Most news reports lose their utility after ~3-7 days. Hence, all stories in news product after 3-7 days (typically organized in the time continuum) should collapse into a Wikipedia style digest (space continuum, also called map) aiding knowledge assimilation. In some situations, they can be organized in space-time continuum, much like Wardley diagrams.
This doodle best showcases 😅 what frank conversations with mentors, who have at least a decade more experience than you, feel like: tactically, you realize gaps in your thought process 🤕 ; strategically, it offers great course correction 💪🏻.
TV news anchors have a vast following. Do news companies monetize on their social following and do influencer deals?
“a growing trend of advertisers beefing up their influencer marketing budgets, including companies that you wouldn’t typically associate with creators. Next year, spending on influencer marketing in the U.S. is expected to rise nearly 15% to $5.89 billion, according to a forecast from Insider Intelligence.”
“Influencer marketing has been a way to reach customers who don’t know about the company. “The creator economy is huge for that because they’re hitting up people in various stages of the buying cycle,” said Ravichandran. “The person is not ready to buy, but then something will happen … like somebody tried to steal [their] credit card.” When that happens, the individual may remember the creator’s message and subscribe to Aura.”
Leverage a “participatory design” approach as they seek to solve the stakeholders’ problems, engaging with them directly instead of making wild guesses. People are at the heart of technological developments like these. Hence, the goal was not to put technology first, but be stakeholder first as a platform. The stakeholders are periodically invited to the office to have long conversations to discuss the app’s features and challenges.
“Initially, X enticed Y with attractive Z. However, as time passed, these Y were at the mercy of ever-shifting algorithms and unpredictable company policies, leading to diminished income and shattered aspirations. A widespread feeling of discontent now pervades among the Y for these X.”
When communicating value proposition of subscription products, focus on
both substance and salience.
- Substances: What is the depth, quality, insight density, value, etc.
- Salience: What aspects are you giving more emphasis over what else?
I absolutely loved Sharad Sharma’s articulation. He says, and I paraphrase, in a 5-day test match, it’s acceptable to have periods of rest. Then came the one-day international matches, condensing play into 4-5 hours of intensity (one innings). This shift drastically increased the demand for fitness. Being a Gavaskar was no longer sufficient; you needed to be a fit Gavaskar. The demands for fitness, temperament, and skill escalated further with T20 matches.
Similarly, our careers are undergoing a transformation. Will most of us be able to transition from test matches to ODIs to T20s, adapting to these changing times?”
Want to learn to lead cross-functional teams, even if you’re not deeply versed in the specifics of their disciplines? One effective approach is to familiarize yourself with the primary “thinking techniques” of different professions. These techniques — the ways professionals in various fields extract, absorb, process, and react to information — significantly influence their problem-solving and idea conceptualization methods. For instance:
- Economists, Data Scientists, and Investment Bankers often employ predictive and mathematical thinking.
- Accountants, Quality Assurance Testers, and Lawyers are known for their meticulous attention to detail and systematic approaches to ensure accuracy, efficiency, and compliance.
- Engineers, Management Consultants, and Product Managers generally excel in creative problem-solving and innovating solutions.
- Salespeople, Politicians, and Diplomats are adept at influencing others, building relationships, and negotiating.
- Editors, Information Designers, and Information Architects are skilled curators of taste.
- User researchers and reporters tend to display healthy skepticism and thus are able to question and extract information from people.
By training yourself in these thinking techniques, you can better empathize with your team members’ perspectives.
However, it’s important to remember that these are broad generalizations; individuals in these professions may have diverse and unique approaches. Additionally, mastering these techniques requires time and effort, and there’s significant value in fostering an environment that encourages collaboration among diverse perspectives.
Recently, I met with a decade-long acquaintance, someone whose insights I’ve admired, to seek advice. In our conversation, I confided in him, expressing my frustration at not being able to pinpoint my core strength, given my experience across diverse fields, and my lack of a clear specialization.
