“Our job, I think, is to constantly stay relevant in terms of the product and also in terms of technology,” says Lea Korsgaard, Zetland’s Editor-in-Chief. “We see ourselves as also a technology company making seamless and nice technology especially for the younger generation. They want a digital product that feels like Spotify or Netflix or otherwise they won’t be here.”
While its roots date to 2012, Zetland pivoted to its current digital newspaper format in 2016.
“Zetland is born out of a mission to make sense, not news,” Korsgaard told participants during last week’s Digital Media Europe conference, which drew more than 400 people from 45 countries. “We are cutting through the endless stream of information and noise out there and perceive journalism to be a service to our members.”
Less is more? Two central focus points
Zetland focuses on two main things:
A daily overview: “We give an overview with a morning brief and a news podcast in the afternoon. We tell you what you need to know today in order to follow your colleague’s, or your college’s student’s, conversation. We’ll make sure you won’t miss out on any major topic in the news that day,” said Korsgaard.
And something deeper: “Every day we publish one or two stories about important, interesting, fascinating things about the time we live in, where the world is heading. So that will give you a chance to not only follow what is going on in the news but also be a leading voice in the conversations with your co-students or co-workers to feed your mind with interesting and important stories that are told in a way that doesn’t feel like homework,” she said.
Text and audio for every article
On the tech side, Zetland also produces every article in both text and audio formats, so members can choose to read, listen or both to anything they publish.
“We have made an app that makes this transition very seamless,” Korsgaard said. “You can, for instance, read half of the story during your breakfast, and then jump onto your bike and press ‘play’ and listen to the rest of the story. There’s no text or audio section in our app, it’s all merged together.”
This user-focused technology helped them win a European Digital Media Award this year for their news app. (A full list of winners is available here).
Putting members at the heart of what they do
Central to their mission is Zetland’s sense of community.
“We’re membership based, and our members help us enhance the journalism by giving us ideas, providing us with feedback, telling us what’s important to them,” she said. “We really try to integrate their thoughts, their perspectives, their point of views in the daily practices of Zetland. And also they help us grow.”
In fact, Korsgaard said Zetland’s members are their most important growth channel.
“Last year we grew 39 percent, and right now it seems that we are doing even a bit better this year, so we will probably grow around 40 or 41 percent this year in terms of memberships and revenue,” Korsgaard said.
Today, they have 27,000 paying members. Their goal for 2022 is to reach 1 percent of the adult population of Denmark, or 40,000 paying members.
“At that point, we will feel like, ‘Yeah! We have made it!’,” Korsgaard said.
30 percent of members under 30
Zetland’s members come from all over Denmark, and across all age and income groups, she said, adding that 30 percent of their members are younger than 30. The average age of paying members is 39.
Interestingly, while they have obviously been good at attracting a younger audience and are proud of their success with this demographic, Korsgaard said Zetland has never intentionally considered itself a youth media brand. Likewise, she noted they also have members who are 75.
Early on though, Zetland’s efforts to grow their membership through conventional methods proved challenging.
They tried several traditional marketing tactics (TV ads, outdoor campaigns, print newspaper ads). However, Korsgaard said these efforts basically fell flat.
“It helped us a little, but not that much, and we spent tons of money on it,” she said. “Then we figured out we are doing something wrong. We are trying to make community-based media. We are talking with a different tone of voice when we tell our news stories than you would find in a traditional newspaper, but when we tried to sell Zetland, we talked ‘classic.’ We sounded like a TV ad, and we figured ‘This is not going to work. This is not what builds the authentic voice that people will wish to relate to and want to be in a relationship with.’
So they changed their marketing strategy to better align with the rest of their efforts.
Getting members to drive membership
What they did was “fire up the base,” and got their members helping them to drive further membership.
“We decided to be super, super transparent not only about our product and our mission but also about the business. We told them, ‘We are burning more money than we should because we are not growing fast enough. You need to help us. Otherwise, we’re going to sell Zetland or we are going to close,’” she said.
The members took up the cause and spread the word. They put up Zetland posters around the country and asked their friends to join.
In a month, Zetland grew its membership by 25 percent.
In fact, things worked so well, that last year, they decided to try it again, Korsgaard said.
“We kept reminding our members ‘We need your help. You are the only reason why we are here. We have no ads, no other sources of revenue other than you guys. So if we are going to make a difference in the world, we need your help in order to grow,’” she said.
Once again, their members stepped up and helped Zetland to grow.
3,000 new members in three weeks
At this stage, you can probably guess where this is going, and you’re right: they’re doing it again.
Zetland launched their latest membership drive efforts just a few weeks ago. This time, they asked their members to help them get 3,000 new members within three weeks. The morning of her presentation, just two weeks into the campaign, Korsgaard said they have already reached their goal.
“It turns out that even though the urgency of the original campaign is not there any more, because we won’t lay people off if the campaign doesn’t work, they are still more than willing to help us because we have educated them why and how their role is so super central for not only Zetland as a business, but our larger role of trying to make sense in a confusing world,” she said.
Below video: This session of Digital Media Europe was kindly sponsored by PEIQ. Due to a technical issue, the video did not play during the session, but we would appreciate it if you watched it now.
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