Social strategy basics

Social strategy is a term you hear bandied about a lot at the moment. In 2013, it was one of the growing terms promoted by the ephemeral marketing ‘gurus’ that proliferate on the web (you might note I don’t really rate many of these guys that much). To get an idea of the growth of this (largely deceptive) industry, check out the Google Trends below:

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Most of the stuff I see on social strategy goes a little something like this:

  • Define your objectives.
  • Know your audience.
  • Analyse and learn from your audience.

You can see a pretty good example of this at the Next Web. It’s quite a bland, generic and one size fits all approach to social media strategy.

To explain social strategy, you’ve got to first focus on what social media is. Most people believe it is simply a way for people to connect and interact. I think there is a bit of a difference, however, between how people interact in social media vs how they interact in real life.

The best way to explain this is in how people share content: typically, people share content to their networks because it’s interesting, funny, unique. One of the key insights into many successful social strategies is exactly that: creation of content that allows the audience to ‘look good’ by sharing it. Basically, people aren’t looking to share their life on social media: they’re looking to make their life look good and interesting to all their friends.

Of course, you’ve got some exceptions to this, such as when people post things about events in their life which are sad. But think about the number of ugly photos untagged, status’ removed, or the way in which people try to present themselves in social generally. They’re trying to cultivate a brand, typically, rather than an actual representation of themselves.

This isn’t a behaviour unique to social, but perhaps one easier to manage within social.

The best social media strategy identifies the unique point of difference it can lend to it’s audience, then. The Facebook algorithm, by the way, is smashing organic reach down, but it is rewarding those who can build decent user interaction histories.

So what are some things you can consider to build a genuine social strategy?

First, why they hell are people going to share your stuff? Typically, make your stuff funny, outlandish or really, really informative (this works better for cutting edge companies more than anyone).

Second, what are people going to come to your social page for? The majority of people will come there to complain – not to have a conversation with you. Get prepared, build crisis profiles, learn how to manage consumers on your page. Decent customer service on your page will help you more than any really funny video you post.

Third, find out what your audience is actually talking about. Radian6 is pretty good for this. Once you know what they’re talking about, work out if it has a link to your brand. If it doesn’t, then don’t talk about it. The best social pages always have relevance to them.

Typically, I see social becoming more of a distribution point for content marketing strategies – leaving the longer, genuine pieces of content back to content hubs or whatever people choose to use. Social strategy is tough, varies for each business and is a messy space to be in – but if you try and understand social, and understand why people are using it, you might get some traction.

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Digital advertising isn’t just simple display ads – publishers must be so much more

With the rise of digital comes the inevitable scrutiny of revenues. Publishers are increasingly talking about alternative revenue streams – amping up the interactivity of advertising, running new homepage ‘takeovers’, and in general working on how their ads are targeting people with specific needs (see the rise of advertising networks in digital). 

There are two running themes from this model: firstly, they are all themed around the traditional publishing model of ‘display’ advertising (which is an exceptionally print based model, particularly as customisation is virtually impossible to scale), and secondly, they are based on flawed metrics. 

Looking at the first point – advertising is still based around the concept of buying ‘space’ for a brand to market against an audience. And increasingly, developments in ad tech are basing themselves around this concept – how do we better develop and monetize the engagement of display ads? 

Take, for example, the rise of Hearst UK’s content arm, working on how best to leverage homepage takeovers. Or the rise of Conde Nast’s push to interactive display advertising. Alternatively, even News’ programmatic approach to creating ad buying networks for their display ads. 

And then there is the measurement of ads. Internally, and with clients, these publishers and media companies all base their targets (generally speaking) on a few key metrics: views, click through rates, or an interactive engagement. 

All of this points to an outdated model – one driven by traditional print thinking, and sold to advertisers in a slightly different way. After all, the display ad is only a way of advertisers buying space, rather than buying results. Even Click Through Rates are an often inaccurate measure. 

