Conde Nast International’s digital chief: ‘You can’t win a race for reach’

Wolfgang Blau
Blau: Data passionate

The digital media world is arguably coming out of a period in which many publishers focused nearly exclusively on growing their audience as large as possible.

Now, with the shine is off that notion, more are preaching the gospel of building the right audience with deep ties. Condé Nast International’s chief digital officer, Wolfgang Blau, is a believer in this line of thinking, noting that Vogue does not have to be gigantic to be very influential. For too long, too many were “drunk on reach” and forgot to focus instead on deeply understanding their readers.

“You can’t win a race for reach,” Blau said at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Nice, France, today. “Yes, you have to build an audience. We have an audience across the portfolio of roughly 200 million uniques. We want to grow the audience, but we don’t have to be the largest audience in our segment. We need to be big enough to deliver value to our clients and to be in the conversation, but I’m much more interested in a narrative in which Vogue, in every market we’re in, has the most passionate community of fashion lovers and fashion professionals.”

Below are some highlights from Blau’s interview:

Condé Nast wants each international edition of Vogue to be different
For Vogue, each of its 21 editions around the world has its own identity that can help Condé Nast identify opportunities across markets. Condé Nast International, which runs all Condé Nast operations outside the U.S., see it as critical to allow a degree of autonomy to each market.

“The same brand can mean very different things in different markets,” he said. “Vogue Australia includes interior design and food, whereas Vogue UK has a much stronger focus on fashion.”

One unified editorial team is often the wrong answer

When print publishers first encountered the Internet, they tended to separate out web operations from their core print teams. That led to something of a neglected-child situation. Ultimately, most newsrooms integrated operations of print and digital, with the commonsense belief that there shouldn’t be a divide. But Blau, who came to Condé from The Guardian, believes the time might be right to divide the teams again, while making sure they’re connected.

“The idea of one team that does everything in hindsight was the right structure at a time when traditional publishers had no digital-only competitors,” he said. “You’ve seen the quality of copy goes up, the expertise goes up, but inevitably the speed of response, the velocity of content goes down. Eventually the volume of content goes down, and what you’ve seen at many newspapers, the age of the digital audience goes up.”

Data culture can thrive at Vogue

“The Devil Wears Prada” view of Vogue makes it an unlikely place for a data-driven mindset to take hold. One trick to integrating an understanding and appreciation of analytics into editorial cultures is to change the language. “Data-driven” is out and “data-informed” is in. Then it becomes a matter of showing journalists how data can make them better at telling stories.

“Once the journalists have victories they wouldn’t have had, you gain traction,” he said. “You also have former editors and editorial-passionate people in your data teams as well.”

One-third of Vogue China’s edit team is creating exclusively on WeChat content.
Blau believes that too many European executives look to Silicon Valley for clues to the future. While the Valley is undeniably important, China is just as important, and evolving differently. There are “two internets,” he said: one American, another Chinese. Vogue China, for instance, has 21 digital editors — seven of whom are focused on creating content for WeChat. And Condé Nast is able to make as much off WeChat users as it would if they were on Vogue China’s mobile site.

“There are these experiments we’re running in different parts of the world,” he said.

This article was corrected to make clear that Condé Nast makes as much from Vogue China WeChat users as it does if users are on Vogue China’s mobile website.

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