However you define it, marketing is key to the future of newspapers

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An innovative marketing campaign launched about a year ago by The Oklahoman has raised brand awareness among those who were non-subscribers or non-readers and has substantially increased readership among Millennials.  SNPA President Chris Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman, shared information about the campaign at the recent Inland Press Association Annual Meeting in Chicago.

He stressed in his talk that it is important for publishers to understand what the local community feels about their brand. "My guess is: It's not as good as you think it is."

View The Oklahoman's testimonial marketing videos:

"We've all read the book 'Good to Great,'" Reen said.  "You have to understand your brutal facts.  If you don't understand your brutal facts, there's no reason for optimism.  You have to be able to put a strategy together and you have to understand where you stand in the market right now."

He told publishers they have to know how their perceived strengths and weaknesses hold up against the competition.

If they took nothing else from his talk, Reen urged publishers to engage in marketing – however they might define that.  "You can't sit idly by and think people are going to find your products and that your legacy somehow propels you forward."

During his presentation, Reen talked about The Oklahoma Media Company's four brands: The Oklahoman, the state's largest newspaper and its related apps; NewsOK.com, the state's largest news website with 25 million page views or so a month; BigWing Interactive, a highly successful digital marketing agency launched about five years ago; and The Oklahoman Direct, Oklahoma's largest direct marketing agency.

In addition to sharing the videos, he talked about the company's move from the outskirts of Oklahoma City back downtown, into the heart of the city.  He said, "This was as much a marketing play as it was a real estate relocation." The new building features:

    Contemporary, modern design to counter perceptions that the industry is old and tired.
    Open floor plan to encourage better communication and interaction.  More than 200 tour groups have visited the paper in the last 15 months.
    A state-of-the art video production studio on the first floor has glass walls on three sides so citizens can view the activity inside.  And, the staff can even go live on a new cutting-edge 42-foot by 24-foot digital video screen on the building that carries news information and advertising content 24/7.

In addition, the company re-introduced its corporate identity as The Oklahoma Media Company.

Reen said the decision was made to launch the brand campaign using the testimonial approach to avoid the arrogant feel that some marketing campaigns have. "Consumers listen to their peers more than they listen to the brand ... and, at the end of the day, they told our story better than we could have," Reen said.

In terms of media strategy, Reen said they knew they had to fish where the fish were, which meant television, radio, some outdoors, in addition to social media and everything else they were already doing.  "We had to go where those non-subscribers and non-readers were," he said.

That meant buying ads only during live sports and live news shows.  And, they used the data collected during the market research to focus in on those audiences they needed to leverage.

In terms of metrics, the staff knew that establishing marketing return on investment and key performance indicators (KPIs) were important.  So, they built a website called OklahomaUnfolded.com that carries information about the paper's reporters, its marketing videos, community involvement, commitment to the First Amendment, contests, advertising information and more.

Through the OklahomaUnfolded.com site, they were able to measure clickthrough, time on the site, how many videos people watch and which videos (this told them which creative resonated with the audience and which didn't).  All of this was used to develop a list of KPIs.

The results:

  • The company motivated 630,000 consumers to visit OklahomaUnfolded.com, where they were exposed to the company's brand and marketing message.  That's 61 percent of all Oklahoma City adults.
  • The paper raised unaided awareness ("What news sources can you think of") by 41 percent, compared to the benchmark, and raised aided awareness ("Have you heard of The Oklahoman") to 95 percent.
  • Brand favorability increased 33 percent, compared to the benchmark.
  • The paper nearly doubled purchase consideration among younger prospects.  "Over a third of all Millennials are now telling us that they are going to interact with our brand over the next six months," Reen said.
  • Thousands of new subscriptions were generated by the marketing campaigns, as well as reduced subscriber stops.
  • The paper tripled the number of sales leads to its advertising and marketing services team.  In addition to uncovering qualified leads for the team, Reen said the paper also offered small business seminars for local businesses that helped them with specific topics like content marketing, social media and more, and exposed 50,000+ local businesses to the paper's advertising platforms and marketing services.
  • The Oklahoman more than doubled its social media footprint from 15,000 Facebook LIKES to 34,500. Together, The Oklahoman and NewsOK reached 114,000 Facebook LIKES.

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