As if to reinforce this, there are a number of statistics on the effectiveness of display advertising. 0.6% click through rates are about industry standard. Around 50% of clicks on mobile are accidental, not intentional. And you are more likely to have a prospect go through Navy Marine training, than click on your banner ad. 

Those are some scary statistics. 

Why then, are display ads failing where print and TV ‘display’ ads succeeded? In advertisers minds, there are two factors likely at play. Firstly, print and TV are not disrupted environments. A disrupted environment is where the methods of switching are quick, and will immediately satiate another demand. Think smartphones, PCs, tablets – content on demand devices. 

The second factor at play is likely to do with the mode people are in when they are consuming content in the digital age. Most consumers are in ‘search’ mode when they are on the internet – hunting down content they like, want to see, want to hear from. As if to reinforce that, Search Engine Marketing often sees Click Through Rates of 3-8% – markedly higher than that of any display advertising. 

Even on social, consumers are more likely to engage with advertising they see. Often this is because it is based on a contextual interest – e.g Facebook, for example, has the data on what you look at, and so is better placed to serve display advertising on a one to one basis than the traditional publishing company. 

What does all this mean for publishers going forward? 

Increasingly, it means that display advertising is not going to be the model where publishers can replace print revenues in digital. And the best publishers are recognizing this: the rise of native ads, for example, or microsite partnerships are a good start. 

At the end of the day, though, publishers have a distinct advantage over the Facebook’s and the Google’s – they are producing content at high editorial quality and integrity, that people trust, and know they want. More importantly, they do this again, and again, and again. 

This means that publishers are more than capable at understanding at what their audience want rather than what they say they want

That’s an important distinction to make. Agencies, for example, often rely on client briefs and a deep understanding of the audience to produce content for brands that aligns with their client’s values. Affiliate marketing companies offer compelling offers. Social media companies align with what offers people say they want. Search engines align with what people want once they know they are looking for it. 

In a sense, this makes publishers unique – they are the only ones who make it their business to anticipate audience wants and needs, first and foremost (agency planners, like myself, do this as well – but we are always compromised by market positioning for the brand, rather than a singular objective). 

What does this mean for advertising solutions? It means that to create the advertising engagement that publishers need to monetize digital, they have to think more laterally – primarily, about how they can use their audiences and bridge them to quality brands. 

Native ads are an example of this in it’s infancy. BuzzFeed is now working with it’s advertisers to create socially viable content. Shortlist now runs partnership emails where it helps partners write compelling content to it’s audience. 

But there is so much more to do in this space. Looking at how publishers can deliver results, outside of the traditional ‘display’ paradigm, is the way they will succeed in digital. The question now becomes: will publishers take up the challenge? 

 

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Marketing: increasingly going to be encroaching on the traditional ‘management consulting’ paradigm

In the media and digital world, the name of the game these days is convergence. Convergence seems to be the positioning driving large companies. M&A activity is up across the communications industry as large holding companies buy up the best creative talent there is.

The recent merger of Publicis-Omnicom only reinforced the fact that there is massive convergence in the marketing and media services industries. Opta, the digital sports media company, was recently acquired by the PERFORM group.

Some of the more interesting activity, however, is the convergence this brings. In a world increasingly driven by creative innovation and positioning, marketing agencies/groups are increasingly tasked not with just creating great creative, but solving business problems in doing so.

This brings an interesting conflict emerging on the horizon: the crossover between management consulting, and creative consulting. And the reality is that they are often two sides of the same coin.

Management consulting means solving business problems by looking for areas in which the business process could be streamlined, refined, or restructured. Creative consulting often involves looking for out of the box solutions which achieve similar goals – perhaps through better utilisation of data.

And as digital is one of the most effective ways to scale business (no production costs, remember), it is digital agencies that are leading the charge into this strategic creativity that they are bringing to their clients.

