As consumers continue to turn to the Web for news and entertainment, drawing advertisers in their wake, print media is faced with a challenge: find relevance or risk failure.
Lee Anne Baer (MBA ’87), executive director of consumer research and insights for Time Inc.’s lifestyle network of magazines, has been at the center of the marketing storm, which she describes as “turning the media world on its head.” But she’s working to set it right again — and she started by talking to readers.
“I am supposed to represent the consumers,” she said. “How do they feel about a brand? How will they respond to content? The brands want my opinion about how consumers feel, but they don’t necessarily just want my personal opinion. I have to give evidence for the recommendations that I make.”
Baer runs a group at Time that does all the research needed by brands including Real Simple, Cooking Light, Southern Living, This Old House and Coastal Living. That includes research to support product creation, or direction of content and products, or to sell audiences and their engagement with the brands to advertisers.
“What truly woke up management was to see that they had to embrace technology and not be seen as just a print company,” Baer noted. “There are a lot of challenges to what can be done more immediately with digital versus what remains in a more luxurious mode in print. If I am just trying to get the news, I don’t necessarily need to wait until the news is printed.”
Before the iPad was developed, technology often didn’t offer a great experience for reading on the Web, she added. Consumers would equate reading a magazine as a “leaning back” experience while sitting at a computer was a “leaning forward” experience.
“Those lines are blurring, and there are big challenges to keeping pace with the changes in technology with the appropriate content that can generate revenue,” Baer said. “Time Inc. has a stance that we will charge for our products. But other publishers have not been as committed to that philosophy and that can devalue content. The brands have to have really distinct points of difference and value so consumers will be willing to pay for them.”
Baer and her group support this brand differentiation work, including testing new content for a recent redesign of Cooking Light by holding focus groups across the country and surveying subscribers to gauge their reaction to that redesign. “That has been a very successful redesign, and we are now working on a study about healthy eating trends that we can take to advertisers and show what our audience is all about.”
Before taking on her current role, Baer was the marketing director for Real Simple magazine and worked in strategic planning for an advertising agency and in marketing in the consumer product goods industry, including for Unilever.
She relies on the collaboration techniques she learned at UNC Kenan-Flagler to help guide her and the brands she supports through these challenging times in the media world.
“At UNC Kenan-Flagler I learned the importance of cooperating with other people and the importance of recognizing that everyone has a strength and contribution to make. The whole idea of approaching a problem, thinking about all sides of it and then supporting your conclusions — I learned that at UNC, and I try to instill that in the people who work with me every day.”
She uses those lessons to help her accurately represent the consumers Time’s various brands are targeting.
“Research should be about what is coming, not just what happened,” she said. “That is something I was taught in business school.”