Female Daily Network 10 Year Journey - Reflection and thoughts on the Future of Media & Advertising

May 12, 2017

At the end of this month, Female Daily Network will officially be 10 years old.
Wow, has it really been that long?
I'm not exaggerating when I say that it still feel like the beginning because it really does feel like it. I guess it's a good thing, right? Because that means I still see the potential of it becoming a lot bigger than it is today *crossing finger*. Last weekend, we celebrated the journey by throwing #JakartaXBeauty2017 which is our biggest and boldest event so far. I'm still riding the hype of the event as I'm writing this, just so happy and thankful for a succesful event that is exceeding any expectation the team and I had. Happy to meet Female Daily members who have been there since day one. Ten years passed by and they are still our biggest supporter. Aren't we lucky? Not only that, I have also met many new members, many are still in high school, long lost friends, family, clients and everyone in the beauty industry. A lot of them asked me how we survive and keep on growing for the past 10 years, probably because they saw the snapshot pictures of our journey near the ticket area, and of course I didn't have a short answer to that. But I guess now it's a good time for me to sit down, reflect on our journey and share with you my lessons learned, thoughts on the future of media and share some insights of our plan for years to come. Mudah-mudahan bisa menjadi bahan refleksi buat saya dan menjadi inspirasi to all new aspiring bloggers and entrepreneurs out there.
By the way, even though we always use the forum launch date as our anniversary (May 2007), Female Daily itself as a blog started in February 2005. And I myself have been a blogger since 1999 but I lost the entries from that year and 2000 and can only save the entries published since 2001. 
During our journey in Female Daily, as with other startups, there has naturally been lots of ups and downs. But what I've learned, ultimately it's the principals of putting our audience first, staying true to ourselves, strong passion, trusting our gut instinct, not afraid to make hard decision, staying focus and being agile as key traits that enabled us to push forward and hopefully continue to prosper. 
Female Daily was born based on a simple need to provide a platform for my blog readers and few friends to interact, share knowledge and information. It evolved into a fast growing and tight-knit community, all because of our audience-centric approach, transparency, and authenticity that led them to trust us and enabled us to build relationship with our readers. They were a big part of our journey and we made sure they felt that way. Even our logo and tagline was created and voted by our members. When our site crashed because of traffic surge, our members collectively donated so we can upgrade our hosting plan. Our second forum software was funded by our members. Whatever plans we had in the pipeline we shared it with them. We constantly asked for feedback. It was a two way communication with us in addition to them connecting, sharing and learning from each other. I didn't pay attention to the word empowerment at that time but it was actually what we did, empowering them to be smarter, well-informed consumer and most importantly be a better person through our editorials and all the discussion in the forum. As a result we have a community of empowered, loyal users who became an evangelist of our brand up to now. These were the key reasons of our success early on and will be the same ingredients of our success going forward. We focused on serving the needs of our audience by growing our platform, adding features and even launched a sister site, Mommies Daily in 2009 based on the reason that majority of our readers, including myself at that time was new moms or mom-to-be. The traffic went up, business was good. In fact, we were generating enough revenues from advertising and were profitable. 
From that point on, things changed. A lot. We then became more opportunist knowing the growth and revenue potential on what we could be as a media company. Within the course of 2010-2013 we started launching a few different verticals not because our readers needed it, but because we wanted to. At some point during that time, we had Female Daily, Fashionese Daily, Mommies Daily, Pops Daily, Travelers Daily, Clozette Daily and was contemplating to add a few more before other companies do it (Bride Daily, anyone?). Despite steady user growth, it wasn't as fast as we wanted it to be. We did too many things at once it was hard to allocate where to focus the resources. Plus we did it only for the sake of pursuing business opportunities instead of doing things that made us successful. I kinda sensed that we lost our magic touch but too stubborn to admit that we might have to revisit the plan before doing anything major. It took me a trip to Silicon Valley to meet with top level mentors, entrepreneurs and venture capitals through Endeavor Entrepreneur program to realize that I might have been damaging what we've been building with our audience all along. Being authentic, connecting people, empowering them were some of the few things that underpinned our success. It had always been about them and suddenly then it became about us. We've lost our identity and we felt like we became a media with no soul with a big gap between us and the audience. We focused on producing large amount of contents to drive numbers instead of maintaining quality and create meaningful connections with our members. We were playing not to lose instead of doing the special things that made us, well us. In media, if you don't have the trust and relationship with your audience, then what sells, right? So after that trip, we reflected, went back to the drawing board and asked ourselves why we're doing it in the first place. We needed to change fast.
