The Corner Office

Betting on the Future of Your Customers' New Needs


After more than 12 months of getting by in a pandemic, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all learned a lot. We’ve all but made it through one of the biggest business disruptions in contemporary history, and that has required a lot of adaptation and flexibility from all of us.

While it can be tempting to think that we’re in the last few months of having to adjust, the truth is that an ability to make choices now will decide who sinks and who swims for a long time to come.

According to a Pew Research Center survey from October 2020, 54 percent of people working from home would prefer to never get back to the office, and Twitter made headlines months ago by allowing virtually every employee to work from home. Clearly, we’re not about to return to a pre-2020 state of the world. And that’s going to have consequences for your business.

Publishing has both a liability and an advantage in its varied customer appeal. In our world, sometimes we’re selling people great content, and just as often we’re selling advertising and marketing space. In some sense, that means two chances to meet your customers wherever their interests are. On the other hand, that can mean more effort to keep up with the moving target on both groups. The truth is that keeping pace with both groups during this shifting time is going to take a lot of leg work.

Consider the 54 percent of people who never want to work in an office again. Are those people your target audience? If so, what does their desire to change professional habits mean for how they’ll engage with your product? If you’ve been on the ball, you’ve probably thought of this already, and you may have tried tactics like new products or analyzing your consumer data. If you haven’t been on the ball, then now is the time to saddle up.

A year ago, we were all firing from the hip and just hoping we’d hit something. Now, you finally have time to be more thoughtful. Take a look at your metrics; I guarantee that any of your digital platforms will have plenty of data to sift through. Check out Google search trends for your local market, compare your traffic with competitors, see how often your community subscribes to local vs. national media sources. Just take a few days and figure out where you stand. From there, you can start moving forward and improving your position.

Consider what changes in work schedules/locations may mean for content delivery. Historically, web traffic has enjoyed a spike from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., largely due to office workers sitting down and reading the news before starting their work. But is that still happening? Large swathes of the population are working from home; are you still seeing that early morning bump, or is there a new peak time to be mindful of?

Newspapers were notorious for publishing when they “were ready” rather than when people wanted the content, and changing up that dynamic could have profound effects on your traffic. Try to focus even more on delivering content when people want to see it rather than when it’s most convenient, and I suspect you’ll find more readers once you’re operating on their schedules.

That’s one market down, one to go. See what I meant about leg work?

There are a lot of changes happening with our usual advertisers, and we have to change with them if we want to keep their business. Nearly one fourth of gyms aren’t expected to reopen, and among the other 75 percent, the landscape already looks different. However, there’s evidence that interest in health and fitness is actually going up. What do two seemingly at-odds pieces of data tell us? That we need to bridge the gap between fitness centers and our readers, and the best way to do that will be by getting out there and talking to local providers.

This isn’t some industry-specific issue, either. In fact, it’s just the opposite: All of our usual advertisers have had to change up how they do business, and that’s going to mean that we have to change up how we serve them. They are not going to beat on your door, so the responsibility to make those connections falls on you.

Now is the time to reflect on what your customers are doing and what you should be doing to reach them. You’ve had to adapt to a lot in the past 12 months, and you’ve almost certainly made changes in how you manage staff, deploy products, etc. Now the issue is figuring out what parts are worth keeping, what processes should go back to the old ways, and what you need to do to support your various customers as they rediscover what their lives and businesses are going to look like as the world slowly starts spinning again.

Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at


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