Five Takeaways from the 2017 Niche Digital Summit

Five Takeaways from the 2017 Niche Digital Summit
From L to R: Bekah Darksmith, President Niche Media; Rob Ristagno, CEO Sterling Woods; and Carl Landau, Founder Niche Media

At the end of September, niche publishers from all over met in Chicago for the 2017 Niche Digital Summit to discuss hands-on strategy, tactics, and insights to help publishers “do” digital better and stronger in order to drive online revenues.

In case you missed it, here’s what conference experts and attendees said were some of the main takeaways from the event.

1. Know Your Audience

Developing a solid, loyal relationship with your audience is key to building your readership and driving revenues. As Melissa Chowning, Digital Strategist at Melissa Chowning Media put it, “While I think this has been a mantra for many in the audience development space for years, it seems that the importance of knowing and having a solid relationship with your audience is at the forefront of priorities for publishers across the spectrum.”

The better you know your audience, the better you can serve them — and they can serve you. Your whales, the top 10% of your customers who account for up to 70% of overall sales, are fierce brand advocates and can provide valuable and honest feedback during your product development process.

Not sure where to start? Look into your analytics. “Investment in data can yield new products and services through surveys, research, and more targeted advertising opportunities, all while helping the organization become better informed,” said Andrew Hanelly, Partner at Revmade.

2. Focus on Initiatives That Can Drive Results

“We’re so overwhelmed by choices and new ideas and tactics and tools that we can get overwhelmed, like a deer in the headlights,” noted Fernando Labastida, Founder of Nearshore Marketing. Not every strategy is right for every publisher, especially niche ones.

As Trish Witkowski shared in her keynote, you can use the principles of Blackjack to guide you when choosing the right initiatives for your publication. Should you stand, split, hit, or double down? Labastida continued, saying Witkowski’s analogy can help any publisher decide whether “to stay the course on their current strategy, start a new strategy or initiative, double-down on a new strategy, or hedge their bets between two or more strategies.”

3. Ditch the Banner Ads

“The banner ad isn’t a reliable form of monetizing a website anymore, and publishers need to be prepared to engage and monetize their audience in a way that the advertiser is demanding,” commented Chowning.

We’ve written about this before, digital ad revenues are going to tech giants like Google and Facebook — not niche publishers. The banner ad simply isn’t the most effective tool in your tool kit. The answer lies in the very thing you create: your content. “Content isn’t just a more resonate form of advertising, it’s an essential currency for businesses to use to sell products and services to communities they develop,” noted Hanelly.

Consider diversifying away from traditional display advertising. You can start by monetizing your content through premium memberships, online learning, ecommerce, and data.

4. Consider the Power of Video… If It Is Right for You

Video marketing is good for SEO. It leads to higher engagement, boosts conversions, and offers opportunities for emotional connections with your audience. Sounds perfect, right?

But video isn’t right for every publisher. Labastida hit the nail on the head. “Video is hot now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody should go running like lemmings to video… Publishers definitely need to explore video and see if it fits in with their model, platform, and their audience.”

The key is discovering how video can serve your audience and creating a comprehensive strategy around it, as Tom Conradi, Vice President of Brand & Product Development with Engaged Media, Inc pointed out. “Decide what the (video) content could be. Is it editorially driven, or is it branded… What is the content plan? It can’t just be one-offs and takes a commitment.”

5. Times, They Are A’Changin’

One thing is clear: niche publishers are rethinking their business models for 2018 and beyond.

Melissa Chowning noted, “There was also a feeling of change in the room. Even publishers that have long held onto traditional methods of distribution and monetization seemed ready to embrace a new way of thinking this year.”

Trish Witkowski added, “I’m not sure it’s a trend as much as it is a necessity — the complete re-thinking of the online brand experience. Becoming more helpful and intuitive, adding video, understanding prominence at given scroll depths, creating a path people can follow, answering questions through the content (rather than FAQs), driving a strong and irresistible CTA, providing enough value to encourage a subscription to an email list to nurture a relationship… I can’t imagine that anyone left that conference without a plan to revamp their online experience.”

Getting It All Done

As with all conferences, the challenge will be for attendees to go home and get traction with the handful of initiatives that will have the highest return with the lowest risk. I spoke at the conference about how to focus then create capacity to execute. The key: prioritize based on customer demand, then rely on trusted external resources to launch new initiatives for you. Take the winners in-house, and keep iterating on everything else until you nail it.

How the Sterling Woods Group Can Help

The Sterling Woods Group teaches our five forces to methodically make more money online. The goal: make sure you lock in double-digit growth year after year. Many companies have experienced over 50% growth using our system. Beyond the financial benefits, clients tell us that — for the first time in years — they feel truly focused.

We offer workshops, coaching, and keynote speeches. Sterling Woods is also an agency that launches new digital initiatives so clients don’t have to add overhead. Our agency business model is unique in that most of our fees are based on performance.

About the Author

Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.

Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Method for Making More Money Online, set to be published in 2018. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events.

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