A Guide to Digital Experience Management for Publishers

Article ImageDigital experience management (DXM) refers to providing superior customer experiences through a judicious leverage of strategy, technology, and process. This article focuses on the DXM considerations for media and publishing companies—both incumbents and newer digital-native firms.

Perhaps no other industry has undergone as much change as publishing has in recent years. On top of that, the pace of change only seems to be accelerating even more. DXM also has to evolve and be moored to the larger transformation underway in publishing. First, let us discuss the context and some key trends.

It is no secret that the bedrock of the publishing industry—advertisement revenues from print—has crumbled. Newer forms of revenue, such as digital advertisements, have not made up for the loss in print revenues. To be sure, digital ads are a flourishing business, but the spoils are accruing to technology companies rather than publishers. To complicate matters more, as we will see later, frenemy technology companies are increasingly defining the rules of the game.

What, Then, Is the Case of DXM in Publishing?

Consider the data from the 2016 “Internet Trends” report on media consumption and advertising spends in the U.S. for 2015:

  • Print media constitutes only 4% of total media consumption time but accounts for 16% of total advertising spend.
  • Digital media (i.e., internet plus mobile) accounts for 47% of total media consumption time.

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that we now live in a world in which readers increasingly get their news and updates from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and they are increasingly doing so on their mobile devices. The medium is the message.

As noted previously, print revenues have shrunk already—but expect more shrinkage. Advertisers follow their audiences, and we can expect them to shift their ad dollars further away from print in the long term. The writing on the wall is clear. Publishers may have traditionally operated using a print-first paradigm, but digital has to underpin their future business strategies.

The role of DXM is central, because it can play an important differentiating role for a publisher as it pursues and enhances its digital strategies. Here are eight factors to consider in order to implement effective DXM.

Flexible and Versatile Content Management Infrastructure

For publishers willing to take advantage of it, the digital medium enables new storytelling forms and opportunities—you are no longer constrained by column inches or word-count limitations. You can serve up different formats—short form, long form, images, videos, live feeds, etc. As a publisher, you’ll need a modern CMS that can support several different formats and also optimally deliver content across different devices (such as desktops, smartphones, and tablets). The platform should also be flexible to publish (or showcase) user-generated content and not just editor-created content.

Tailored Content and Engagement

Your website has to serve different types of readers. Of course, subscribers and regular visitors, but a third or more of the readers for many publishers come from social networks, and you’ll have to cater to such fly-by readers (and, hopefully, turn them into regular visitors). One approach here is encouraging fly-by readers to sign up for alerts or new content on similar topics. Another approach is to engage readers via comments and discussion forums. Note that these approaches are not mutually exclusive, and there are several such techniques that you can consider.

Rise of Ad Blockers

The rapid and large-scale adoption of ad-blocking software by users causes revenue leakage for publishers, but it’s also a sign that something’s broken in the current model. The publisher response has been either to request readers to turn off the ad blockers or to direct them to a lite version of the site. The silver lining is, perhaps, that it draws attention to the fact that advertising pays for the useful content and news readers access. This may, in turn, prime readers to become paid subscribers in the future. Meanwhile, strive to strike a balance and deliver a limited number of relevant ads.

Advent of Content Distribution Platforms

True, social networks are a big source of traffic for publisher websites. But citing their technical chops and particular ability to deliver a better user experience (UX) for mobile users, social networks want to retain the users on their own sites instead of routing them to publisher sites. Examples include Facebook’s Instant Articles, Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), and Snapchat’s Discover programs. Participating publishers get a cut of the revenue from these social networks and have to create content according to the networks’ specifications. Larger publishers try to establish a presence on all major platforms, but that typically calls for dedicated resources. If you are a small publisher, pick one or two programs that make the most business sense for you.

Personalization and Recommendations

In an earlier article (“A Guide to Big Data Tools for Publishers,” EContent, June 2015), I described how publishers can leverage Big Data tools and techniques for content creation, personalization, and revenue-generation use cases. Specifically, consider the use of a data management platform to create an audience that advertisers prize and pay a premium to target. Another important Big Data use case is how user engagement can be driven by personalization—this can take the form of content recommendations based on implicit and explicit reader behaviors and actions.

Virtual Reality

It is still early days for virtual reality (VR), and it has not yet become mainstream. However, it can enhance user experience for certain forms of rich media content and stories. Specially produced VR content can be delivered via a mobile app and inexpensive VR glasses such as Google Cardboard. The New York Times has developed a VR app.

Technical Expertise

A common thread across the aforementioned considerations is how much they depend on a strong foundation of technology. Media organizations and publishers have to march to a different digital drummer; to do so, they need to build new skills and expertise. Publishers also need to structure their organizations such that digital is on par with print, and they need to become extremely proficient in their leverage of technology.

Agile Culture of Experimentation

The business and technology models in publishing are still works in progress. In such a scenario of flux and in which there are many moving parts, it would be presumptuous to prescribe any single strategy as gospel. Instead, be prepared to experiment. Try a new approach; if it works well, scale it. But if it does not work as expected, move on and try a new experiment.

Whether you are an incumbent or a digital-native publisher, DXM is paramount. Leverage your respective strengths—brand recall and established credibility in the case of incumbents, as well as the freedom of not being chained to legacy systems and processes in the case of digital upstarts—as you figure out the business models that work best for you.

The digital canvas is emerging but large. We may not yet know which publishing business models will prevail, but what is certain is that DXM will be at the center of such models.  

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