With the composure of a Zen master, he offered a one-word revelation, “Sense-making!”
His voice carried a note of certainty as he continued, “That’s your superpower, and it’s a skill highly valued by all CXOs. More often than not, the challenge in leadership isn’t just getting things done, but in making sense of ambiguous problems, deciphering them so that solutions become clear.”
😶 Huh! That is such a clean and simple articulation.
Humans can micro-optimize in the short-term. It is impossible for people to stay on top of all factors that contribute to the system for all the time. They will switch off. Hence, one of two things will happen:
- Humans will only be able to catch some of the cases
- The increase in CTR will not be sustained after the focus has reduced
Twitter understands what is important based on if the content is about a big handle and if the topic in the content is being spoken about by big handles.
It seems that Twitter has implemented a rule on top of its recommendation algorithm. It’s common to see a retweet or reply to a specific tweet, let’s call it ‘Tweet X,’ in your feed, followed shortly by the original ‘Tweet X.’
- This pattern suggests that ‘Tweet X’ is surfaced through the personalization algorithm, while the retweet or reply is introduced by a set of rules.
- These rules likely operate under the assumption that if you are interested in ‘Tweet X,’ you would also be interested in related content.”
Annual Operating Plans typically outline Goals and Interventions, which are specific, desired outcomes to be accomplished from nearly specific outputs within certain constraints — such as time, money, and effort.
However, there are three limitations to this approach:
- Delayed Gratification: All gains from outputs and outcomes are in the future and require upfront investment (time, money, effort) today.
- Rigidity in a Dynamic Environment: In our fast-changing world, we are subject to shifts and shocks within the environments we operate in. Overly rigid goals may not account for unforeseen changes, leading to pursuing outdated or irrelevant objectives.
- Undervaluing Improvements: A goal-centric approach might overlook or undervalue the enhancements made to processes and systems if the goal remains unachieved.
- Possibility of regression: Heard of stories of people gaining back kilos after weight loss? This is true for business goals too. Without a system, it is possible that we might not sustain gains made from achieving a goal.
While it’s important to have end goals in your annual operating plan, integrating them with a strong system-based approach makes the journey more enduring yet robust:
- By concentrating on systems, the focus shifts to building effective processes and practices that inherently lead to desired outcomes.
- This method emphasizes continuous improvement and resilience. These improvements are felt immediately and gives a tangible sense of progress.
- Finally, if the environment changes, then the processes can be adapted to deliver new outputs.
I recently saw a subscription-based product use this phrasing for their Customer Dependency Index survey: ‘How would you feel if the product was not available from tomorrow?’
The Product Manager must have thought: ‘Let me gather these responses to demonstrate to stakeholder how dependent our users are on our product.’
Meanwhile, the customer thinks: ‘Hey there! I’ve already paid for an entire year. What are you implying? Shouldn’t I be able to rely on your service?’
Most Annual Operating Plans happens in the horizons of one or two years. However, this doesn’t take into account the larger shifts happening in our environment and how vulnerable you are to it. Thus, by the time you get to it, the larger environment has already changed and you are still playing catch up. This is not only applicable to business/work but also to one’s career, one’s health and personal finance or even parenting.
Martin Wolf of the FT has a neat framework to help think through how the larger environment is changing. He argues that one should list the shifts, shocks, and fragility in your system and include them as factors in your planning.
- Shifts: Long-term structural changes that are occurring and are likely to continue. These changes are something you cannot control and have to adapt to.
- Shocks: Absolutely conceivable Black Swan events that could happen but we cannot forecast when and then they do happen — Covid-19, Israel-Palestine War, Russia-Ukraine War, etc.
- Underlying Fragility: Characteristics of the system that make these shocks so destructive.
The best online content is written by nerds (natives) in a topic for nerds (natives) in the same topic. Most of us are silent bystanders — Immigrants, Tourists, Enthusiasts — who observe these two groups conversing on the nuances of the topic of interest.