Management consultants have already seen the threat. Recently, Accenture acquired the London design agency Fjord (http://adage.com/article/agency-news/agencies-accenture-s-invading-turf-big-time/241338/). Fjord is a typical agency holding company buy – but the purchaser, in this case, was Accenture, recognising the fact that digital meant their clients faced a strategic issue as much as anything.

And increasingly, agencies are being called in to solve business problems. Here’s a description talking about a strategy offering:

  • Define business objectives
  • What are the needs of your audience?
  • Connection between audience and your services – what are these engagement points?
  • Telling your story, branding, why us?
  • Communication with audience, customers telling others your story.
  • Ensuring consistent brand experience.
  • Thorough analysis and review.

And here is the strategy offering from another business:

  • What are the issues & opportunities?
  • What are the guiding parameters?
  • What products and services will we offer, to what customers, and through which channels?
  • How should we set ourselves up to deliver, and what needs to change?
  • How and when will we make the changes?

Sounds remarkably similar. And yet, the first was the strategic offering from a full-service digital agency, Zero, in London. The second was a management consulting firm, Berkeley’s, again in London.

What can clearly be shown in these examples (and they are top ranking Google results, for those curious), is that they are two sides of the same coin. And for businesses with limited expenditure on consultants, these two offerings should (broadly) be solving similar types of problems.

But this isn’t just going to be digital agencies moving into this area. In a world increasingly driven by clever product innovation or unique positioning (for examples of how the latter is true, look no further than Apple), increasingly business problems are solved creatively rather than by process.

And for management consultants, this is increasingly hard to grasp.

Watch this space for convergence. I predict that within a year, WPP will start moving into management consulting type businesses. Agencies increasingly are going to be called in to solve business problems, not just produce creative propositions.

It’s an exciting time to be in marketing.

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On tablets: is this really a new publishing platform? Answer: yes.

Tablets are one of the great growth stories of the past two years. Apple, in typical ‘market defining’ style, created a product that was something in between the laptop and the phone. And they are incredibly popular – almost a quarter of the UK population now own tablets, and in both Spain and Australia that figure jumps to almost a third. 

At launch, Apple made a decisive decision to attack the publishing market, launching in 2010 with their Newsstand product. Newsstand was designed to be the central hub for tablet magazine users – and for many ailing publishing companies in the late 2000s, tablets were seen as a glimmer of hope against the decline of print publishing. 

The model was simple: Apple would take 30% of revenue, in exchange for hosting what was probably the premier platform for publishers to work with. Publishing houses would enjoy the same reach they previously did in traditional Newsstand distribution, whilst Apple would enjoy a (somewhat similar) healthy cut to what the old newsagencies did. 

Both Hearst and Conde Nast aggressively pushed their glossy titles onto tablets, each recording vast subscriptions. Hearst claimed figures of around 500,000 in 2011, Conde Nast came in second at around 355,000. On paper, this market seemed promising. 

Then came the great News International experiment: the Daily, a tablet app that would deliver your daily slice of information. News had hoped to get around 500,000 subscribers very quickly – this was the break even number – but the project ran into problems quickly, and was abandoned in 2012. 

A breakdown of Hearst and Conde Nast showed similar problems within their audiences. It wasn’t that people didn’t read magazines on tablets, but that the model hadn’t been cracked yet. Every survey and piece of data was showing that people consumed media through these devices. So where was it going wrong? 

Something not talked about in tablet publishing much is the monstrous challenge of acquisition. Looking into stats, the attrition rates of digital magazines are actually substantially lower for subscriptions than that of print – likely because re-subscribing is a press of a button, rather than filling out and posting a form. Once you’re engaged, it’s a much easier process. 

But thinking about the environment of the tablet itself is where the problems come in for user acquisition. In reality, there isn’t really a great way to do it. On the app store, publishers are competing against games, social media apps, utility apps and a myriad of other random (and often crappy) applications created by every developer and their dog. 

This was a big problem with the Daily: whilst it held subscribers, it had real trouble in actually getting those subscribers in the first place. The fact that attrition is low tells you it isn’t a bad product: just in terms of carving out and establishing it’s market, it is a huge ask. 

