Knowing who your audience is and what they want can save a lot of time & money.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
The same holds true for your audience-you can invest as much as you want into digital bells and whistles, but that doesn’t mean your audience will use them. Knowing your readers’ core behaviors and tactically building digital elements off of them can save a lot of wasted effort.
Print as a Launching Pad
Diabetes Forecast and its parent organization, the American Diabetes Association, haven’t been afraid to iterate digitally-they have a range of media and e-commerce products for both consumer and professional audiences- but they’ve been careful to start with print and build out from there.
"As publishers, we’re all very excited about the potential for digital and we’ve all been dipping our toes into those waters for awhile now, but publishers need to look to their audiences for guidance," says Kelly Rawlings, editorial director of the magazine. "Our audience tends to be a little older-because diabetes tends to affect people when they’re older-and have been very comfortable with reaching our information monthly in a print magazine. And although they’re certainly interested in digital, and we’ve see massive growth there, it’s a true need to serve them on all platforms."
With a redesigned responsive website launched late last year and 200 percent year-over-year growth for its digital edition, digital platforms are growing rapidly for Diabetes Forecast, but they’re still a relatively small portion of the total picture. They’re making selective investments there though.
Rawlings studies traditional quantitative data-site metrics, reader surveys, audit reports, and the like-to find out what readers are looking for and how they want to
access that information, but argues that qualitative sources too often get undervalued in editorial decisions or in planning broad strategic initiatives.
That’s why she instituted a reader panel made up of 12 association members of varying ages, ethnicities and needs. They’ll get feedback on specific articles and topics, and tell Rawlings which ideas make sense for enhancements in their digital edition. Diabetes Forecast gets about 300 applications for the 12 slots each year.
It’s a focus group of sorts, but with a lasting relationship behind it.
"You can ask for comments on reader surveys in the verbatims, but it’s a one-time snapshot of what that person was thinking within a very strange circumstance
of filling out a survey," she says. "As much as everybody believes in quantitative information, when it comes to editorial decisions about content, the qualitative can trump it. Especially if you have a publication like we do where we need to repeatedly cover some of the same sorts of information, but do it in a way the audience continues to find appealing. The qualitative information can really help you with that."