Most marketing is about increasing the surface area by expanding your reach outward. In contrast, most sales are about bringing outsiders in.
For example, Apple used to be a company that sold $2000 laptops. Then Steve Jobs launched iTunes for Windows, a free music management software that everyone could download. This was followed by the iPod, a $100 device. Slowly but steadily, everyone could try, taste, and understand the value proposition of Apple and move inward from enthusiast to tourist to immigrant, until they eventually became natives.
Watch a child learn, and you’ll notice that most aspects of their development are information problems.
- Information: What is an 🍎? We need to teach children to call it an ‘apple’.
- Ability: How to draw with a ✏️? We need to teach children to hold a pencil and draw straight lines.
- Action: Should one eat 🥦 or 🍕? We need to persuade kids to build an appreciation for the former.
- Belief: Should one steal? We need to help children build a perspective about what’s good or bad.
In everyday life, most corporate work is also an information exchange that serves these four information needs. Below are a few examples:
- Information: Stand-ups, Cadence Meetings, Financial Updates, Quarterly Reports, State of the Union Address, Code Walkthroughs, Showcase, etc.
- Ability: Knowledge Transfers, Technical Documentation, Playbooks, Lectures, Classes, Courses, Academic Papers, etc.
- Action: Sales Pitch, Product Launch, Job Interviews, Story Pitches, Call To Actions, etc.
- Belief: Company Strategy, All Hands, Culture and Values, etc.
Strategizing content based on audience preferences isn’t sustainable because you’ll end up building an inauthentic identity. Instead, the content you create should reflect the life you live. It should articulate your experiences and insights.
Go pick a field where you have deep leverage — skill, judgment, network, location, culture, etc., or you have deep interest and thus are willing to jump into it fully.
Brian Chesky: To turn around a bad situation, write down all your current activities in a Google Sheet. From this comprehensive list, strategically select only 20% of these tasks to continue, ensuring that our efforts are concentrated on the most impactful areas. Remove multiple layers of management and transition from a divisional organization structure to a functional one. Finally, rely on a smaller but more senior workforce.
Costco. Costco keeps an extremely low SKU count. A Walmart will have 100,000-250,000 SKUs at any given moment of time. Costco in the last 10 years used to be at around 4500 and now they have further reduced it to 3800.
Brian Chesky’s comments in his interview with Lenny paraphrased: In most situations, engineering and marketing operate in different universes. Marketing focus on either performance marketing (tactic) or brand marketing (too strategic). When both work closely, you get product marketing, which is an educational tool, informing both internal teams and customers about the unique benefits of what’s being created.
- This involves various strategies such as demonstrations, storytelling through video content, and considering every customer touchpoint to ensure comprehensive understanding.
- The essence of Chesky’s approach is twofold: first, create an outstanding product, and second, ensure that people know about it.
- This involves framing each product release as a chapter in an ongoing story, making it relatable and memorable.
- Such a narrative approach not only captivates the audience but also bridges the gap between the technical brilliance of engineering and the persuasive art of marketing.
Amazon: Similarly, Amazon advocates that product managers start their projects by first writing a press release. This forces them to craft a compelling narrative.
Divisional Organizational Structure is divided into semi-autonomous units or divisions. Each division is responsible for its own set of activities. However, often these different divisions can serve the same audience/user.
Brian Chesky’s comments in his interview with Lenny paraphrased: Divisional Organizational Structure can lead to dysfunction. You end up accumulating technical debt because different divisional teams operate varied stacks. New promising initiatives are siloed as a side-project instead of becoming mainstream. Eventually, you’ve each team doing 5 things instead of 5 teams doing 1 thing.
- In such environments, product managers are compelled to prioritize advocacy and relationship-building to secure resources.
- This dynamic can inadvertently breed a culture of politics, where success hinges more on interpersonal influence than on merit or organizational needs.