Simon Sinek - "People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."
Bold Decisions
Early in 2014, we made a bold decision to shut down most of our verticals despite still seeing potential in each one of them. Read about the story here. We wanted to go back to our roots, passion, and focus on our winning formula which is putting our audience first and foremost. We needed to start regaining trust and building even deeper relationship. And the only way we can do that is by being an inch wide and a mile deep in a category that we are most passionate about. And we know it all along it's been in the beauty category. By focusing on a category and putting our audience-first approach, we were able to understand a lot more about our audience/partners which in turns allows us to see things differently and enables us to push better and quicker innovation. What many people didn't realize is that during the past 3 years, we've been slowly evolving from being a pure play media company to become a data-driven, consumer retail analytics company (more on this later) with media & content being a strong part of our DNA. When we talk about media and think about the future, it's important to understand the adjoining marketing & advertising industry because it's largely intertwined and that's how you generate revenue to sustain. The reason media company exist and become valuable is because of their ability to connect brands with the consumers. So you see, at its core, media is in the business of building connection and relationship. The deeper relationship you build with your audience, the more valuable you become. Obviously, it's why Google and Facebook are raking up most of the advertising budget.
As with most media, our primary source of revenue back then were mostly advertising; be that display, native, content, or tactical brand campaigns. Mix it with events here and there, and that's purely our only sources of revenue. We even ventured into an agency model back in 2011-2012, managing communications strategy, campaigns and social media for a few big clients such as Tupperware, Sariayu, Jotun, Suzuki etc. Despite strong prospect and solid top-line, we felt the agency model consume a large portion of our time and energy. But above all, it's that same feeling again; it just didn't feel right and it's just not us. We made another tough decision to stop offering services and pass over our clients to other agencies and went back to our roots.
One of our strengths is we have solid community, but we're still categorized under media and being in the media space puts us in a weak position for a few obvious reasons:
- First of all, media is an industry with a very low barrier to entry. Everyone in this space is in a constant threat from new emerging players with better content or bigger funding and war chest trying to take away your audience. It's very cheap and easy to generate content and build large traffic these days.
- Secondly, on the other hand, brands and advertisers are much more smarter in the past few years that they they no longer buy your conventional metrics story, ie: users, page views, bounce rate, time on sites and social metrics.
- This leads to the third point in which I thought content is becoming a commodity. By selling content and typical digital advertising unit, we know we're putting ourselves in the position of becoming very transactional in a highly saturated media market without any distinct competitive advantage. The beauty brands know our unique selling point but outside of the beauty industry they probably think we are just another web portal. If you look closely at the media industry in Indonesia, you'll notice that there are literally hundreds of new portals and verticals emerging (while some also shutdown), not to mention the aspiring bloggers, new wave of young content creators that are all competing for the same audience attention. 
- Fourth, pushing innovation is difficult in media company. The only innovation we pitch to brands is typically new ad unit formats, creative programs, online/offline bundling, engagement activities and sharable contents. The newest trend in the content space is the buzzfeed-esque in which all others have followed. Or the curated incentivised user-generated content in which others would also soon follow. We end up in this vicious circle of so-called innovation that are easily replicable by others. In many ways, the online media industry is very similar to the TV industry that is mostly rating driven. TV Ratings = Shares/Engagement/Traffic. One day you're at the top, a year later someone with better Program (TV) / Editorial Team (Digital) will catch up and undercut you. You might argue that some media companies have started experimenting AI/Machine Learning-assisted and automated-journalism. Well that's a different story. But even then, those technologies has not yet proven to solve the basic revenue/monetization problems that media faced today. 
So yes, truth be told, true innovation is extremely difficult in a pure media company. Why is that so? Because historically content and channels are valuable and media companies made a lot of profit from selling content and owning the distribution channel. Many editorial driven organizations became complacent and suddenly content and distributions are democratized and user behaviour are changing in lightning speed. Most organizations can't keep up with the dynamics unless they undergo a radical people and cultural transformation, which most companies find it challenging.
