“We want to create emotional touch points that strengthen our existing readers’ loyalty to our brand, but also reach new people who haven’t been on our platform yet, to give them a first impression through one of our verticals,” says Bettina Widmer, of Switzerland’s Blick Group.
During the past couple years, Blick has doubled down on its strategy to reach and engage target audiences.
Today, the company has three verticals on its website that each focus on a specific audience: the environmentally conscious, homeowners and wine lovers.
In addition, the Zurich-based publisher has launched two other verticals that exist outside Blick’s main site: 26 Summits is a portal for people interested in hiking, while Winter Awards focuses on winter sports enthusiasts.
Bettina Widmer, Head of Vertical Hub at Blick Group, joined WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media India 2023 conference in New Delhi to discuss the company’s portfolio of audience verticals and the strategic decision to focus on target audiences.
“The reason why we have such a large range of verticals is that we are trying to present niche topics that reach new audiences, that bring them to our page,” she said.
“We want to create emotional touch points that strengthen our existing readers’ loyalty to our brand, but also reach new people who haven’t been on our platform yet, to give them a first impression through one of our verticals.”
The strategy to build audience verticals was further boosted by Blick’s participation in the Table Stakes Europe programme in 2022. Designed primarily for local and regional news organisations, Table Stakes Europe is a WAN-IFRA programme in partnership with Google News Initiative that helps news publishers drive digital revenue growth by re-focusing on audiences.
Audience verticals for environment, wine, homeowners
One of the publisher’s website sections that is aimed at a specific audience focuses on climate and environment. It features relevant content from all parts of the newsroom, and one journalist is specifically dedicated to covering the topic of sustainability. The vertical, called “Green,” is sponsored by BKW, a Swiss energy company.
Another audience vertical is aimed at people who are wine lovers but not yet connoisseurs. It includes advice from two wine experts, such as how to behave at a wine tasting and how to evaluate the quality of a wine.
This vertical also has a commercial partner, Mondovino, which is one of the largest wine retailers in Switzerland. Widmer pointed out that the click rate on ads in this section is 30 percent higher than Blick’s average.
“The reason why is very simple: we target a specific audience, people who care for wine or are interested in the topic of wine. So we place ads that are perfect for that target group.”
A third vertical focuses on homeowners. To develop this audience, Blick built an interdisciplinary team during their Table Stakes Europe participation, grouping together a lifestyle journalist, a business journalist, and a community editor.
The content in this vertical aims to answer the specific needs of homeowners. To better know what these needs are, the section features a lot of surveys that allow readers to send in their questions and comments.
It also features forms that let readers provide feedback on how helpful the articles are and what else they would like to read about, Widmer said. “We get a lot of feedback there, we have a very high engagement on those stories.”
Audience-first content driving registrations
All content on Blick’s site is freely available as the publisher does not have a paywall or a registration wall. However, the company has started testing a registration wall, and has specifically used the homeowner content to test how different types of articles can encourage readers to register.
Widmer said that most homeowner articles can be divided into 1) service content for homeowners, and 2) stories about renovations. Both types of stories tend to have high reach (about 100,000 pageviews per article), but in the regwall tests it turned out that service articles were particularly successful in driving registrations.
In comparison, the stories about renovations also had high pageviews but when they were put behind the regwall people did not want to log in to read them, she said.
“Of course, it’s because [renovation articles] are not dedicated to a specific need,” she said. “When it’s about service content that really serves a need or an interest, then you are more likely to also […] log in for it. So that was one of our main learnings that we had during the program.”
Another learning was that stories dedicated to a specific audience tend to have strong engagement in terms of time spent: for homeowner articles this is more than 3 minutes per article, compared to Blick’s average of 2.5 minutes. This, Widmer said, was another sign that “homeowner content has great potential to drive registrations.”
26 Summits: vertical for hikers
The publisher has also launched two other verticals that exist on their own sites outside Blick’s main website. This lets them be more flexible to “implement things that we can’t on our main platform, and we can develop these products in a very short time,“ said Widmer.
“The most favourite thing for Swiss people to do in summer is going on a hike,” she said, so naturally one of the audience verticals is aimed at hikers.
Called 26 Summits, this vertical was launched in 2020, just when the pandemic had caused a lockdown and many things were closed but hiking was still possible.
The website features 26 hiking trails across the country. If readers hike any of them all the way up, each summit has a sign with a QR code that they can scan to earn points and prizes.
This campaign is in cooperation with Ochsner Sport, one of the big sports retailers in Switzerland. Widmer said that over 90 percent of the vouchers that are given away as part of the campaign are actually redeemed, meaning the campaign succeeds in sending people to the shops.
“So it’s not only a win for our users who are winning the vouchers but also for our sponsor,” she said.
During the past three years, the site has had more than 3 million pageviews, and 25,000 people have registered on it (to earn points and prizes you must register). “So that’s how we drive registrations through the vertical,” Widmer said.
“We have a very lovely community. They are posting a lot on social media and writing to us,” she added. “Most of the people really do all of the 26 hikes, which is a lot, and some of them are really hard, so it’s very impressive.”
Targeting winter sports fans
Blick’s other vertical outside its own website is also dedicated to outdoor activities: the publisher’s campaign Winter Awards is aimed at winter sports enthusiasts.
The campaign lets people vote for the best ski resort in Switzerland in six categories. Voters can win prizes, and the website also features information about various ski resorts.
The 2022/23 edition, in which 76 ski resorts participated, was the second time the awards were organised. Blick’s different channels were used to raise awareness about the awards, with the campaign being covered in the print edition, website and the company’s TV channel.
The participating ski resorts also received flyers, posters and other materials that included a QR code for voting in the awards, thus making it easy for them to encourage their visitors to vote.
“A lot of the ski destinations hung up these stickers and posters for example at the cash desk, where people wait to get their tickets,” Widmer said.
“It was a nice advertisement for our brand because our logo was all over Switzerland in almost every ski destination.”
Overall, the campaign generated over 600,000 page views and 10,000 new registrations.
The winning ski resorts were announced in an award show, which was a B2B event gathering celebrities and sports people. The company is planning to organise more B2B events to connect with future customers and to get into B2B marketing, with an aim to have a sponsor for next year’s campaign.