- The resulting bureaucracy further obfuscates roles, diminishes accountability, and fosters complacency.
- Finally, this promotes the tendency to prioritize individual interests over the company’s collective goals, often leading to redundant meetings and discussions that do not directly contribute to progress.
Brian Chesky’s comments in his interview with Lenny paraphrased: Most product managers are caught up in the mechanics of execution — getting requirements from management, ensuring timely execution by design and engineering, and shipping the output. However, this is akin to running a “services engineering organization” rather than leading a product. In contrast, product management is about leading the vision of the product, shaping its design, and nurturing the creativity and innovation that go into building it — all in service of user needs.
Brian Chesky’s comments in his interview with Lenny paraphrased: Leaders must delve into the details. Being in the details means having a comprehensive understanding of what your team is working on. It involves being aware of the processes, challenges, and progress, which allows you to make informed decisions and provide meaningful guidance, and then trusting the team to execute. Without an understanding of these details, it is impossible to know if the team is doing a great job.
Jason Fried of Basecamp advocates something similar when he says that at Basecamp, they always do a new role’s tasks personally before hiring someone for the first time. This is to grasp details and nuances about the job and understand what success looks like.
Users spend 10x to 20x more time on social media compared to the time they spend on news media. Given that, it is recommended to invest in both native (on-platform) and social footprint and sell both as part of direct ads.
- Direct sales. Micro-celebrities can charge brands anywhere from Rs. 30,000 to a lakh for a social media post. Top cricketers charge a couple of crores for a post on their social media handles. This is especially true for videos.
- Subscriptions. Referral traffic from Twitter tends to give much higher subscription conversions compared to traffic from other sources like Facebook.
Ad Networks are AI-driven marketplaces owned by BigTech. These AI models are optimized to maximize revenue for the BigTech company. These models keep pushing the boundary of what is the lowest eCPM they can pay out. So if Hindi eCPMs are at Rs. 10, they will keep pushing the floor to Rs. 9.90 across a couple of months.
Hence, it is critical for news publishers to invest in AI to reverse push the boundary of the floor price up until the sell-through drops. By playing on buy and sell, you could see a 25% increase in programmatic revenue. Revenue from advertisements is seasonal. Hence, of course, do this during high-demand months (Oct-Nov-Dec) and play it conservatively from Jan 1.
Programmatic and direct digital eCPMs are facing significant challenges, especially when it comes to the Hindi market where eCPMs are as low as Rs. 10.
- This scenario becomes even more problematic when considering the revenue distribution model, where ad networks, including giants like Google, claim as much as 50% of the top line.
- Google primarily operates on a performance-based buying mechanism, utilizing cost per click (CPC), whereas media purchases typically hinge on impression-based models (CPM). This dichotomy leads Google to reverse calculate CPC to CPM when making payouts to media, which invariably affects the bottom line.
- Additionally, the situation is compounded by the involvement of Supply-Side Platforms (SSP) and Demand-Side Platforms (DSP), which are in the business of constantly trading ads. These platforms further erode the margins, taking away a significant portion of the revenue in the process.
Based on the discussion within the cohort, we’ve come up with some rough estimates regarding India’s digital advertising market.
- It is valued at approximately Rs. 30,000 crore, which translates to about $4 billion.
- A substantial majority of this market, about 85% or Rs. 25,000 crore, is dominated by digital behemoths Google and Meta.
- In contrast, news publishers in the digital space have a much smaller slice of the pie. Their total digital advertisement revenue potential through direct sales stands at around Rs. 1000 crore, with a more optimistic estimate reaching up to Rs. 2000 crore.
- This estimation aligns with insights from Ashwin Padmanabhan of GroupM.
Changing scenario: With third-party cookie deprecation, Google’s revenue is expected to drop, and so is that of news publishers.
The direct sales pie is degrowing.
