a connection with you as a subscriber.
And then, if you act on their advice and get back to them to tell them that they influenced the changes, they will become proselytizers for you. That kind of marketing is priceless and powerful.
It doesn’t have to be a massive reader outreach project. Just one or two calls or meetings a week. For each member of the staff. Every week.
I have done this successfully in vastly different cultures: India, Canada, the U.S., Hong Kong, etc.
Sometimes it’s tough listening. Sometimes they really don’t like something you’re doing or not doing: Ignoring constituencies, dismissing important issues, being elitist, charging too much (although they’d happily pay if you delivered what they want). But if you listen sincerely and respect their opinion, and especially if you act on their concerns, you will have a subscriber and fan for life.
Next: Exactly how to reach out and touch readers. I’ll discuss proven methods that are a lot easier than you might think.