“Planning is indispensable”: Lessons learned from creating products for digital media

February 12, 2018
by David Amrani
“Planning is indispensable”: Lessons learned from creating products for digital media

We’re doing a lot at Digiday Media. That never stops us from doing more.

With three publishing brands (each with its own set of global events), a content agency, a premium membership program and now an experiential arm in Gather, we have endless environments to try new things.

Here are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

>What’s the point?
If we don’t have a good reason for doing something, we don’t do it.

We launched Digiday+ because we saw over and over, at our events and online, that there was a passionate core audience leaning on us to figure out this ever-shifting industry. So we created a new level of support and access to serve a community that already existed.

Digiday IP came from an internal need to pull vital insights from any given topic at any given moment quickly and flexibly. With the product validated by our own usage, it was common sense to refine it and make it accessible to our audience.

We’ve had plenty of other great ideas with a lot of passion behind them. There just hasn’t been a reason to pull the trigger – yet.

>Plans are useless – planning is indispensable

We do market research, user testing and thought experiments until there’s nothing left to think about.

We talk to people (readers, attendees, users, friends, colleagues) until there’s nothing left to say. Company hierarchy doesn’t matter when we’re exploring something new – interns are usually more in touch with what’s fresh in digital than executives, anyway.

We use all those perspectives to set guidelines, to feel out uncrossable lines, to identify ideal use cases.

Then we get to work breaking all those rules and stepping over each and every boundary. But we do so knowing the effect each transgression will have, and only when we understand the value that pushing through extends in exchange.

>Just do it
This is probably the most crucial part: There’s no such thing as a convenient time to pour resources into a new initiative. There’s always going to be a reason to delay a product launch.

Now, when we work on special projects for our partners, such as chatbots or mobile games, contracts set their own effective pressures. But it’s really easy to push off work when there’s no client looking over your shoulder.

So we pick a date, cross our fingers, and get to work.

Of course, sometimes you have to adjust: Digiday IP was due to debut during Advertising Week, but some last-minute ideas pushed it to November. But once we missed that September window, the pressure was on.

In the end, we got it done because we got started.

>You have to commit
Our audience can see a feint coming from a mile away. This keeps us honest – and dedicated.

Now, we’re not talking about widgets, newsletters, or smaller executions like that. In those cases, a test-and-learn-and-potentially-discard strategy is completely acceptable.

But when we’re facing down the big initiatives, the things we want our audience to invest some serious time and money into, we need to show some investment in kind. Dedicating resources to make a new product come to life, releasing updates and new features that respond to user needs and behaviors (look out for some Digiday IP updates soon) all signal that the our newest effort is worth our readers’ attention.

And in digital, attention is the coin of the realm.

>You probably made the wrong thing

So your product or platform is out there in the real world. Maybe you’re lucky and users are flocking to it in droves right from the start; maybe you’re not, and you’re looking out onto a ghost town.

Either way, the signals are probably the same: To a greater or lesser degree, you missed the mark. The behavior you’re seeing just doesn’t line up with the use cases you framed up early in the process.

This is pretty unavoidable in a media landscape with shifting platforms and user expectations. But the moment we recognize it, we respond. And we get back to work.