I co-founded and ran Pykih, a profitable information design studio for five years before folding it. I can say with some authority that Gurman is probably India’s most talented journalist turned information designer! She has now founded ReVisual Labs, her own Information Design Studio. She can help you build competitive differentiation with immersives!
- Investing in the creation of long shelf-life visual properties could be a strategic move.
- These properties hold the potential to capture audience attention during High Traffic Events or even foster a habit of daily engagement, thus aiming to enhance daily and monthly active users (DAU/MAU).
- The measure of success in this endeavor is subscription conversions and an uptick in DAU/MAU.
However, this approach is not without its risks.
- You might not be able to prove profit on a per-story basis. Hence, information design might not work for short-term, tactical stories.
- Moreover, integrating immersive stories into your current content management system (CMS) may prove to be complex and problematic.
- It’s also important to consider that immersive stories typically yield little in terms of search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, which can be a significant drawback for online visibility.
Thus, carefully consider if immersives works for your audience and if it does then invest big in it to get that competitive differentiation.
Why AI in CMS? In the past few months, integrating Generative AI into CMS has become table stakes! OpenAI’s ChatGPT APIs have made this a variable cost. Hence, we invited two CMSes.
I deviate, but I want to spend a bit of time on why WordPress. In the last 10 years, I must have worked on multiple consulting projects to build CMS. Over the years, I’ve built a healthy appreciation for WordPress.
- Unless you have massive scale, there is limited direct financial ROI that newsrooms have to gain from building and investing in custom-built CMS. Some newsrooms are realizing it now. For example, VOX shut down its CMS and migrated to WordPress.
- Newsrooms got distracted building supply-side efficiency technology like CMS instead of revenue-generating advertisement targeting solutions.
Representing the WordPress community was Rahul Bansal from rtCamp. They are one of the sharpest WordPress agencies from Pune.
Here’s what Rahul shared:
- WordPress is a Lego-like modular system, and there are plugins for everything.
- Altis DXP provides editorial workflow assistance with ChatGPT.
- RankMath SEO, an Indian company, provides solutions to mass SEO-optimize content using LLMs.
- Elementor GUI plugin provides background removal solutions right inside of WordPress using LLMs.
- WPML integrates with different translation models.
- Akismet provides AI-driven content moderation.
- FalconAI generates outlines of articles using AI.
One of the most successful custom-built CMS in the market from India is Quintype. Over 200 publishers across the world use them! Chirdeep Shetty, their CEO, walks us through their AI integrations. According to him, LLMs are best left to the OpenAIs and Googles of the world, and the focus of Quintype is to get the UX right as per the workflow of the newsroom. Instead of me trying to explain what they do, I’d recommend watching the video below.
We had two vendors pitch: JustBaat.ai and Personate.ai. My assessment is that if you are not already, then go ahead and try out the technology.
Opportunity exists for those newsrooms that lack the “video DNA”. This technology can help bridge that gap and enable you to create videos at scale. It can also help you break away from the traditional reliance on celebrity anchors.
There is significant earning potential in video content since video eCPMs are higher compared to text. By tapping into video SEO and taking advantage of Google’s audio indexing, one can significantly boost visibility. Moreover, building brand IPs opens up opportunities for sponsorships.
Cost-saving is another critical factor to consider.
- Producing videos, especially at scale, is costly due to expenses such as shooting time, anchor salaries, and editing. This technology can help automate most of this.
- Furthermore, the capability to multi-publish textual stories in video format and to mass-create videos from automated data feeds, like air quality reports, stock market updates, and COVID-19 statistics, allows to drastically increase supply of videos.
However, risks should not be overlooked.
- The current state of the technology leaves much to be desired as the anchors, along with their expressions and gestures, can often appear artificial, though it’s important to note that advancements are being made rapidly.
- There’s a possibility that the content might be perceived as gimmicky if not executed well.
