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The Economist’s ‘globally curious’ audience strategy in Asia

Joanna Alexandre ()

The Economist has been on a mission to better define its audience. Joanna Alexandre, Syndication and Licensing Director at The Economist Group, explains how it’s helping deliver content in the formats audiences in Asia want.

Joanna will be one of the speakers at FIPP Asia-Pacific taking place on 27-28 September in Singapore. Click here to register for FIPP Asia-Pacific or contact Claire Jones or Natalie Butcher if you are interested in discussing a discounted custom package for a delegation (5+ people) to the conference.

Tell me about The Economist Group’s global reach and your audience engagement in different territories…

The Economist newspaper reaches a weekly global audience of 1.5 million subscribers.  About half of our subscribers are based in North America, making it our biggest market followed by the UK, Continental Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East/Africa and Latin America.  

Today about 22 per cent of our subscribers access our digital products. Globally our digital subscriptions have been on an upward trend, showing growth of 15 per cent over the last year. Our 39 million fans/followers on social media have helped to fuel this rise in digital. This social following is regularly engaged through our social media team of 10 writers / journalists.

In Asia we reach nearly 100,000 in print. But we have 1.5 million visitors monthly to economist.com. Over the last year our digital sales in Asia have grown by 24 per cent. So in Asia we’ve got a really big reach in English and it's dominated by online.

Is the digital dominance a result of it being a fairly new market or audience behaviour in that region?

The digital audience size reflects how people consume media really — that you can have some sort of interaction with us that’s much more immediate. There is great appetite for content that is updated on a frequent, daily basis.

What else did the research tell you?

One of the other things that came out of that research was that people who knew The Economist had very strong brand awareness and brand affinity. But people who didn’t know us so well didn’t realise how witty we are, that we cover a broad array of content, that it’s not just a finance magazine. And that different awareness of the brand varies market to market. One place where we felt we could do better was in China. If you ask people on the street to name five media brands that talk about news, the Economist didn’t come up.

Do you feel that defining your audience as the “globally curious” has allowed you to try and connect better with those audiences, especially in terms of engaging people who may feel The Economist is perhaps too high brow for them, for example?

I think so and we’ve really found through our use of social media that we’re reaching people who wouldn’t necessarily come to economist.com, but will then read an article, really enjoy it, realise it was written by The Economist, share it and then read something else that we’ve written. We drive lots of traffic through Facebook and Twitter in the western world. We’ve just recently gone onto social media platform LINE, which is an effort to grow our brand awareness in Asia, and we’re looking at what we do on Weibo and WeChat, where we’ve got some presence. We’re looking at how we make that more engaging to readers.

Coming back to China specifically, how has what you've identified changed your approach there and what are you doing that's different?

The main thing we’ve done is an app, which was launched in China, called Global Business Review. This is a monthly digest with regular updates of the business, finance and technology elements of the newspaper, which is published in English and in simplified Chinese. It's been designed so that readers can toggle between the two — so those with some understanding of English but not necessarily the complete fluency of it can use it as a way of pushing their English, especially their business English.

And do you see further opportunities for expansion?

Definitely… But I don’t think we can say here’s our template and we’re going to apply it to all markets separately. I mean in China it seems a very obvious decision to go with a digital app. That gets around the huge distribution problems you have in China just with the size of the territory. It means that it can be quite quick, quite responsive. In Japan there’s a much more stable and growing print market and we do have several syndication deals in the territory that allow people to read our content in Japanese as part of other publications and other partnerships.

Do you see social growing further across Asia?

Yes, definitely. There are opportunities around things like WeChat because that’s such an all-encompassing ecosystem. I'm speculating, but I think in the future you could have subscription sales where you can subscribe on your phone and they’ll look after the payments. So I think because it’s such a big ecosystem you could have a kind of seamless integration of different parts — but we’re not quite there yet.

Meet Joanna at FIPP Asia-Pacific, taking place on 27-28 September in Singapore.

Click here to register for FIPP Asia-Pacific or contact Claire Jones or Natalie Butcher if you are interested in discussing a discounted custom package for a delegation (5+ people) to the conference.

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