Even on the Newsstand there is extraordinary choice – every publisher is available, which contrasts against the simplicity of a purchasing decision. The range of choice actually forces indecision, which as any good retailer will tell you, is a bad thing when cultivating impulse buying. Covers, and content, are not displayed nearly as prominently on Newsstand, which further hinders the attractive content sets which previously made magazines sell well through the newsagency. 

These figures are reflected in Conde Nast – who recently released more data around the growth of their tablet departments. The subscriber base isn’t shrinking, nor has it platueaed in any sense. It’s simply a really, really slow process to get people to commit to a purchase in digital. 

And this seems to be the case not just in the publishing world – apps in general, particularly on smartphones, increasingly have become free. Angry Birds, that monster hit of a game created by Rovio, makes more money from it’s free version (read: advertisers) than it does from it’s paid version. They put this down to a simple fact: it’s hard to get people to pay for apps on impulse buys. The discovery just isn’t there. 

Looking at the sales trends, this seems to hold true across most application builds – there is a far slower, but more accumulative build across sales trends (not just in the tablet market). Unlike the magazine market, it seems to be far more difficult to gain traction outside of actual downloads as a promotion. 

This isn’t surprising in many ways – slightly ironically, neither Google Play nor the App Store have a fantastic search function, nor do they have a great method of discovery. In many ways, you’re relying on users to execute your product promotion plans. 

And this is reflected in the magazines doing well on tablets – the New Yorker (now 55,000 paid subscriptions) and Wired (50% of advertising revenue now comes from tablets) both cannabilised their existing print audiences, bundling digital with print, in order to boost this critical mass of users. And in Q1 2013 this strategy by Conde Nast finally appears to be working – acquisitions are slowly but surely getting to a point where these are becoming viable products in their own right. 

And at Heast similar things are happening – President David Carey announced in 2012 that the company was well on the way to the million subscription mark, with around 800,000 monthly digital subscribers in the US alone. This figure, as with the minutiae of the trend previously, is exponentially ramping up. 

The most interesting part of this, however, is the admission by Carey that 80% of users are new to Hearst products – this indicates again that discovery is going to be critical to getting these tablet magazines the audiences they need. 

Instinct tells us, though, that this figure may be skewed somewhat – as Conde Nast and Time Inc seem to think. Both have adopted a ‘bundle-first’ model which attempts to eliminate print subscriptions – compared to the Hearst and Bonnier model of completely separating the products. 

One thing is clear: tablet publishing is finally starting to come into it’s own. But the market is not as obvious, nor are the marketing skills required to succeed in it, the same. Companies that are nailing this market are doing a few things right – they are leveraging their brands, offering added value on the digital editions, and working out how to use their brands as aircraft carriers for digital products. 

Carey seems to agree with these challenges: “If your magazines land in the upper carousel of Newsstand, you sell a lot of product. If you’re nowhere on that page, you’re not going to do as well.” 

Ultimately, iPad magazines need to recognize that Newsstand marketing no longer works. So what will work? In traditional newsagency models, despite what publishers may think, people were able to ‘skim’ content as they saw it. You could pick up a magazine, have a flick through, and purchase if you wanted. 

Currently publishers are preventing this on iPad. But there is a lot of evidence to say that strong, freemium models that complement a premium model that offers value could be the way forward. Take Spotify, one of the largest music delivery services in the world. 

Spotify has 15 million users with around 4.2 million of these paying monthly subscription fees of at least $10 a month – something that publishers would be very happy to take as a fee if they could. As a conversion rate, that is staggering, with 28% conversion rates, despite having the freemium offering that should, in publishing terms, ‘cannibalise their audience’. 

What’s increasingly obvious is that freemium can drive affinity and engagement with a brand, and therefore the willingness of an audience to pay for the product. And there are some great examples of freemium brands leading the way in customer acquisition – Shortlist, the king of freemium in the UK, is nailing this market in email with their Mr Hyde and Emerald Street newsletters. 