- Another concern is AI-driven marketplaces adjusting: as more publishers begin to use AI to mass-produce video content, there could be an oversupply, which might lead to a significant drop in video eCPMs. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep a close eye on expenditures and earnings from programmatic videos on a weekly basis to stay ahead of the curve.
Personally, I want to get my own synthetic avatar made and experiment deeply with this technology.
Twitter, under Elon Musk, has made some wise investments to become Compute-Heavy.
- They’ve replaced a manpower-heavy safety team with personalization and community notes (AI-assisted crowd-sourced fact-checking).
- They are forcing users to subscribe. It might not be only for cash. Subscribers end up revealing their identity and get classified as digitally transacting users. Brands pay a premium to advertise to these folks.
- Finally, they’ve killed off the Twitter API, thereby protecting the data inside from being used by LLMs.
Handling Local news in personalization models can be challenging.
Driving factors: Differentiation
Differentiation typically comes from building authenticity on your core product, i.e., editorial product. This involves owning more of the value chain:
- Are you a trusted brand or voice for a well-defined topic?
- Are you able to set the agenda for a well-defined audience segment?
- How strong is your recall among that well-defined audience segment?
- Have you stitched the most active members of that audience segment into a tight knit community?
- Is the community co-building with you or via you?
- How are you ensuring that you are not only building but also retaining 1:1 relationship within that community?
- What’s your information architecture and content strategy?
- How deep are you serving that vertical?
- Is your website (yes! a website even after GenerativeAI) representative of who you are?
While the above gets your driving factors in place, the next aspects define how much you can amplify. This includes:
- Ability to sell advertisements, subscriptions, or events
- Ability to market and develop audience
There are various fundamental aspects of an editorial product business. Most of these businesses have been edged out of the amplification factors:
When Steve Jobs returned back to Apple in 1997, he famously cut the product line by 70% down to 2 desktop devices and 2 portable devices!
Rule of thumb: If you can’t explain it and choose for yourself, then surely your customers wont!
- Don’t put dollars behind scaling until you’ve completed value proposition discovery.
- Don’t put dollars behind marketing until your communication is so simple that everyone understands.
- Often we overcomplicate stuff that no one really understands.
It is always advisable to have one major source of revenue and then diversify by having multiple minor streams of revenue that de-risk you from that major source of revenue. For example, YouTube’s revenue split is 1:3 between subscriptions and advertisements.
Why it matters:
- It protects against risk of ruin.
- It protects against ups and downs. For example, revenue from advertisements is seasonal.
How: There are different forms of revenue models:
- Digital Advertisements, where revenue is Sessions Per User x Users x Pages Per Session x Ad Impressions Per Pageview.
- Subscription, where revenue is Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) x Active Subscribers (i.e., Existing Subscriber Base + New Conversions + Renewal)
- Affiliate and deals
- Sell playbooks, courses, trainings, etc. using micro-transactions
- E-commerce: For example, launch branded products
- Offer services like Job Boards
Downside: Some of these revenue models can be in opposition to each other and make commoditized businesses complicated. This in turn mandates the need for propensity models.
Allocate 5% to 10% of the content on which Artificial Intelligence algorithms and multi-arm bandit can test out different SEO hacks and observe causality, i.e., is it resulting in an improvement in the SEO score of those pages.
Why it matters: Currently, SEO is a cat and mouse game with Google.
- Once someone tests a new rule once and it works, no one returns back to it and validates if that rule is still valid. Over a period of time, you’ll end up with a dead set of rules that may or may not be valid.
Over the past many years, we have generally seen a decline in interest in the news.
Outsource things that don’t give you Competitive Differentiation. This includes:
- Fixing technical debt, for example, data migration for integrating into one CMS
- Infrastructural elements, for example, warehousing clickstream history
In contrast, you shouldn’t outsource future looking waves of growth. You want to win the wave and not teach vendors how to operate in your domain so that they can sell the same service to competitors.