Opinion: What media brands can learn from d-to-c innovation
In the current climate, publishers of all sizes are seeing impacts on ad dollars and revenue. This was an especially hot topic for media companies during Q1 earnings calls. We are more than three months into the COVID-19 era and the media industry is still struggling to identify what will keep it afloat and profitable. Like all industries, publishing, too, is experiencing furloughs, layoffs and salary reductions. But it will take more than these short-term solutions to overcome ad spend reductions and a looming recession.
Although we’re seeing signs of recovery, ad spend is down in part because advertisers are withdrawing ad placements to avoid being adjacent to COVID-19 content. But for publishers to survive, they will need to get creative and act quickly when building revenue strategies. They will not be able to rely solely on ad spend anymore. Other industries have been quicker to innovate and implement alternative strategies, none more than direct-to-consumer brands. From legacy publishers to media startups, all media companies should look to the nimbleness of d-to-c brands to maintain operations.
Adaptability and creativity
D-to-c brands are experts at becoming indispensable parts of consumers' daily habits. But with profits down, their efforts have been redirected to preserve customer loyalty. Some media brands have gone deeper with existing fans versus acquiring new ones by dipping their toes into apparel and with content offerings across formats and mediums. While media brands should maintain and nurture existing relationships, even more needs to be done to nurture long-term customers.
Purple, the d-to-c mattress and sleep company, was quick to innovate. While better known for mattresses, Purple doubled down on other product lines. To reach customers now working from home, Purple created seat cushions to make chairs more comfortable. Seeing the need for reusable masks, the company also launched a line of high-quality, comfortable face masks. These products met the changing needs of consumers and allowed Purple to expand its product footprint beyond the bedroom.
Vox Media deployed a similar tactic in reimagining The New Yorker's crossword puzzle. Not all readers are looking for more coverage of COVID-19; some want a break from the news. Vox adapted the puzzle into a collaborative, interactive experience where readers can virtually connect with friends and pass time during quarantine—leveraging other aspects of readers’ lives to provide a meaningful experience.
Partnerships and charitable efforts
Another d-to-c tactic that publishers should consider is the power of community. An example is the partnership that Haus, the d-to-c alcohol brand, launched with restaurants. Haus creates custom apéritifs that pair with the cuisine of restaurants, with all proceeds going to support the restaurants.
This initiative not only aligns with the Haus brand and audience, but expands the company's reach. In addition, Haus pledged to donate $10,000 to Campaign Zero, Black Lives Matter and The Bail Project. Media brands should be more socially conscious, participating in causes that their readers are passionate about—whether by donating or producing content that sheds light on important issues. While some media brands are taking similar steps, more need to participate.
Community before competition
There is an opportunity for publishers to work together, both literally and from a mentorship perspective. Players in the media landscape should be viewing each other as partners, not competitors, and should come together to engage each others' footprints for a greater cause. The mentality should be: How can we all survive? How can we keep an open conversation to share best practices and not be cutthroat? Publishers can also establish partnerships with advertisers and readers.
An example of this community-focused approach can be seen with Brands x Better, a charitable initiative for COVID-19 relief led by men’s lifestyle and fitness brand Rhone. Brands x Better brought more than 20 d-to-c brands together to raise money for various initiatives, including the creation and donation of masks to hospitals and the donation of media budgets and creative production resources to support Mount Sinai and GetUsPPE.org.
As we adapt to the "new normal" there are still challenges ahead for the media industry. Subscriber growth will plateau and ad dollars might not fully bounce back until 2021. Publishers that are nimble and think like d-to-c brands will be better prepared for the new media landscape.