They have grown to reportedly be successful businesses in their own right, and realistically, they’ll continue to be. But the opportunity is in the brand loyalty, affinity and ultimately the value to the audience that those ‘freemium’ models prove. 

And this is a model that was reinforced in the newsagency model – people could skim content before they bought. These days, when confronted with a range of choice at the Newsstand, it becomes tough to know what you’re buying, why you’re buying it, and the contrast against all the other products becomes too much for consumers. 

As a final aside, I’ll say this: the iPad magazines that have experienced the most growth are, for the most part, at the top of the chain. National Geographic, already a huge digital subscriber base in the US, experienced over 200%+ growth in 2011 to 150,000+ subscriptions. Wired magazine had similar high growth off an already comparatively high user base, as did the New Yorker. 

This is telling us one key fact: the iPad magazine market is still very nascent. Marketing strategies that cultivate impulse buys and brand trust are crucial, and aren’t being done well. But once magazines begin to hit their critical mass on iPads, they experience stunning growth – and this is exciting for the industry.  

But for now, far more work has to be done. And the start of that is creating strong, brand focused marketing strategies that develop the value of the brand in digital markets. Make no mistake – the iPad magazine is going to be valuable. It’s just a question of how you crack it.

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Is email the next comeback kid?

Four years ago, email newsletters would be all the rage. Every brand had one: each was designed to push short, offer based messages to consumers. Email was considered one of the best ways to communicate consistently with audiences.

 

Out of this came serious attempts at cracking the digital media market. Thrillist, launched by Adam Rich and Ben Lerer in 2004, was the first major guide to city life in New York City for young males. It positioned itself as a media brand, publishing the biggest and best guides for a young, male demographic in an urban environment.

 

The company had strong growth, seeing profits in year four with around $5 million in revenue. Not bad for a small, email based business.

 

In 2010, more spam filters were introduced. Gmail, with one of the best spam filters in the world, began to seriously take form. Other email services, like Yahoo! and Hotmail, played catch up.

 

In short: Gmail had recognized a key consumer demand (among a myriad of other things they did exceptionally well): consumers were getting tired of email newsletters. Open rates declined a full 5% year on year until 2012. And click through rates, as a trend, also declined – a full 20% from their previous figures.

 

For something so prevalent, this became quite significant. Throw into the mix a slowing rate of receiving emails, and it became clear that the platform was looking at a subtle reinvention of itself from 2011 onward.

 

And companies like Thrillist responded. In 2010, Inc Magazine named Thrillist as number 93 on the fastest growing privately owned companies. In May 2010, Thrillist recognised that it’s reach could drive e-commerce sales, acquiring online retailer JackThreads, tying it to the Thrillist subscription service.

 

This all happened to coincide with the growth of another medium: social media. Social media began to rapidly replace email as the daily social communication tool, and this accelerated in 2010 – with more people visiting Facebook than Google in March of that year. This became indicative of the dominance of social media.

 

Email became, then, the medium of choice for one to one, longform communication – important information that a user would want to be aware of on a day to day basis. More consumers place value on an email over a Facebook message – a fact which should not be ignored by advertisers fixated on social media.

 

2011 saw Thrillist go to new heights, with the company seeing at least $40 million in revenue that year with projections skyrocketing. E-commerce through the JackThreads brand had suddenly become a huge growth area, with the buying impulse created by Thrillist linked to the transaction provided by JackThreads.

 

Credit to Colin Morrison here – who aptly put it as ‘media is retail and retail is media’.

 

Emails were generally used to promote articles by the major media brands – IGN, for example, sent out regular daily updates with articles that were segmented by audience. They had not yet followed the example of Thrillist in providing a targeted offering for their audiences, linked to daily consumption habits.

