Auto-industry parallel to newspapers? Not when it comes to research

Mathew Ingram at paidContent posted an interesting thought a few days ago, on what newspapers need to learn from the disruption in the auto industry. I posted a comment at the site, but I started thinking more about the research-specific — and, of course, marketing-related — implications of the parallel between newspapers and the auto industry, at least among domestic corporations.

And I was no happier than before I started.

I came to the sad conclusion that, for as much as Detroit is chided for its failure to respond to changing markets, automakers lead publishers in creativity and application of consumer research to their business, probably by orders of magnitude (at least in relative investment, if not sophistication). Although one might simplistically explain away the difference as reflecting dissimilarities between products — that is, the complexity of a vehicle compared to newspaper — that would be letting publishers off the hook too easily. P&G spends millions researching consumers’ thoughts about and reactions to toilet paper, dish soap and the rest of its product stable, to better understand the market and improve the P&G position. The typical large newspaper publishing group? Not so much.

Plus, while domestic auto companies started increasing their research investments after Japanese manufacturers served up a good poke in the nose in the ’80s, the newspaper industry remains intent on trimming its research outlay as business conditions continue their downward trajectory.

All things considered, unless your mission is to sell advertising in print or shares to investors — or, I suppose, get a job with a publisher — it’s tough to speak positively about newspapers’ marketing prowess or willingness to invest in understanding their customers. And, when Detroit (the auto industry, not the newspaper JOA) is the model to which one has to look to find examples of innovation, commitment and smart marketing, it’s probably a better strategy not to speak at all.

One comment

  1. Professor Dean Miller

    Dead-on. Years ago, during an American Press Institute course, we looked at the statistics on training investment by various industries. Publishers, even in the high-profit days, were way outspent by their peers in all fields, but especially by the companies that have decimated news.

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