Developing digital products for Millennials: the challenge for publishers

In five years time, the “Millennial” audience (currently 18-35s) will make up half of the UK workforce, so publishers developing digital products would do well to get to know the behaviours of this group of digital natives.

So what challenges does this create for publishers hoping to develop new digital products?

How Millennials consume digital media

Millennials have a distinctly different approach to consuming digital media, which publishers would do well to consider…

Smartphone centric – their mobile is the key to their life, and websites that aren’t designed for mobile are given short shrift.  Attention spans are short and products or content that don’t deliver within seconds are bypassed.

Independent curators – don’t see the need for magazine editors to judge what they should read: happy to compile and curate their own mix of content.  Will use search for specific requirements, but confident that good content and apps will find them through social recommendation.

Trust community – cynical about mainstream commercial publishers and journalists; more likely to trust apparently independent bloggers from their own community, or the views of their friends.

Selective spenders – money is tight, so will seek out free content wherever possible, although prepared to spend lavishly on “experiences”

Willing contributors – keen to share their views or comments on content and services, or even self-publish

Understand commercial trade – prepared to share their data in return for a free service, or accept relevant advertising that funds content they like.

The Millennial category spans an extremely wide age range, plus multiple lifestyle groups, and it is not clear whether they will adopt the behaviours of older cohorts as they grow older, in particular the willingness to pay for digital content.  And will their preferences in their personal lives translate across to their requirements for business and professional information?

Developing digital products that will suit Millennial audiences

Over the next few years, publishers will have to consciously cater for two audiences: the growing Millennials and the current “digital immigrants.”  So this might mean offering tiered products – with a free, shareable, mobile friendly option for Millennials in addition to a more traditional, paid-for service.

User experience, especially on mobile, will become ever more important, and new products will need to be seamlessly shareable on a wide range of social media networks.  Millennials will also expect the ability to personalise and self-curate content to meet their specific needs, and provide easy ways to comment and contribute.

A range of monetisation approaches must be tested – from micro-payments to subscription – to explore the options given Millennials’ unwillingness to pay directly for content.  Advertising and sponsorship will need to be more closely aligned with content.  There is definitely an opportunity to collect user data for later monetisation and develop secondary revenues from e-commerce or live events and experiences.

Here consumer publishers can perhaps learn from the experiences of many B2B publishers, who have developed tiered subscription models, with a free trial service for data collection, and are actively developing secondary revenues through live events, training and networking.

Challenges facing publishers in developing Millennial-friendly digital products

One of the major psychological challenges for publishers in developing for this next generation is letting go of the paid content model, and exploring new ways to drive revenues through advertising, sponsorship, e-commerce or events.

An experimental approach is required, adopting the techniques of agile software development: creating a minimal viable product first and then evolving it in response to user feedback.

Publishers must resist the temptation to develop digital platforms in-house: it’s better to work out how to link together existing platforms, and allow for swapping suppliers in and out as the product develops.

Collecting customer data is a major challenge, given intermediaries like Apple or facebook who sit between publishers and their audience.

Publishing businesses also need to break down silos within their organisation, and develop flexible teams who can write, shoot video, edit, promote on social media or help clinch commercial deals as the need arises.

The onslaught of customer feedback via phone, email and social media has taken many publishers by surprise: it requires dedicated resource, but is ultimately the best source of product development insight.

So the arrival of the Millennials as a major force within the population is acting as a catalyst making publishers think harder both about how they develop digital products, and the changes they need to make in their organisations.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on the topic of digital publishing strategy for media industry publishers and events. Follow Carolyn on twitter @carolynrmorgan

About the agile publisher project

The agile publisher is a research project dedicated to identifying examples of agile publishing and sharing best practice among specialist media businesses.  If you have an interesting story to share please get in touch – or follow @agilepublisher on twitter.

Read other articles in the agile publisher series here.