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Innovation: The Question of Customer AUTHORITY Online

Quickly, where do you go to learn more before making a major purchase? Mortimer B. Zuckerman, owner of U.S. News & World Report, is betting the publication’s survival that it’s online. Most Americans do research online before making a major purchase reported The New Your Times in a recent conversation with Zuckerman.

Quickly, where do you go to learn more before making a major purchase? Mortimer B. Zuckerman, owner of U.S. News & World Report, is betting the publication’s survival that it’s online. Most Americans do research online before making a major purchase reported The New Your Times in a recent conversation with Zuckerman.

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As the story in the NYT details, Zuckerman had brought to life his vision of a deeper level of analysis and practical “how to” advice in the pages of the periodical. Now he’s back to reinvent the format for online consumption. Is it too little, too late?

The question of reinvention for traditional media and print publications going online is not one to be trifled with – it’s become a necessity. Yet, many are joining an already crowded space. In the case of U.S. News & World Report, they have some major catching up to do in one main measurement that drives online traffic – authority.

To be successful, U.S. News has to find a broad audience that is not comfortable with magazines aimed at enthusiasts, and wants some of the nuts-and-bolts practicality of Consumer Reports, but without the online subscription charges.

Maybe that is not all there is to it. To succeed, they will also need to show differentiation from successful publications that already work really hard *with* consumers to deliver that very “how to” advice and “news you can use”. I recently published an interview with Lifehacker editor Gina Trapani. The biggest aha moment she shared:

The one big evolution we had at Lifehacker was moving from an editor post-only format, to enabling users to post comments on stories. When that happened, the site just came alive!

The biggest challenge I see for U.S. News is to reach the kind of authority and traffic levels it needs to be a sustainable and successful online publication. The strategy it is pursuing will need to be followed by strong execution – they are hiring quite a few staff to move forward the online publication. It will also need to aim its advertising sales at the right audience.
According to their online media kit, the audience profile is very broad

· 11,000 (000) + total readers, of which 55% is 25-54. This is their true circulation.
· Median age is 47. That means the unseen reader bubble is on the older end.
· Readers are mostly male, but women make the majority of all car purchase decisions.

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If what they’re after is to beat the subscription model that Consumer Report uses, they might need to work really hard to sell ads to pay for those reports themselves. Will their strategy pay off? Would you go to U.S. News & World Report for consumer purchasing tips? How much (online) authority will they need to pull it off?

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • www.conversationagent.com

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