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Draw upon your community’s passions to design niche mobile products

Thinking about any potential new product should start with identifying the audience and its needs.

Consider the major annual events in your community, the popular hobbies/activities, sports teams, major civic problems, major industries — in what do people show an unusually high interest?

Now identify the potential niche audiences that have information needs particularly suited to a mobile context. Think about which passion areas contain needs that could be solved with on-the-go information or interactive information tools. Think about location-based needs, time-sensitive needs, and convenience or personalization-based needs.

Remember that audience size isn’t everything here.

Attracting a large audience is good — but when going after niche markets there are other valuable attributes. One is loyalty. It is good to create something people will use repeatedly, that has real value. Another consideration is that to create a revenue-generating products, it helps to target an audience that is able or highly motivated to pay or otherwise attractive to sponsors (think 18-34 demo, influencers or ready-to-buy consumers).

Hip Hops helps users find information about beers and bars in the St. Louis area.

Hip Hops beer app

Hip Hops helps users find information about beers and bars in the St. Louis area.

One example comes from St. Louis, home of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and a thriving craft brewing scene, where the Post-Dispatch created a Hip Hops mobile web app powered by the expertise of local beer columnist Evan Benn.

The article announcing the app launch in 2011 noted how this niche product was targeting a community passion:

St. Louis’ beer scene is exploding like a cask of overcarbonated ale. We’ve got new breweries popping up around town, out-of-state breweries clamoring to get their beers into our hands, and established local breweries producing some of the most exciting and innovative beers in their histories.

It’s time consumers had a mobile tool to help sort the swill from the sublime and to keep them abreast of the latest happenings around town.

Hips Hops is an example of a mobile niche app that hits all three audience goals —
a community passion with a large following, information needs with a strong mobile context (what do I drink at this bar?), and a valuable audience demographic. (Benn left for a job at the Miami Herald this year, but other staffers have picked up the beer beat.)

Another way to identify niche app ideas is to look for “information markets” in your business community, said Grey Montgomery, director of mobile initiatives for McClatchy Co.

Ask whether there are there local industries where companies would be willing to pay to be informed better and faster than competitors.

McClatchy, which happens to own newspapers in five state capitals, identified capital politics and policy as a prime information market to serve.

There are various overlapping audiences — politicians, staff, administrators, lobbyists and the many state workers who interact with the government as an employer.

these are all tests. We are trying to find our way with what maximizes revenue.

McClatchy has created premium mobile news apps for Sacramento and Olympia. There’s also a mobile app as part of the premium NC Insider news service in Raleigh. that cost about $5 to $20 a month or $50 to $200 a year. A similar product will launch soon in Boise, Idaho.

The Capital Update app for Olympia, Wash.

Capital Update app

The Capital Update app for Olympia, Wash.

These products were launched in 2013, and it’s too early to have much data about their financial success. But it’s notable that they are priced for a premium market.

Sacramento’s Capital Alert costs $20 a month or $200 a year. Subscriptions for Olympia’s Capital Update are $50 a year, but access is also free to subscribers of the Olympian or the Tacoma News Tribune. “We will market Capital Update as one more reason to subscribe,” Montgomery said. “Like everything, these are all tests. We are trying to find our way with what maximizes revenue.”

Another way to approach this niche audience question is for publishers to look at their current overall audience, especially any paying subscribers they may have. Do some research into what particular topics or information needs drive their loyalty to your publication, and then try to hit those niches with new premium products.

“We do see that some people subscribe to our digital paid content products to more or less access one category of content. The question is, what if we were to super-serve that category of content?” Montgomery said. “If you’re paying $7 a month to access charlotteobserver.com, and we observe that all you’re consuming is a lot of retail banking content, what if we doubled or tripled the amount of retail banking content that we’re providing to you? Would you be willing to pay then instead $15 a month? Maybe.”

For McClatchy’s many state-capital markets, that means politics apps. Elsewhere, such as at The Wichita Eagle, it means niche apps tracking sports at local high schools (Varsity Kansas) and Wichita State University (Shockwaves). Both are free, ad-supported products. Other McClatchy markets are investigating travel and recreation products, Montgomery said.

The overall strategy for McClatchy is to try to amass niche audiences through targeted products, while still offering the kinds of mass-market information that newspapers have been known for, Vice President of News Anders Gyllenhaal said.

“It’s pretty clear news organizations … have to be both the generalist and the specialist,” he said, “because readers want both those things.”

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