Disruptions are even disrupting the disruptors these days. 
- And finally, in contrary to what many people believe, the media and content business are not scalable. At least not in this Google, Youtube, Facebook era. The more content you produce and the bigger audience you have does not linearly correlates in bigger revenue.  Media companies only option is to go up/down stream and offer related services such as digital production, agency, custom events, EO, custom publishing and few other managed service that are resource consuming and again extremely difficult to scale. Plus everyone else is also doing it. So media companies are held captive at our very own domain. We're all fighting a battle that is difficult to win, sad but true. I think only small organization has the advantage to be nimbler thus have better chance to innovate and stay relevant. 
As a blogger and media entrepreneur who meet with brands and agencies for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I could sense that this was bound to happen. So back in 2014, for us it was to innovate or get caught in the trap and die slowly. We took the hard decision, letting go some of the things we've built, foregoing short term business opportunities for long term gain and went back to our roots and commit on empowering our audience. 
Speaking of empowerment, the word itself has been an overused jargon these days, don't you think? Empowerment is a strong word and I believe it should be at the heart of every media companies. As you can attest, empowering people is easier said than done. To us, empowerment has been the core principal of what we do and how we do things. It's about having a strong principle and living by our value. For example, in Mommies Daily we support breastfeeding all the way that we will never work with with any kind of formula milk brands. Also, we don't believe in Unit Link Insurance products plan so we never take money from financial institution to promote such service. Of course we also don't work with tobacco companies, political parties and other special categories. We don't even promote special maternity milk for pregnant women because we believe whole milk is enough. 
I also believe that every media needs to take strong standpoint and opinion in critical issues and having the courage to rightfully say so. Taking a clear stand on what we believe is right, and not just based on what's popular. It's not an easy feat and it's not for everyone. Vogue endorsed Hillary Clinton for President last year? Hey we voluntary endorsed Pak Jokowi back in 2014, even if it meant losing a few readers.
Empowering others also has to start with a culture that fosters empowerment. From the little things like enabling your team to create and innovate, giving them the freedom to do the things they love, making sure they can fulfill their personal mission in their professional environment. And only then will we be able to inspire others and spread the spirit. Empowerment is something that your audience feel, not what you say you're doing. And it reflects on every little things that we do. Take the recent JakartaXBeauty event we had recently, the first question we asked was, how can we add value to the ecosystem, how can it benefit our members, audience, attendants, brands, everyone in the ecosystem and the whole beauty industry as a whole. What's in it for all of them? Sure it's nice to maximize profits from events but we are in it to bring and add value to everyone in the ecosystem. Most of the time, empowering your audience doesn't go hand in hand with business growth and revenue, at least not in short term. In our case, we have the luxury to take a long term approach to our business, invest in nurturing our audience so we can build deeper relationship. A simple rule in empowering others simply means we have to give more than what we take for a long period of time. It's the principle of putting our audience, brands and partners first before us. Because we can only succeed if they succeed. When we do that, we build credibility, trust and long lasting relationship. Business, growth and revenue is a byproduct of the value and impact you build to your audience and partners over the long term. Foregoing short term gain for a long term win is what we do, that's what we aim and that's how we believe we can win and build value in the market over a very long period of time.
The Future of Media & Advertising
As media and content becomes commodity, we felt an urgent need to embark on a new path, differentiate ourselves and try to move up the value chain to provide a more strategic, non-transactional relationship to both our audience and brand partners. So what would be the future of Female Daily, you might ask? Before I start, let me ask a very simple question: what makes people loyal to brands? We believe its through; Xposure and Xperience. Providing not only relevant exposures about the brand but also allowing people to actually experience the brand. Exposure has to be multi-dimensional and multi-phases: articles, blogs, videos, user generated reviews, community events, etc. Experience on the other hand is beyond information, it has to be contextual, it has to be personal for example like personalized suggestions, relevant recommendations, loyalty rewards and recognition, and all things that matters to them. It's the classic question of what's in it for me?
