Community - at the Heart of Local Paper Growth

05 May 2016

The term “connected consumer” has, over the last few years, become a familiar moniker when referring to consumers in the digital era. While there can be no doubt that social media, specifically, and digital technology, more broadly, have played a vital role in creating a world where conversations and interactions are enabled on levels few could have imagined 15 years ago, one mustn’t forget that, on a very intimate level, the consumer has always been connected through their immediate communities.

The role of community has always played an important part in South African’s lives. Shared interests and concerns, as well as a sense of society draws people together. And it is this need for community that is the key to the, seemingly surprising, success of local papers.

The challenge for all media has always been to consistently create content that is relevant and fits into the mindset of the reader. In a media environment and, in fact, society that is changing every day, local newspapers seem to be doing exactly that – tapping into the zeitgeist of their communities, creating relevant content that engages and entertains.

Ask Afrika recently conducted Wave3 of Compass24 research for Ads24 for 75 of Media24’s local newspaper titles. The intention was to measure readership, content relevance and appeal, and advertising relevance. A total of 33 000 interviews were conducted between 2014 and 2015.

Over a four year period, readership figures of local newspapers increased, and with the introduction of new local titles, total readership was about 6.2 million in 2015. Furthermore, 98% of readers think that they will continue reading their local title into the future.

Why, when many media types are struggling against the juggernaut of digital, are local papers surviving, and even growing? The key to the papers’ success lies in their strong ties to the communities that they operate in. Readership figures are growing because the papers get the mix of news right, they are personalised and write about things that affect people’s lives directly. Local title news tends to be more optimistic and personally relevant, being based on the experience of the community, than national and global news. Local newspapers help build communities and take what happens in the community seriously, discussing issues that directly affect their lives. Furthermore, local papers are more agile and are able to respond quickly to what is happening within the community – sealing the perception of relevant and meaningful engagement.

Another compelling fact about local papers is their ability to appeal to people across all spectrums. While you may be tempted to think that it is only the older generation who grew up with papers who remain loyal to them, local newspapers have, in fact, managed to successfully attract younger readers between 15-19, despite their techno-savvy, online consumption patterns. This capability to address younger readers is because the content is about them, their lives, their schools and therefore more accessible and connects with the reader’s identity as an individual. Local newspapers present news that is still news, but is not perceived as such a ‘serious’ read and for youth this is important.

Furthermore, the research revealed that there was also a significant increase in readership in the white, more affluent market segment (LSM 9-10). This makes sense when you consider that the very nature of local papers means that they reflect and relate intimately to their community, wherever and whoever that community may be.

Effective distribution strategies and networks enable easy access to local newspapers for readers in the comfort of their own homes and/or local shops. Local newspapers provide interesting, engaging content that motivates readers to read almost all of the newspaper at leisure throughout the week.

So what does this mean for the marketer?

Consumer demands have changed over the years and intelligent brand management is no longer just about product and price. In order to successfully market a brand, it needs to talk to the consumer about other things. Values and vision are important and brand messaging needs to talk to this. Winning over consumers is about give and take, showing brand involvement in uplifting the community. Local newspapers provide a communication opportunity for brands to showcase who they are and what they stand for. When you consider that, according to our research, community and suburban news ranks as the top topic the readers are interested in, this is the ideal platform for a brand to explain how it fits into the community and what it is giving back.

Interestingly, advertising and promotions consistently rank in the top 5 of list of topics readers are interested in. Fact is, these newspapers offer more than news, they are a service offering and can be an effective educational forum. There are so many topics that consumers want to learn about to expand their own understanding. This provides great potential for advertisers who can combine useful information in conjunction with strong brand messaging, for example advice on financial management, healthy eating, baby care and so on.

Another great opportunity has to lie in connecting with the flighty youth market. There is a tendency among advertisers to act on a call to action, while missing out on the potential to access the youth market in a meaningful way by not reinventing their advertising strategies and the execution thereof. There is the mind-set that once you have included digital you are current. But, being current is not only about platforms, it also about the messages and knowing what consumers want to know about you, effectively responding to that and thinking differently about advertising.

Despite its potential, advertisers are still not using the platform as innovatively as they could and are not maximising what the medium has to offer. Advertisers are still largely using clichéd adverts where content marketing would be a better fit as it is a more authentic approach, providing the information that people want to know.

The local newspaper platform provides the most space out of all mediums and a unique opportunity to extend and differentiate the messaging to make it relevant to the consumer. The success of a campaign depends on how inventively and creatively this space is used.

The opportunity lies in the adaptability of local newspapers which can move and mould themselves and adapt their tone and topic to showcase relevance differently. They are not as bound to a specific style as national newspapers in terms of content and layout. They can have different conversations with the consumer. Local newspapers are a unique platform that is not replicated elsewhere and advertisers need to utilise this relevance and agility. They can capitalise on social trends, build community centricity, facilitate promotional campaigns, host competitions and create awareness around recreational activities within the community, build niche readership groups, maximising the local newspaper’s differentiation.