Guardian’s marketing true to “digital first” strategy

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The Guardian newspaper has plenty of detractors laying into its free online content strategy, but even if it is getting its business model wrong, its marketing plans seem to suit the commitment to being a “digital first” brand.

Publisher Guardian News and Media (GNM) this week revealed details of a brand campaign involving a new £2 million investment. Guardian content sales and marketing director Chris Lawson told Marketing Week that direct consumer communications are now a “strategic priority”.

The new strategy is a shift in GNM’s marketing focus, away from promotions and towards direct relationships of “collaboration and participation” with consumers, Lawson says. That sounds a little woolly without concrete examples, but he suggests it will involve crowd sourcing and user-generated content.

All marketing activities will also now have a data capture element, so that GNM can understand how readers access its content. Data on GNM’s customers will be kept in one central repository, no matter which part of the business they have interacted with – the newspaper, the Soulmates dating service or Guardian Jobs, for example.

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Furthermore, the commercial aims of GNM’s strategy are specifically to double its database of subscribers – to its iPad and iPhone apps and to the print editions. With newsstand sales in terminal decline, GNM has obviously realised that long-term subscribers are both more loyal and more likely to hand over valuable personal data than buyers of single copies.

GNM’s dedication to data as the central component of its campaigns chimes with the findings of a recent report that indicate how important data management is for marketers in maintaining good relationships with consumers. For example, while consumers overwhelmingly choose post and email as their preferred methods of direct marketing, around half still say they get inappropriate communications through both media.

According to the study commissioned by marketing services company Acxiom – coincidentally, the same firm responsible for building GNM’s customer database – these are lower figures than marketers fear. But if half of all recipients feel communications in their preferred channels are badly judged, that is not a good sign. One would hope putting so much concentration on data collection should mean GNM can show media companies how it should be done.

In the midst of all its positive noises, the Guardian has just folded three print supplements into its main newspaper; so whether it can turn around its escalating financial losses will depend on more than just customer communications. But given its digital priorities, this marketing strategy should at least move the paper in the right direction.

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