Enthusiast Media: a new way to think about digital?

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Introducing a new mental model to help publishers think about audience strategy

On 20 September Bibblio and our friends at Sovrn brought the Future of Media and Publishing meetup back to New York City, getting together a group of future-oriented publishers to discuss how the industry is changing and what they’re doing to adapt. We covered so much ground that we’ve split the write-up of the evening into three parts: the first part features our speaker, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (Publisher at Writer’s Digest and Director of marketing at F+W Media), and the other parts will cover the panel, which featured Carey Polis (Digital Director from Bon Appetit), Joe LaFalce (VP, Business Development at POPSUGAR) and Daniel Stedman (CEO & Co-Founder of Brooklyn Magazine and Northside Media).

Enthusiast Media?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, director of marketing at Writer’s Digest
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, director of marketing at Writer’s Digest

Guy’s talk introduced the audience to the idea of ‘Enthusiast Media’: what defines it, how the business model works, and what you need to do if you want to leverage the model in your own business. First of all, it’s not big scale consumer media, which to Guy is the least interesting part of the media business anyway. It’s so dependent on ads, you fundamentally don’t control your own fate.

So, what is an Enthusiast Media company?

It’s a truly diversified company that brings a specific community together across multiple platforms and connects them to the information, inspiration, and resources they need to pursue their shared interests and individual goals.

Four key traits define an Enthusiast Media business:

  • Creates and publishes inspirational or instructional content in multiple formats across multiple platforms
  • Engages and nurtures enthusiasts through lead journeys, content and other experiences
  • Connects enthusiasts to each other, and potentially third parties (advertisers are still a part of this space)
  • Produces relevant products and services to serve the enthusiasts needs and interests, a notable percentage of which they pay for - this is what separates Enthusiast Media from general consumer and some B2B

A lot of B2B publishers also share some of these characteristics.

Guy offered some examples of Enthusiast Media. Red Bull is a particularly interesting case study. The core brand is the drink, but group contains various media properties as well, and they’re each treated as a stand-alone business – they have to be profitable on their own. This obviously isn’t the way that brands usually approach content marketing, but Red Bull have such a strong brand and are so good at serving their community that the approach works for them.

Another example is Skift, who have carved out a unique space in travel, providing global travel industry intelligence. A good example of a media company doing something similar in another vertical would be The Business of Fashion. Ascribing to Guy's model of an Enthusiast Media company, Skift monetise in a number of different ways. As well as traditional advertising, they have subscription products and content marketing / native advertising, e.g. partner research pieces.

What is Enthusiast Media? by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
What is Enthusiast Media? by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

It almost goes without saying that for a company to be Enthusiast Media its content has to be valuable and not commoditised.

Because of the way Enthusiast Media concentrates on the valued community members, not volume, their KPIs are different to normal media – no vanity metrics like page views here. What matters to an Enthusiast Media company is the depth of engagement and how to nurture people through the journey that leads to revenue.

Enthusiasts are different

It’s important to understand that Enthusiasts are a subset of general consumers, and that’s true even within a vertical. People make the mistake of thinking that everyone in a vertical has a monolithic set of interests, and that you can just produce a load of vaguely targeted content and get a lot of traction. That’s not so.

Anyone who thought they could just throw up a niche publishing company off the back of the Facebook “magic button” a few years ago isn’t in business anymore. They didn’t really have a plan, they had access to an audience they didn’t own. Enthusiast Media own their audience and they know them inside out - you can't produce content and assume it will resonate with everyone in a broad demographic.

Guy illustrated this point by describing how they work at Writers’ Digest. They recognise that writers aren’t all the same, and they have four primary categories of reader: the Fiction Writer, the Memoirist, the Freelance Writer and the Screenwriter. Each category has some overlap and commonalities, but there are important variations, and they target them with different content. Even writing students aren’t all the same - they study different things!

The audience

One of Writer’s Digest’s primary 'competitors' is Poets & Writers. Poets & Writers targets a specific subset of writers of literary fiction and poetry. Because of their focus on those two categories, they serve that audience in ways Writer’s Digest can’t, engaging with them from a different perspective. But, you can’t make that strategic decision if you don’t know your overall audience really well.

In many ways, when you’re an Enthusiast Media company your main competitor is your own audience – they want to talk to and learn from each other as much as you. Advertising partners are also your competitors, since in a specialised space many are also looking to develop close relationships with their customers, often based on content. How do you reach enthusiasts and engage them when there’s so much happening around them? The only way is to really understand the channels they engage with and what kind of content you need to push to earn their attention.

Enthusiast Media in metrics

Enthusiast Media is not primarily driven by advertising. This means that you can’t have vanity metric KPIs. Some more useful metrics that Guy suggested are new visitors via search & social, pages/session, email acquisition and email open rates and CTRs. Another useful deep metric that we’ve come across recently, used by Enthusiast Media like Physics World, is returning visitors.

Guy also made a subtle point about the way we talk about measuring those metrics and what we do with the information we gather. Too many people talk about being “data-driven”. Don’t let data drive you, he said – data should inform you. Data, on its own, is useless if you don’t have a plan and a way to use it to make decisions that generate revenue. There’s a lot of technology now to help publishers measure and collect data, but that technology only has value if you're using the data well.

Data-Informed Content Strategy by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
Data-Informed Content Strategy by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

A little while ago the internet shifted from being a way to connect people to being a way to sell people things. That was maybe inevitable, but a lot of people are uncomfortable with that (with good reason, but we won’t go into that here). The best media brands recognise that: they aren’t always trying to sell sell sell sell sell. If you serve your community well and you have a good product then the sales will come naturally.

When it comes to Enthusiast Media companies working with advertisers, Guy says that the secret sauce is finding an advertising partner that really cares about your audience and treats them respectfully. The right partner helps you produce great content and material that teaches your audience.

Guy’s talk introduced a really interesting new mental model for the audience to think about the vertical and niche publishing space with. I’m sure more than a few people will be integrating it into their strategy and how they think about their business in the future. Following Guy was our panel discussion, which we’ll cover in the next instalments from FOMP NYC.

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