Publishers have been angling in this direction for some time now, but Condé Nast’s elevation of Bob Sauerberg [pictured] to president is a very public acknowledgement of audience development’s role in the corporate structure.
What nails the concept is CEO Charles Townsend’s explicit recognition that advertising isn’t the only game in town—and neither is print. Publishers have all known this for years, but what’s finally emerging here is a greater understanding of the role customer insights can play—and not just for magazines, but all sorts of cross-platform products and services.
“The historical priorities that have served our company so well—great content, best-in-class magazines, key client relationships—remain the cornerstone of what we do, but we need to move beyond the magazine,” said Townsend in a statement announcing the management changes. “The set of strategic course changes being put in motion today will reorient our organization to thrive in this new world of opportunity, assuring the brightest future for Condé Nast.”
Condé Nast’s new model will be aligned with "digital connectivity, technology development and consumer insight." You can look at this as a sort of re-establishment of circulation marketing or subscription-based practices—the corporate gaze finally settling on this as a vibrant profit center—but it’s much bigger than that. Paid content, digital products, and, yes, print subs are all optimized from unified insights into customer behavior and purchase patterns.
In the not-too-distant past, publishers diversified into all sorts of new product platforms to dilute their dependence on the advertising model: Events, custom publishing, data, new digital offerings, etc. But these were simply piling on more products. What was absent, and is now coalescing, was a strategic approach to leveraging customer insights according to which of those products they’re buying, how often, whether they move in between them and what their preferences are. The implications of this new knowledge of course extends into advertising, too.
Chief among Sauerberg’s new responsibilities will be getting the various groups, and not just people, but databases, within Condé to talk to each other—"integrating corporate resources," as the statement says. Without that integration, the "new world of opportunity" will be much harder to discover.