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Are Your Products Future-Proof?

This article originally appeared in an issue of be: inspired/, an online magazine co-created for and with marketing experts.

Which? Magazine recently worked with its readers to co-create the future of the publication, with the results set to hit the presses in 2014. We asked Richard to share with us his reflections on the process:

1. The rise of digital media platforms and shifts in our media consumption habits are well documented. Generally, how do you think the magazine industry is measuring up to the challenge?

I think the industry is bearing up much better than many predicted a few years ago. There’s little doubt that smartphones and tablets now occupy most people’s five-minute downtime slots, especially when on the move, which has certainly dented magazine readership overall. But people hold special affection for their favourite titles and still make time to read them, perhaps more often at home. There’s something very appealing and intuitive about browsing a magazine, which can provide an appealing ‘screen break’ in our busy lives.

It goes without saying that magazine brands are having to get much better at connecting with their audiences across a multitude of channels. And the smartest brands are increasingly tailoring their content to the users’ expectations of each platform. ‘Write once, publish everywhere’ may still be the Holy Grail for many publishers, but there’s a limit to how far you can take this. Readers will soon tell you if you’re delivering the wrong type of content to the platform they’re using at the time.

2. Tell us a little about Which? magazine. It’s a popular title with its readers so why did the time seem right to look to the future?

We’re lucky that our readers are a very engaged bunch, and give regular feedback on the content of Which?. But we realized we hadn’t done any qualitative research about the magazine with readers since 2009—the pre-iPad era. Given how much we know media consumption has changed since then, it seemed vital that we took this opportunity to find out how their content needs had changed, and were likely to change in the coming years. We’re currently the UK’s bestselling monthly magazine (645,000 subscribers) but we were conscious that we need to be on the front foot to ensure we maintain that lofty position.

3. Why was it important to Which? to involve your readers in the future-proofing process?

We’re always trying to ‘super-serve’ our customers, so we wouldn’t think of trying to future-proof our products without first discussing ideas with our readers. The editorial team doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Readers are very switched on about everything from content to typography, so they contributed loads during the process, making us re-evaluate some of our preconceptions about what we might want to do with the magazine. Because of the richness of the feedback we gathered, we’re pretty confident that the changes we make will be well received when the time comes.

4. What would be your three key principles for future-proofing effectively with your customers?

  • Give your readers time to get creative! You need to get beyond the ‘first flush’ of feedback before you can really work together on ideas that readers find exciting and engaging.
  • Have a thick skin—seek out and embrace the opportunities in what customers dislike about the current product. Don’t just focus on what they like.
  • Understanding motivations is key to meeting future needs—it can be tricky to get readers thinking beyond the execution of your current product unless you can unlock what they really want it to do for them first.

Which? works to make consumers lives fairer and to help consumers make informed decisions. Which? Magazine is published monthly for Which? members, with the latest consumer news, updates on Which? investigations, and comprehensive reviews of products and services.

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