Dmitry Shishkin is an award-winning, experienced C-level leader, specializing in digital transformation, content strategy, change and culture management, and innovation in a global setting. Read his speech during Staying Ahead of the Game with outstanding product development on 2 November 2021 really essential!
Since September 2020, Dmitry Shishkin has been consulting media and tech companies on how to do digital content better – whether it is operational, editorial or strategic advice.
Dmitry Shishkin got straight to the point and he didn’t disappoint as he focussed our attention directly on the big issues, and in particular a new pasta shape called Cascatelli.
His point was that pasta, one of the most successful consumer products in the history of mankind, continues to innovate, but its innovation is measured against the yardstick of known user needs. “Every single pasta is scored against those user needs; the ease of sticking it on the fork, how easily the sauce sticks to the shape, and how satisfying it is to eat that pasta. I’d like you to hold that thought, because by the end of the presentation, hopefully, you will be able to see what pasta and publishing have in common.”
Infinite digital niches?
One of the key points about Shishkin’s pasta/publishing comparison is that both, despite long traditions and user familiarity, continue to be reinvented. “For those of you who know Ben Thompson’s Stratechery you’ll know his point that when it comes to digital: the number of niches in the digital world is infinite. You need to be very, very focused to really hone in on the audience you want to satisfy. And as long as you are providing the highest possible quality in that particular niche, you will achieve success.” Sounds simple, but it isn’t.
“For the majority of organizations, whether they are product dominated or content dominated, sometimes that alignment is not there.”
Shishkin takes a lesson from his own background. “So when I was at Culture Trip, we used to have questions as a litmus test. In particular we had the ‘CEO stopping you in the corridor’ test [in which we asked] Why do you exist as an entity? What business are you in? What are your audience’s user needs? What’s your content product market fit? In other words, does everyone pull in the same direction? If you talk to the designer, developer, sales person, marketing person, or editorial person you’re likely to have different answers. And if you don’t have that focus, you don’t have that singularity of purpose, you’re not going to be able to drive to where you need to be… and at the heart of that is the audience. In the past, content was driven by the God’s view of editors. Now we realize that if the user needs are satisfied, consistently, creatively, and strategically, you will see a very strong correlation between strong performance of the media brand, and satisfying those audience user needs properly.”
For his part Shishkin is clearly delighted to see user needs become a focal point in product development. “I’m very grateful to see more and more newsrooms pick up that idea and move their coverage and output towards satisfying user needs”
To some degree that satisfaction comes from being one of the pioneers of the approach, with the current popularity of the approach proving its worth. “For me it all started five years ago with the publishing of this BBC model of needs: update me, given me perspective, educate me, keep me on trend, inspire me, divert me..” Shishkin ran through more recent models from everything from a Turkish broadcaster to BuzzFeed, and Vogue, each demonstrating the same driving forces fuelling media consumption. In fact Dmitry has been collecting these models (his collection currently consists of more than a dozen) and has helped shape many of them for other newsrooms. For those newsrooms and content creators interested in knowing more he can be found on LinkedIn.
Although often derided, Shishkin points to the SEO model as the shape of success; “Surprise, surprise, Google Search has a user needs model. And you can see that if you can align your content creation according to those user needs, you can be really successful at getting your SEO, performing more strongly.” Identifying those precise user needs and systematically meeting them is the answer in the quest for loyal readers and having identified the driving factors there are also subsequent user behaviours that can be predicted. “For example, ‘educate me’ user need is the least used for your media organization, but it actually has the highest percentage of loyal readers. ‘Give me perspective’ pieces generate the highest engagement off site. So the question is can you package them in a particular way that would be interesting to people who are not willing, for one reason or the other to come to your website?”
Identifying content needs as the key to understanding user behaviours
Shishkin’s point is that identifying categories of user needs isn’t just a parlour game that generates handles for content types; it also helps understand subsequent user behaviour and with that the best way of disseminating content to maximise audiences and engagement.
Combining algorithms, AI, and in-depth understanding of those needs and behaviours should influence product and content decision making. “You can start with saying that according to the algorithms and user needs based analysis, these articles need to have bigger reach opportunities. These are the things that you can do with them. You can AB test the headers or put it on Facebook again….these are the missed opportunities for from the articles you published yesterday. Notifications can be sent directly to the editorial team influencing the product decisions and protocols as the next step of your kind of analytics development.”
Which brings Dmitry Shishkin back to the consideration of pasta and user needs. “User needs are as basic in media as in cooking. So I would like to leave on a question: Do you ever talk about your user needs in your newsroom? And do you ever think about what your audience really wants from you? Because as long as you know your focus, and you produce the highest quality, you’ll be great.”