Head of Growth Marketing reflects on Digital Strategy Course

We recently connected with Simon Hermansson, a graduate of our Part-Time 10 week Digital Strategy Course in Stockholm. Simon is Head of Growth Marketing at Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) one of Sweden's leading newspapers. We discussed motivations for learning, the importance of changing how we work and organize and how an understanding of culture and group dynamics can lead to new value creation and knowledge. 

Hello Simon! Thanks for taking the time to have a chat with us. First, let’s start. Who are you and where do you work?

I work at SvD (Svenska Dagbladet), part of Schibsted Media Group. SvD reaches almost 2 million people a week in print and online and the group, Schibsted, also owns a number of leading media brands and marketplaces like Aftonbladet and Blocket. I have been part of the group since 2011, previously responsible for B2C digital subscription sales at SvD. Today I am Head of Growth Marketing at SvD. Super exciting and interesting time.

The industry has transformed since 2011 to say the least. What have you observed during your time with SVD?

Working within media I would say that digital transformation is not only a buzzword, it is an essential part of the survival of the business. The ”crisis” in the newspaper industry has been well covered, and there are still many challenges facing the industry. Luckily we see growth with digital subscriptions, and the new revenue from that combined with continued revenue from the print subscribers has created a window of opportunity where we can achieve this transformation and continue to produce the quality journalism that SvD stands for.

At the moment, it’s a very dynamic environment – requiring an approach to everything in a new way – especially the sales and marketing initiatives, but also customer service and UX as all of these things are now part of the general experience of the product. A mindset with customer interaction at its core is what’s really needed.

You mentioned recently starting a new role, how did this play out while you were undertaking the 10-week course in Digital Strategy?

The timing of it was not intentional, but it came very conveniently. At SvD we were asking the strategic questions and reflecting on whether we were organized the right way to succeed. The course overlapped with valuable training in facilitation and new tools and methods to assess customer insights and prototyping. We had been talking about the need to switch the way we work and develop new product marketing processes. How to switch from classic marketing to a way which was more aligned and synced with the product and data & analysis teams. The exposure to facilitation, understanding and working with group dynamics, prototyping and more – it all came at the right time for me and SvD.

For you what do you think inspired that mindset shift to see the interconnectedness of it all?

Well, what’s funny in this world of everything as a service and subscriptions, we have a history of that mindset. Even though it may sound weird, the business model so many are using today comes from NEWSPAPERS! The subscription economy etc. We of course have other words for it and continue to provide this service after many years. What’s interesting however is that you change the platform with digital. It’s a new context and you can work with data in new ways to inform your strategy. Very interesting to have the knowledge of a subscription based business and transfer it into a digital context where it’s much easier to capture data and optimize solutions for customers around it.

Another thing, the business model we have, quite recently was a free product digitally. If you look, say and appreciate the value of print and paper, historically that’s been there. But in a digital context it’s still a journey. Publications like the New York Times have shown you can generate value with digital subscriptions and revenue that supports a new business model. It works, people increasingly are happy and see the value. It’s possible to turn a profit and you don’t have to give everything away for free. The challenge is to understand the needs of your customers and be able to act on them so we can build a long-lasting relationship.

“When it comes to Hyper Island, it’s been quite captivating. I have had friends attend. It’s strange. They couldn’t explain it. I can’t explain it. The culture, the curiosity for its methodology. It all factors in. I felt the need to be in a different situation. Be exposed to other points of view and meet new people. That was the reason why I wanted to take the Digital Strategy course.”

Simon Hermansson – Head of Growth Marketing @ SvD

Shifting gears slightly, we curious, what does learning mean for you? What does it represent in your life?

Well, I find I get bored quite easily. Learning something for me is more of a personal need. Rarely do I look to something that will benefit me financially or in my career for example. I am driven more by interest and curiosity.

When it comes to Hyper Island, it’s been quite captivating. I have had friends attend. It’s strange. They couldn’t explain it. I can’t explain it. The culture, the curiosity for its methodology. It all factors in. I felt the need to be in a different situation. Be exposed to other points of view and meet new people. That was the reason why I wanted to take the Digital Strategy course. It wasn’t driven for a need around anything specific, other than a desire for a different environment to learn and a new momentum to drive forward with.

What specifically about the 10-week part time option appealed to you?

Most important was to connect and develop new relationships with other participants. We had a great group. Many skill sets, many points of view and many nationalities were represented in the class. Over 10 weeks you really get to know one another, it’s something that need to take some time. Everyone there is committed. The input from new perspective was tremendously valuable.

What was something that surprised you about the experience?

How much of the course was oriented around culture. That was a surprise. I thought it would be more hands on around business strategy and business cases. That was my biggest surprise, and the emphasis on the softer side of work and organizations. But in the end, understanding how do you work well in a group and why and how people are different is invaluable. Was surprised there was so much emphasis on that, but as we moved through the course we realized that culture is the only thing that really matters in a way, so looking back it totally makes sense.

Also, while some parts of the course for me were more introductory it was good to freshen and level up in these areas. But what really jumped out at me was how getting hands on with a group you generate new value for yourself and the team. It creates knowledge in a different way – whether introductory or not.

Any advice for a future student or learner that’s looking for change or something new?

I feel people do their best work when driven by passion or their interests. I don’t recommend taking a course just for your profile or CV. Do something that’s fun. Otherwise it will be hard to apply in your day-to-day. Otherwise, it comes like one is “peacock-ing” their certification. Of course that’s fine, but in the end doesn’t generate as much long term value for you or your company as you might think. Take on something you are sincerely interested in and make it fun!

A few months on, what’s different now?

Throughout the past year there have been many voices driving our organizational change. We are talking a lot about jobs-to-be-done. That terminology and framing has become central for discussing things internally. The question based on “what’s the customer insight here…” is really common right now and it wasn’t that way a few years ago. We have lifted that dimension up. You can’t achieve growth without that data or insight. That’s very important to how we are working now.

The course helped me to understand the value of that at a deeper level. The exposure to new methodologies to navigate within this paradigm shift is vital. It’s not just a trend that will pass. It’s a different way of doing things, a different mindset. New language and methodologies help us navigate this landscape and across the organization it has become a very important thing for us to keep moving forward.