Mobile has brought a new lease of life to content marketing. aptus director Sam Lewis explains how brands have used the platform to deliver branded editorial to consumers

With The Apprentice back on TV, you could be forgiven for believing that business is still all about the hard, direct sell. But Sir Alan and his wannabes miss an element of marketing that has been around for just as long as its more direct cousin, and is arguably more effective: content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as the “technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Put simply, content marketing is the art of communicating with customers and prospects without selling.

Instead of purchasing their way into the consumer’s mindshare through advertising, companies create compelling content that attracts an audience on its own. The belief
is if you consistently provide engaging and valuable information to buyers they ultimately reward you with their business and loyalty.

It’s a technique that has been around for more than a century. In 1895, farming machinery company John Deere began publishing The Furrow, a magazine that aimed to educate farmers about new technologies and business ownership. The magazine was met with great success, and was eventually accompanied by a second magazine, Homestead.

The consumer doesn’t want to be told what to do and where to spend their money. Instead, they want a conversation.

Despite its pedigree, content marketing seemed to go through a quiet period during the brashness of the economic boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But it’s making
a resurgence. A recent Econsultancy survey made up of over 1,300 marketers found that 90 per cent believe content marketing will become more important in 2013, with nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of digital marketers agreeing that ‘brands are becoming publishers’.

This shift in consumer mentality has
been brought about by the massive growth
in both social media and eCommerce. Buyers don’t want ads anymore – the web has democratised buying choices and habits, and the consumer doesn’t want to be told what to do and where to spend their money. Instead, they want a conversation.

Fat finger syndrome

Advertisers, for the most part, don’t know
how to be helpful. A reliance on 30-second TV commercials, print ads, radio ads, and direct mail still prevail in old formats – these formats relied on direct selling and they are finding
it difficult to fit into the modern clothes of helpfulness demanded by today’s buyers. Meanwhile, banner ads, the much-hyped route to a consumer eye line, are in fact either a nuisance, or worse invisible to users. Recent studies by Trademob show that about 40 per cent of clicks on mobile banners are due to “fat finger syndrome”; buyers click on mobile banners by mistake, or because advertisers trick them into clicking.

It’s into this fluctuating, complex environment that content marketing comes with a shovel to dig a clear path, and a lamp to light the way. New technology has made it easier than ever for brands to provide content that buyers want to read, to engage in the storytelling and consumer support that now ultimately drives purchases. And content marketing also provides a platform that allows a conversation with people via the devices they use every day – the mobile phones and tablets to which other marketing techniques have so far struggled to migrate.

New technology has made it easier than ever for brands to provide content that buyers want to read’

Susi O’Neill, head of digital at River Group, a leading publisher in brand-led content marketing, explains that creating multi- platform mobile content for the plethora of platforms in the mobile and tablet app market was previously expensive, but technology has now made it easier to create ‘COPE’ (create once, publish everywhere) content for a range of digital and mobile devices. This has reduced the speed at which new content can be brought to market, and allows brands to scale and reach broader audiences that they previously could not touch through in-store or members-only distribution channels.

“The barrier to entry for creating compelling, interactive online content has traditionally been very high,” she explains. “However, over the past couple of years we have seen the development of a number of fully reusable frameworks for building and publishing digital content.”

The River Group uses the platform to publish regular consumer-facing magazines for the likes of The Co-operative Food, Superdrug, and Honda UK. The results speak for themselves. A year after the launch, The Co-operative Food digital magazine has a readership of over 260,000 across both the web and native app versions.

While all these magazines have a print edition, The River Group believes it is important to not simply recreate the print experience online. “The temptation is to just publish a replica edition to tick the box, but readers engage with digital content in a completely different way,” says O’Neill. “We have found that our readers interact with rich media elements, such as video, in digital editions for longer, creating a deeper engagement.”

Enhanced experience

The Co-operative Food magazine demonstrates the approach with a number of features designed to take advantage of the digital platform. Heavy editorial content is broken up either in pop-up or scrollable layers of the page, while written recipes are enhanced with step- by-step how-to videos and animation used to lift the visual reading experience.

“The analytical insight we gain from digital versions allows us to quickly adapt between editions to create the maximum impact for readers in a way that is difficult to achieveso rapidly in print,” says O’Neill. “Through the platform, we have access to a large amount of information about reader behavior, such as the amount of time spent on each page and which content is shared most. This allows us to constantly tweak each new issue based on hard data. Also, because this is digital we can easily try new things and get instant feedback.”

A case in point is the evolution of the magazine’s social sharing functionality. “We found that many readers were sharing pages with themselves by email. In response to this we extended the email functionality so that readers can now email a specific recipe in plain text, so they can easily access these recipes when out shopping for ingredients. This also allows us to track which recipes are most popular.”

Co-op magazine on pc tablet and mobile using the platform

Importantly the digital magazine also allows for a two-way conversation between the brand and their customers. “The Co- operative Food customers are highly engaged with the brand and its values,” says Amanda Collins, senior marketing manager. “Through features such as our readers’ letters and readers’ recipes, we receive a great deal of user-generated content that has driven engagement and strengthened the online social community of The Co-operative Food.”

The publishing process needs to deliver
a consistent user experience on any digital platform – iOS, Windows, Android and so on. A system that allows flexibility of design and response is important to not constrain them from a creative perspective; both are elements that the platform delivers on.

Modern consumers want to be informed, helped and entertained – and content marketing is the most effective way, in terms of both cost and impact, of doing that. All it needs is for brands to have the right strategy. If a brand can create relevant and unique content, then deliver it through the most appropriate technical platforms, gaining buyer loyalty should be as easy
as poking fun at Sir Alan’s latest crop of business misfits.

– Article in the Mobile Marketing June 2013 –

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