01 Oct In your view what should The Economist’s mobile strategy be?
This was the question I was asked to answer in order to be shortlisted for the “digital product manager” role at The Economist.
Sadly although I was shortlisted, and apparently gave “the best response” out of the 36 potential candidates, I was unsuccessful in securing the role at the final round of interviews.
So, what was “the best response” to the question:
In your view what should The Economist’s mobile strategy be?
To answer this question I first looked at; Economist Groups’ Digital and Mobile portfolio, usage of current technology, UX, customer reviews & rating, and what the competitors are doing…
Paywall vs. adverting-supported content? – There are plenty of arguments for why a newspaper or other traditional media outlet might decide to implement a paywall — including a need for revenue to supplement declining print advertising, or a desire to form a stronger bond with its readers. Some proponents of newspaper paywalls argue that charging readers for content results in better journalism than the free and advertising-supported model used by many digital publishers.
I would argue the point is the quality of the journalistic content isn’t necessarily determined by whether it’s ad-supported or subscriber-supported, or a combination of both but it certainly creates a “better” and more qualified reader. Offering a “soft” or “metered” pay wall strategy, allowing free access to select content, while keeping premium content and “functions” behind a paywall.
As a commercial business the Economist relies on data and customer relationships. The way Subscriptions are purchased from within the App Store means Apple processes all payments through the new recurring billing option, keeping the same 30 percent share that it has for other In-App Purchases. This means customers purchasing a subscription through the App Store will be given the option of providing the publisher with their name, email address and zip code when they subscribe. Thus severing the direct relationship with the readers of the Economist. Where as in contrast, Web apps are typically designed to be accessible across different device platforms and distributed typically free of charge. The content delivered through Web apps, however, can of course be billed independently e.g. by subscription. That being said, I would agree there is still a need to support native apps for distribution reasons and web apps for cream. My only concern is Zuckerberg’s interview where he is pro native apps for FB and this is a powerhouse platform.
The difference between the capabilities of Web-based and native mobile apps is narrowing rapidly. Rapid advances in HTML5, the new more mobile friendly version of the Web language, and the hard work by the standards body World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to create standard interfaces across mobile devices mean that Web apps can – or will be able to – do many of the things that native apps can do.
Currently Web apps’ advantages primarily lie with application developers and publishers. Direct control over the application’s distribution and cost advantages are usually the main reasons for launching a Web application. Apart from man-hours, it helps that skilled Web developers are far more readily available than those skilled in native programming languages such as the iPhone’s Objective-C.
Another fundamental advantage is that Web apps are run on common browsers that can be accessed on most Web-enabled smartphones, so device-specific customisation is much simpler from a developer standpoint. Therefore the cost advantage increases as the degree of hardware fragmentation increases. Another major benefit, as mentioned before, is that delivering updates for a Web app is much more convenient.
What’s the future?
It is important to recognise that we are increasingly moving toward a ‘multi-screen’ world, where brands will want to engage their users across a variety of media touch points. In that light the same debate will carry on to tablet devices and now Web-connected TVs, thanks to the expansion of Android and iOS platforms.
Personally I believe Web apps will take on a larger mind share among both publishers and consumers, as hardware complexity grows and the desire for immediacy increasingly dominates modern media consumption behaviour.
Don’t just meet customer expectations, exceed them.
Meeting customer expectations is one of the most important reasons the Economist has to adapt to new digital applications. To do this The Economist needs a practical yet simple approach to guide their diversification efforts.
Develop potential solutions
Test, learn and adjust
It is my belief that innovation is the only true sustainable competitive advantage. Whether we are talking about tablets or any other product. Implementing a formal framework for innovation allows The Economist to focus on both incremental innovations and the next breakthrough project.
A Guide to innovation
The tablet market was established two years ago with the introduction of the iPad. No publishing company can say they have discovered the right strategy for serving audiences through this channel. The technology is evolving rapidly and new tablet devices are coming on the market every month. To remain relevant, you have to be able to change course faster than ever. The app is just one of publisher’s experiment among many others to create a relevant news experience for tablets. I would therefore suggest a framework for innovation to help do two things: 1) Ensure continuous product development; 2) Set the Economist up for the next breakthrough idea. A framework not just specific to the tablet space, but it could easily be adapted for any mobile revolution.
Below, I have mapped out a suggested framework.
If the luxury of hiring Full Time Executives to manage the innovation process is not available, recruiting staff from across the company to volunteer their time could be an option.
As described by the visual below, three groups of people are involved.
The Innovation Steering Team is a cross-functional team put in place to manage the innovation process. This team is responsible for evaluation ideas based on research, strategic variables and enablers as described in the Innovation Framework further down. They meet monthly and receive input from the Sub-Teams and the Imagination Team.
Who to invite in to the “Board of Innovation”? As a rule of thumb, 3 women, 3 men, 2 clients/users and yourself
The Imagination Team would be a group of designers and programmers. This group is mandated to spend 10% of their work hours on innovation (stolen from Google’s 70/20/10 model). Their time can be spent on “blue sky” ideas or can be based on requirements set by the Innovation Steering Team.
The Sub-Teams would focus on specific innovation projects. They would conduct everything from research to ideation to business planning and product development. The Sub-Teams report to the Innovation Steering Team. In some cases members of the Innovation Steering Team will be leading or be part of the Sub-Teams as well. However, the Sub-Teams have opportunity to get as many people involved with innovation, thus increasing the creativity and avoiding groupthink.
The framework! It is a comprehensive visual but let me try to break it down below.
The research is the fuel that powers innovation. The Innovation Steering Team is tasked with monitoring and analysing research and feedback. As the visual indicates, there are a variety of sources that needs monitoring.
The strategic variables are based on research conducted over the previous years. The channel specific variables refer to the strategic options available in the tablet space. Each product idea that surfaces can be categorised according to these variables. For example, should the focus be, product development on a new iPad app, or should we put our efforts into creating an HTML-based web app? Which screen(s) should be optimise? How does this product fit into the product portfolio?
The product specific variables deal with the actual product itself. Which content should be in this app? What unmet need does it serve? What form will it have (i.e. design, navigation, interactivity)? How does advertising fit in? And should this be a paid or a free product? If paid, how so?
The enablers are the variables that we need to engage in order to create the product.
Lastly, the Innovation Process itself, as indicated by the call-outs at the bottom of the framework, is a series of stages that again is managed by the Innovation Steering Team and conducted by the Sub-Teams. The stages are described below and are adapted from the “Innovation Metrics” white paper by Langdon Morris:
Research: The Innovation Steering Team and Sub-Teams continuously conduct research on interactive trends, user behaviour and needs, competitors and the market.
Ideation: All three groups works on generating new ideas in workshops. These ideas are then evaluated during monthly steering team meetings.
Insight: Following, ideas are turned into actionable insight about innovation opportunities
Targeting: Innovation ideas are submitted to the executive sponsors for review to ensure we target areas that enhance our product portfolio.
Innovation Development: The Sub-Teams pursue funded ideas, develops all plans related to execution.
Market development: The Sub-Teams ensure that the ideas are tested and meet customer demands.