 

That isn’t to say email publishing was all rosy in this period – in fact, one of the declining stories has been the DailyCandy brand, another New York e-newsletter. Launched in 2000 and picked up by ComCast in 2008 for a cool $125 million, it quickly became one of the biggest stories.

 

In late 2009, however, it was forced to shut down much of the overseas operation, including the flash sales arm of the site “Swirl”. Why? Likely because it didn’t gel with the operation – the direct buy was too forced. That isn’t to say this is a venture without growth, just at this stage, it needs to reinvent.

 

Thrillist saw the opportunity to create a club, or a members lifestyle, around e-commerce – allowing members to feel as if they were buying into a brand. Swirl (DailyCandy), with their flash sales, didn’t allow the level of trendsetter exclusivity that their brand offered.

 

In short, flash sales were incongruent with the ‘trendsetter’ view that DailyCandy had of itself – hence, the launch never kicked off properly. For an audience that placed a high value on being socially aware, flash sales did very little to prove that they were in a ‘trend-setter’ environment.

 

Contrast this to Thrillist, and you can see the difference. Thrillist created a brand, DailyCandy looked for alternative revenue models.

 

With email increasingly becoming more valuable, more of these trendsetter type emails are beginning to appear. Email is remaking itself into a form of premium communication – with social media handling the day to day, email suddenly becomes the source of all your ‘need to know’ information.

 

And as spam filters have become increasingly stricter, consumers have begun to trust the medium as providing what they genuinely would like to see.

 

Urban Walkabout launched Urban Talkabout in 2011, an email only page of ‘editorial’ which placed emphasis on places to go out, to see and things to do. It was email only, and designed to reach into the inbox of people every day – part of a growing strategy to surround audiences in digital for their products.

 

Using their already paid for distribution, they promoted this heavily, using it to gain a daily, unique traction for their audience. As a concept it had two major strengths: one, it had a greater value to advertisers (daily reach, digital metrics), and two, the audience would appreciate the communication more.

 

In 2011, Shortlist Media saw a similar opportunity, recognizing the power of a daily reach without the traditional print production costs media dailies used to rely upon. Shortlist already published two targeted (and free) weekly magazines, Shortlist and Stylist, but in digital it did not have the same day to day presence.

 

The concept was simple: create a page of day to day editorial that would be appreciated as a guide by consumers. And it recognized a big flaw in digital strategies thus far: they relied upon users to come to them, rather than going out to users instead.

 

Emerald Street became the first launch: a daily email for working women in the ABC1 target market. It played off as a splinter brand to Stylist, launching off the strength of the group to promote it.

 

Giving a page of consistent editorial that was kept to a high quality meant that users had a reason to be familiar with the brand and look at it, being in their inbox every morning meant they didn’t have to actively search for it. With a time poor audience who had so many options in digital, this was critical to ensuring they revolved around the Emerald Street (and therefore the Stylist) brand.

 

Strategy director Tim Ewington summarized the opportunity as such “Email is a medium with which young women spend more time than even television than the working week.” What he neglected to say, but what he likely knows, is it is also a medium which is has seen an increasing value with the contrast against social media.

 

And with over 80,000+ subscribers, combined with open rates between 42% and 48%, the medium clearly works.

 

With the increased value of email, it is clear that the medium is being reinvented into a premium form of communication. With the right content, editorial and strategy, email promises to be the best way to reach on audience on a daily basis.

 

Building it into a channel in it’s own right is critical to engaging time poor audiences who have little to no need to navigate toward a central website. Getting it right is about making the email the go to source of information – whether that be hear it first gossip, best places to go out, or any number of other topics – email has to be about being ahead of the trend.

 

In 2013, look for the growth of well targeted email dailies that exist in their own right. It is one growth area that for media companies, cannot be ignored. It’s value as a first in, cheap and effective way of reaching an audience cannot be understated, and the premium  nature of the medium is increasingly important in a fragmented landscape.

 

A quick summary: email is back. It isn’t the offer driven medium it was, but rather the trendsetting medium it should have been. And it’s something that brands, and publishers, must consider to revitalize their digital strategies. 

