As newspapers (like so many industries right now) are facing declining revenues, they are experimenting with new ways to attract readers (customers). Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both unveiled new kinds of partnerships recently.
Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2 and anti-poverty activist, will write an occasional op-ed column for the Times. He'll be covering a "broad range of subjects"--perhaps a better way of putting it is that he'll be writing whatever he wants. :)
Meanwhile, The Journal has partnered with MySpace to hold a contest that will send the winner (from MySpace, of course) as a correspondent to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2009 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. (Will MySpace users want to be sent as a correspondent if they are not journalism majors?)
There are certainly experiments and should be applauded, but are they overlooking the larger picture? The newspaper (auto, insurance, fill-in-the-blank with your favorite industry) business has chnaged significantly. They way that they interact with users has drastically changed. They ways that people find and consume news will never be limited to newsprint again. So many business models are at make-or-break turning points that it boggles one's mind.
What can you do if your industry is changing and old ways of finding customers don't work?
1. Make sure you understand who your competition really is. Here is a good example, a luxury carmaker did research on what cars people were purchasing if they didn't pick theirs. The results showed that if they were going to buy a CAR, this brand stood a good chance of being selected; however, most people were opting for a boat instead if they were going to make a luxury purchase. Surprise, surprise. That information would completely change how one would go about finding customers.
2. Live as your target customer does. RIT recently sent their staff to live in the dorms with students to gain a better understanding of student life on campus. All of a suddent the President of the college is parking in the farthest parking lots, staying up until 4am with roommates and attending guitrar jam sessions. You can't tell me that won't change your perspective.
3. Never underestimate the power of your brand's story. So many items today have become commodified. People are used to buying on price, finding little obvious differentiation among products. However, if you want to engage people, don't be afraid to have a personality. Take a stand. Tell your story. People will connect with it and remember it. (Hey, eBay was founded to satisfy the founder's girlfriend urge to find other people who shared her passion for collecting--what woman isn't all over that story? Modern day romatic, isn't it?)
So, if you examine your larger picture against a customer lens, where do you stack up? How can you improve the way you connect and the story of your company?