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.




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