Is content still the king? In reality, it is the influence and relationship with your audience that you build through your content that matters, everything else comes second and third. Content and channels are simply the medium to communicate. Users, behaviours, media and channels will always change, but in the media and advertising world, it is again about the connections, trust and meaningful relationship that keeps you sustainable. Especially with the new generation of Gen-Z's emerging as new consumer spending class, it is more imperative to focus on building trust and have a deep, long lasting relationship. The Gen Z are practically a media/brand agnostic generation that only engage with brands that they perceived are making real effort in providing real value to them, not just those saying it. I dare you to ask a few Gen Z's to name a media company where they regularly consume their news and information. Other than LINE and Youtube chances are they don't know any (not even Facebook!). That's why it's increasingly difficult to get their attention. As media companies, we have to work hard to earn it. And earning their attention proves to be a tall order. You can either provide a very unique proposition (Buzzfeed-Quizzes, Vice-Original Reporting/Gonzo Journalism, Youtube-Original UGC) or you can achieve this by simply empowering them through original, authentic editorial content that resonates among them. The later is the key traits that made individual content creators so powerful, but ironically is the exact same traits that media companies failed to master. It's the primary reason we see individuals becoming increasingly influential on blogs, Instagram and Youtube while media companies on the other hand are losing their influence. It is especially hard to build a personification and authenticity if you're a media organization with multi editorial and content team like Female Daily. You need to have the right skills, culture, transparency, combined with strong editorial guidelines and policy. In my experience, it's a skill and culture that you cannot build overnight, but can be achieved through constant practice and iteration over the course of many years. And it takes a lot of passion to do so. Luckily for us it's a challenge we can relate well enough as we started as bloggers and content creators in the first place. So the challenge is how to build contents that are original and can resonate emotionally with our audience. Anything less than that would be a commodity.
With that said, we're putting our bet by focusing on key initiatives where we think we can provide the most strategic value to audience and partners. And we need to go beyond exposure and experience, and the real value lies on data and personalization. It's the reason why we've been doubling down our effort to build more meaningful connection on the content/media side while developing big data & analytics capabilities on our platform side over the past 3 years. Female Daily Network is morphing to be a multi-sided platform and content company beyond conventional media organization. Because we understand we would need to move far beyond content to truly build a deeper relationship and provide value to both our audience and partners.
Here's what we do:
On the content & media side (Xposures), we've been focusing on strengthening the quality of our editorial influence, producing more Youtube videos, improving our content and native advertising units. We have our internal Authority & Influence Metrics to measure the power and quality of our influence and slowly leaving the conventional media metrics and growth numbers such as users, pageviews, engagement/shares. The result is a 100%+ YoY growth, engagement and most importantly consumer brand trust during the past 3 years. How do we increase brand trust? By being honest, authentic, putting ourselves on the consumer side, eg: constantly educating them, providing real value to them, listening to them, accommodating their needs, adhering to our strict company values and editorial guidelines, writing honest product reviews, avoiding paid product reviews on the review platform, engaging them and making them to be part of our brand. We owe those to our audience so in return they can be more critical, smarter and be a well informed consumers. On the other hand, our proposition to our brand partners are pretty straight forward; we strictly maintain our neutrality and credibility. As consumers ourselves, we stand on the audience side. We write unbiased review of products if and only our team deemed is worth a review. We will never review and recommend a product that we won't personally use and recommend, regardless on how much they spend with us on advertising. However we'll provide our brand partners with unparalleled insights on their brand/products/consumer, and ways they can improve and communicate their product should they decide to use other channels to reach their audience.
You see, it's been the same story we've used all along and it works across different consumer generations. I believe content and advertising will become deeply interlinked that audience won't know which is which and they don't mind being exposed because they want personal recommendations from people they trust. So we think the most powerful format of advertising comes in the form of subliminal influence through a strong narration of content and personality that audience are not even aware it's advertising. You know it's powerful when people gets addicted to it. And that, we believe is the truest sense of native content & marketing.
On the platform and analytics side (Xperience), we created a data-driven, beauty review platform to help our audience share and discover the best and most relevant products they have and could use. By understanding our audience individually, I believe we can add valuable proposition to our members through meaningful rewards, recognition, promos, personalized recommendations on product that's suitable for them. We've launched the platform 3 years ago and are now I believe is the largest beauty analytics platform in the region (if not the only). And only now that we are able to dissect meaningful data around brands, products, consumer, behaviours, etc. We are utilizing various statistical model, predictive analytics, look-a-likes and scientific marketing techniques that we will start implementing.
