Content isn’t always king

paul merrill headshotWhile circulation continues to fall for consumer magazines, customer-branded publications like NRMA’s Open Road have the opportunity to cash in, if they can get the content right says Paul Merrill

One of the new clichés in marketing is that content is king. It’s not about the medium, it’s about the ‘consumer experience’. And seeing a television commercial for the 17th time or driving past a bus shelter ad for Silver Linings Playbook isn’t much of an experience.

Or, put another way, consumers aren’t content with the content of this content.

One way this so-called new thinking has manifested itself is in the continued success of contract magazines as a way of communicating with customers. Readership and ad revenue of paid-for mags have slumped to a much greater extent than those for periodicals commissioned by companies specifically to reach their database.

It’s one important way that the industry can fight back and reclaim some lost ground, but many customer magazines simply aren’t good enough. Hammering home the company doctrine takes precedence over editorial integrity. Relatively junior marketing execs call the shots over experienced editors, and spruiking a product is sometimes the only function. Which means in some cases they may as well revert back to display. Readers will see through glorified advertorials and unsubtle marketing, and the whole point of the exercise is lost.

Another issue is misreading the audience. Why, for example, does the NRMA mag Open Road concentrate so heavily on cars? I’m a member precisely because I have no interest in them, and with so many female and mature members, it seems odd to publish a narrowly-focused motoring mag featuring bits of travel. With millions of members from every walk of life, why not produce a consumer magazine that is genuinely readable, and produce several different versions (in app as well as print form) tailored much more keenly. The audience, after all, is huge, bigger than that of any newsstand title.

In-flight mags do a better job of finding the balance, though admittedly they’re helped by a captive audience and only preach to the converted. Myer Emporium meanwhile is also a great read, as is Coles Magazine. So it can be done. Budgets are much tighter in customer magazines, but, with some bolder investment, there’s an untapped potential to invigorate them so they’d vie for attention in any newsagency. They’re targeted, offer deep levels of engagement and can inspire purchase for almost any brand.

But content will only be crowned king if its subjects remain loyal.

Paul Merrill’s memoir, A Polar Bear Ate My Head, is published by Random House.

This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.

 

 

Comments


  1. Nuts
    5 Feb 13
    1:54 pm

  2. “Why, for example, does the NRMA mag Open Road concentrate so heavily on cars? I’m a member precisely because I have no interest in them, and with so many female and mature members, it seems odd to publish a narrowly-focused motoring mag”

    Could there be a clue in the rumour that a departing (female) staffer there was told “the NRMA is not ready for a female editor.This is a man’s world.”

  3. In the Know
    5 Feb 13
    2:38 pm

  4. Is anyone aware that the Editor of Open Road IS a female and they publish an ipad app already? Given their readership is going up while most are going down, perhaps some fact checking would be in order in future…….and by the way not all females are uninterested in cars

  5. Ex-Open Road Staffer
    5 Feb 13
    3:50 pm

  6. @Nuts – I find this really hard to believe.

    I worked with a fantastic female editor at Open Road, and her issues not only won awards, but had some of the highest readership results of any editor in recent memory.

    A quick check of the digital version available online (and btw Paul, there’s an App and in-browser version by the looks of it), the current editor is Suzanne Monks. I’m guessing Suzanne isn’t a man. The head of publishing, who I imagine has ultimate editorial control, is also a woman.

    If I remember correctly, the readership was split roughly 50/50 down the gender line too, so the argument about the readership not being ready doesn’t seem plausible.

    Could it be sour grapes on the part of your source?

  7. Dan
    5 Feb 13
    4:18 pm

  8. “Why, for example, does the NRMA mag Open Road concentrate so heavily on cars? I’m a member precisely because I have no interest in them, and with so many female and mature members, it seems odd to publish a narrowly-focused motoring mag”.

    Maybe because members of the NRMA have one thing in common: they all own cars.

  9. Peter Applebaum
    6 Feb 13
    3:33 pm

  10. The last sentence of the piece is key: Content will only remain king if its subjects remain loyal.

    We are still in the relative early days of not just content marketing, but digital and social media marketing as well. As a result, lots of mistakes are being made and lessons are being learned.

    Content creators have always primarily relied on the quality of their content in order to attract and keep their audiences. But as we know, it’s not enough. It doesn’t matter if NRMA, New Idea or Qantas commissioned the content, if it’s not actively marketed across a number of relevant platforms, it will wither on the vine. A website is nice but if all it is is a pastiche of a few articles & photos from this month’s mag, don’t bother!

    Which takes us back to the loyalty thing. Marketers / editors need to know what motivates their audiences beyond the content they create and provide ‘out of brand’ experiences accordingly. That’s the concept behind custom publishing – and it’s a good one. But in these days of information overload and engagement, we have to do much more than create and send physical copies of Open Road.

    Incidentally, I receive OR monthly and in an environmentally UNfriendly way, deposit it unread immediately in the bin. I’m sure I’m not alone.

  11. In the Know
    8 Feb 13
    9:31 am

  12. In response to Peter’s earlier comment on putting his OR in the bin and I believe it is only 6 times a year anyway, while you may not be alone maybe you could be environmentally FRIENDLY, call the NRMA call centre (13 11 22) with your Membership number and OPT out of the publication.