The Case for Digital Custom Publishing

Posted on May 6, 2009
How long can you hold a customer's attention?

How long can you hold a customer's attention?

In a market where publishers are being hit hard, and advertisers are slashing budgets, one area remains strong: custom publishing. As illustrated above, the APA estimates that custom publications engage the reader for 25 minutes (as opposed to 5 seconds for online advertising, 8 seconds for outdoor advertising, 20 seconds for radio spots, and 30 seconds for TV commercials). This post summarises the benefits of custom publishing, and highlights relevant metrics and achievements by brands using a custom content strategy.

It is no suprise that custom publishing is strong (almost a £billion in revenue), with customer magazines improving brand loyalty by 32%, almost 80% of the UK population reading customer magazines, and over 120 new brands launching custom publications in just the last six months (all stats from the APA). Since many customer publications are delivered to current customers as a loyalty and relationship marketing tool, many brands are using this approach to stabilise and motivate their current customer base. It’s a great marketing tactic in a recession.

One great comparison I saw recently was on Joe Pulizzi’s blog - Junta42. An average Super Bowl ad costs $2.7 million for the 30 second spot, so Joe rightly asks how much content that budget could buy you! As is turns out, a brand could produce and deliver a 32-page custom print magazine to 50,000 prospects, on a quarterly basis, for 5.5 years, generating around 10 HOURS of engagement with each reader. Or you could produce and distribute 200 video shorts (2 mins each) across Youtube and other social media sites. Pretty impressive!

And this is where we get to the differences between print and digital customer publishing. Print magazines undeniably deliver a tangible and premium product, which is difficult to replicate online. However, apart from the physical aspects of a print product, online publishing opens up a whole range of additional benefits for branded content.

  • Interactivity
    The main benefit with digital production is the ability to include rich-media and interactive elements. Its painful to see that many brands repackage their print magazine as a digital edition and then consider that to be an effective digital strategy. From funny clips to “how-to” presentations, videos can communicate quickly and effectively, games can engage your customers for long periods of time, and webcasts and polls can generate very meaningful interaction. In my experience, I have always seen a significant uptick in time-on-page when a video is included.
  • Reduced distribution costs
    When postage often amounts to 20% of the budget for a print publication, it is not suprising that many brands are looking to digital distribution channels in order to cut that expense. Although the cost of building and maintaining a good email/SMS database should not be underestimated, once complete, the marginal cost of distribution is almost zero, allowing a wider audience, and more frequent communications. One retail brand I spoke to recently, now sends 3 emails per week to over a million customers!
  • Targeting
    Because there are no minimum production quantities online, and content is easily repurposable, the content and advertising that each reader receives can be targeted (or filtered, or personalized). This can significantly enhance the revenue potential from advertising and lead generation campaigns, but also allows a much more favourable user experience - because every reader gets the content that most interests them. This usually has a postive effect on engagement (in idiomag we see an average click-through rate on in-magazine advertising of 6%!) and reader retention, as the value (and possibly more importantly, the perceived value) of the personalized version is higher. Personalized messaging allows custom publishing to move nearer to the more established relationship marketing approach which is used very successfully by most consumer product brands - messaging and content can be customized based on that reader’s purchasing history, purchasing cycle, demographics, or taste preferences.
  • Tracking and accountability
    Whereas with print publishing, tracking is limited to focus groups and user surveys, online content can be monitored to deliver real-time statistics about reader interactions. No guesswork or extrapolation is needed, as the data is complete, and live. Of course, many brands are not yet competant in extracting maximum value from this data, but agencies and brands themselves are learning very fast. The real goldmine of reader interaction is created when reader’s are incentivised to login to read the content, allowing the interactions to be matched with a specific user ID, and passed through to the brand’s CRM.
  • Reach
    Although publishers have always tried to quantify the “pass-on” readership of their publications, the mainstream social web platforms now supercharge the process of sharing content with friends and colleagues. By building a simple integration with a platform relevant to the brand’s audience (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Wordpress etc), readers will very quickly start to embed and share the content that interests them. We see around 15% of a publication’s traffic come from widget embeds on social networks and startpages. Creating quality branded content and placing it in the hands of your customers is one of the best ways for turning your audience into fan-marketers of your brand.

And when it comes to overall cost, digital custom publishing can be extremely lean and effective. Indeed, with the brands I speak to, it usually happens to work out that a basic digital customer publication costs about the same to produce, deliver and track, as it would cost to run a traditional advertising campaign to exactly the same amount of people! Instead of a small and avoidable print advert, they receive an engaging, and ongoing connection with the brand through valuable content and resources.

I came across a great case study here, which details KLM Airlines’ use of a digital magazine. In summary, KLM sends a digital magazine with articles, interviews and videos to its customers, and tracks usage and the repeat purchases that result. After just 3 issues, it has proven to be the best marketing tool they have ever used to sell repeat tickets, and the click-thru rate is higher than on any other online campaign KLM has run. In terms of engagement, 20% of the readers read the whole way through the magazine, and the average reader spends 20 minutes in the magazine.

We are already seeing a big upswing in the use of branded content, and I fully expect this to continue. From full digital publications, to videos, whitepapers, and blog posts, content marketing will continue to rise as brands see the benefits that can be gained. As brands provide useful and interesting content to their audiences through intelligent custom publishing strategies, they will be rewarded with business metrics that prove success.

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