So how does that translate in real life you might ask? For example, our premier JakartaXBeauty flagship event last week was no ordinary event. It was our testing ground to validate our Xposure & Xperience hypothesis we've been building over the years. Now consider this: we haven't talked to all tenants but from those we've talked most of the best selling brands and products with record sales at our JakartaXBeauty2017 event were brands and products that we predicted would be in high demand. The commonality among those brands/products were strong exposure (reach & frequency) on our platform either through articles, embedded video reviews, positive recommendations, strong user generated testimonials and above par ratings. On the consumer side, we then sent invitations to members with personalized messages containing brands and product promos we knew they like, we knew they might like and most importantly recommend products that we exactly knew they're most likely to purchase. The result? All those brands/products were all sold-out each day, even after multiple restocking effort by our brand partners during those two days. Coincidence you might say? I don't think so. We're still in our nascency, but we're excited on what data, scientific and predictive marketing can bring in the future.
So at Female Daily, we're re-imagining a platform that allows us to provide capabilities and scientific understanding of:
  • The best brands and top selling products.
  • What makes a top selling product a top selling product
  • Net Promotor Score (NPS) Factors
  • Who the most loyal customers are for each brand & products
  • Real rewards and recognition for members
  • Personalized recommendation of suitable products
  • Recommendation on promos
  • Free products samples to try
  • Promotion impact
  • Buyer segmentation
  • Why consumers buy the products
  • What brands/products they buy
  • How often they buy
  • When they buy
  • Where they buy
  • Why they buy
  • Who they were influenced by
  • Basket size
  • What other products they buy
  • Brand/products and category purchase combinations
  • What, when, where products are they likely to buy

I believe the future of media & advertising lies in the convergence of Media & Retail Analytics where there are strong Exposure-Experience capability, Online-Offline integration and vice versa. It's the same old media promise of being able to connect brands with the consumer. That's what we do. But only this time it cannot be done in a conventional fashion. For this generation of consumers, advertising has to be relevant, personalized and contextual. With proliferation of advertising technology and platform such as programmatic, retargeting, optimization and increasing emphasize on performance driven campaigns, clearly brands wants to declutter, focus on core conversion metrics and demand real results. In order to provide the utmost strategic value to our audience and brand partners, we realize the need to move beyond the awareness metrics and start implementing a full stack Attention/Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action/Conversion and Recommend/Share model integrated in a single platform supported by data, scientific marketing & strong predictive capabilities. We're re-imagining a platform/solution where our audience can:
Discover products in our platform - go to beauty counter - buy product - earn some loyalty points - share their product information back in the platforms - earn more points
And at the exact same time, brands can identify and track who the customers are (historical purchases, other products/brands she used and other information), add additional bonus points to the customer, all in real-time manner. If we can reach massive scale, we truly believe we will be more valuable. We're embarking a new journey into this uncharted territory and are now a few steps closer to realizing this vision. And when we achieve this; the consumers win, our brand partner wins, and we win. And that, I think is the future of media and advertising. 

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  1. Lol but I told you about the dailies. And who organized the first meet ups?? And you are still not collecting THE most important data that are not being generated elsewhere. Just hanging in the forum a few days you know what brands and products will sell out, gak perlu big data han. If you are relying on your big data for this, then your big data is underperforming tbh.

    As an observant outsider I would look into
    - manufacturing. Even lizzie can do it - bloggers and their mom are coming out with stuff left and right. Paula begoun and sephora did too and are successful. Right now products that are big are imported (selundupan malah, if one is to be honest) and there is room for manufacturing in Indo even for big brands. You already have some data of what people want, and have a pool to test stuff on, your army of guinea... kicks lol.
    - science in beauty. Post truth world will go back to science as basis of knowledge, and hype will be even more overrated.
    - forget about gen z or gen zz, they are all the same with different communications medium. Heck, I have more in common with millenials the way yoris describes them. And anyway all gens is a market, just for different things.
    - beauty product sales. You're not selling the really hot, high value, coveted items in the shop. Yes people read reviews but they don't go to the counters to shop but to instagram dan PO.
    - ...and gen x and y will need own channels in a few years. Hard to imagine they will enjoy hanging out with gen zz.
    Good luck for the next 10.