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Marketers' predictions 2016: Dow Jones' Katie Vanneck-Smith on making paywalls the 'new normal'

Unraveling the relationship between VR and publishing is on the mind of Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief customer officer and global managing director, international at Dow Jones, ahead of 2016. In our festive series of marketer predictions, Vanneck-Smith outlines her priorities for the year ahead.

Marketers' predictions 2016: Dow Jones' Katie Vanneck-Smith on making paywalls the 'new normal'
Marketers' predictions 2016: Dow Jones' Katie Vanneck-Smith on making paywalls the 'new normal'

What is your big marketing prediction for the year ahead? What's going to be the biggest trend?

We’re going to see the explosion of video in the year ahead, from video on mobile to virtual reality. Video is set to make up 80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2019, and mobile video plays have increased 74% year-over-year to 2015. At the same time, virtual reality is rapidly moving from a sci-fi concept to a seriously exciting opportunity for media and advertising, creating more interactive and immersive experiences that can engage customers on a whole new level. We’re seeing lots of companies experimenting with virtual reality. From CNN live broadcasting one of the Democratic presidential debates to VR headsets, to The New York Times partnering with Google to send a million of its readers free Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets on which they can watch films produced by the Times.

At Dow Jones, VR is something we’re always exploring. In April we developed a three-dimensional virtual reality tour of the Nasdaq’s performance, the U.S.’s second-largest stock exchange. This immersive 'roller coaster' allowed users to experience first hand the steep economic ups and downs over the past 20 years.

We also had one of the most promising startups in the field of virtual reality, Magic Leap, present a demo of their latest developments at WSJDLive, our global technology conference. Magic Leap, which has recently raised more than half a billion dollars from investors including Google, is developing a glasses-like device which projects computer-generated images over a real-life setting, and is definitely a player to watch in this field.

What's your personal/professional resolution for the year ahead?

Travel wisely. I spend a significant amount of my time travelling around the world to our offices and beyond - to meet with colleagues and with customers. It’s very important to me that I’m able to connect with people beyond a screen, and a physical meeting always beats a Google Hangout or a conference call. My resolution is that I make the most of the trips I do take, and balance this well with my personal life.

What do you predict will be your biggest challenge(s) in 2016?

Apart from getting my 5-year-old son to enjoying learning to read....my biggest challenge in 2016 will be to be make sure I protect my thinking time. I’m acutely aware of the need to sometimes step back from the hectic day-to-day, the back-to-back meetings, the constant stream of important decisions that need to be made.

It’s only in stepping back, looking at my work and the company from a distance, that I start to ask myself the questions the companies disrupting this industry are asking. Is there a better way? Is there a more interesting path? Are we missing a beat? How could we push this innovation further?

It gives me the perspective I need to see what’s really happening, what we could change, and to guide the strategic decisions I’m making.

The challenge is carving out the time and a place for this space to think.

What will you be doing differently in 2016?

I will be reading The Wall Street Journal via our new suite of mobile apps, rather than through the mobile browser. We’ve worked closely with our customers, and have listened carefully to their feedback, in order to create the best experience for reading our news on mobiles and tablets through the WSJ App. We also have WSJ Live, an app dedicated to our interactive video content, which is the best way for me to watch on-the-go.

What will be the biggest priority for Dow Jones in 2016?

One of the biggest priorities for Dow Jones in 2016 is going to be modernising our paywall. The WSJ has been the pioneer of the paid digital world, and proves that the model works when you get it right - when you know exactly who your audience is and target them effectively, and when you deliver the content they couldn’t find elsewhere.

We need to create the next ‘new normal’ with our paywall, staying nimble in a world where the blogosphere and social media are increasingly becoming the new home of breaking news. We need to create platforms where people don’t just read and listen, but can be heard and participate, and we’re increasingly shifting from thinking about subscriptions to thinking about ‘memberships’.

Another of our biggest priorities is focusing on what we call B2P: Business-to-Professional. Traditionally, our industry has been divided in two: the B2C world of The Wall Street Journal and the B2B world of our professional information products, like Factiva and Dow Jones Risk & Compliance. However, there is a sweet spot between the two and this is where we see a huge opportunity. This is where we can engage with our customers as they really are: ambitious professionals, who we develop ongoing and deep relationships with throughout their lives, supporting them in every decision they make as they engage with our products.

This view enables us to create powerful marketing campaigns that bring together the two sides of our business, and target all of our customers in a truly human way. It’s already visible at the heart of WSJ Pro - our new premium membership for professionals in key industries and sectors, that turns the combined intelligence and insight of the complete Dow Jones business into the competitive advantage of our customers. All in a way that satisfies their unique interests and needs, both as professionals and people.

Read more 2016 predictions from leading marketers