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Has distribution fundamentally shifted towards audiences?

Once upon a time, in the age of print, you had the newsstand. Magazines were put on shelves through unique distribution deals – in Australia, for example, distribution deals have existed between the likes of Bauer, Pacific and News with groups such as the Australian Newsagents Federation.

They built strong, locked up distribution networks that saw dominant publishing monopolies and large scale distributions become the necessity for the media industry. And it meant that consumers, who by and large only saw publications through major newsagents, had all their demand funneled through the newsagent model.

It meant that the process of ‘discovery’ – or finding a media product that you did not previously know about, was largely limited to what you saw inside of a newsstand, and it meant that this process of discovery was tightly controlled by dominant publishers.

This meant that things like covers, mastheads and subscriptions became crucial to making a magazine profitable, and ensuring it hit a mainstream, newsstand dependent demographic. It also meant, psychologically, it was hard to sell subjects that were not socially conventional – to discover a magazine, or media product, you generally either did it at the Television (monopoly) or newsstand (monopoly).

Flash forward to today.

Today, discovery has been fundamentally shifted. You’ve got social media, the digital app store (which uses micro targeting/advertising to make recommendations to audiences), email, search engines to compete with.

This isn’t to mention the increasingly diminished costs of print and the targeting it generates: leading to the rise of the freemium brand of magazine (think titles like mx in Australia, Shortlist and the Evening Standard in the UK).

All of these have shifted the discovery process away from the traditional, and tightly controlled, newsstand model – in the process democratising the media landscape further. So what does this mean for media publishing?

Well, for one, it means that there is going to be more of a multi-channel purpose. Your product, in itself, now takes on far greater importance than before against your newsstand deal. Working out how to disseminate your product in the most efficient way suddenly becomes the new aim of the game.

Take one of my often used examples: Shortlist. They knew that their product was a free men’s weekly – and that social would be an important way to showcase this interest. They host covers and post articles in digital, distribute free weekly and create a product built around an audience.

In other words, rather than relying on an audience that is coming to them, they go to their audience. It’s a remarkably efficient way of publishing that means the audience is engaged, you understand their aggregate points and match your media alongside that journey.

Another great example of this is a less insurgent brand: Esquire. In recent years, Esquire have worked out that their product is not just a ‘media’ specific brand, but instead meets a lifestyle need. They’ve pushed out apps, iPad stores, strong social and a product line.

Now, Esquire creates ties, furniture and consumer goods based off its brand. It saw an audience need and it met it.

The key lesson is that publishing has changed – and for magazines, focusing on the newsstand no longer can be the priority. When digital gives you so many ways to circumvent traditional distribution, and so many ways to get closer to your audience, it means that you can more aggressively target them.

What does this mean for the future? Well, expect an element of media creation and products to be built around creating and generating distribution. This means thinking about social content, talkability, daily reach and mapping out the content journey of a media product – thinking about how it touches your audience throughout their media consumption habits.

Getting this right will be the foundation for the future of media – rather than the traditional newsstand tactics of the past. It will mean having a focus on building multi-channel touchpoints to ensure interest in your brand, rather than trying to hook audiences at a single aggregation point.

In essence, distribution of the future is simple: build it around your audiences. And that is exactly what the best companies in the world are now doing.  

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Is email going to be a future publishing channel?

Any avid blog readers will know about my appreciation for the Shortlist media model[1]. One of the emails that have worked exceptionally well has been the daily Mr Hyde and Stylist email.

Email marketing in general has been on the radar for years. Cheaper than direct to mail, they very often had a pretty standard subject line designed to get through subject lines. Most publishing websites used email to encourage existing users to come onto the site as part of their daily routine.

Looking at the broad trends, there is an interesting juxtaposition. Email open rates have increased from 22% to 25.6% at the end of 2009, but email click through rates have declined from 5.9% to 4.4% on average[2] according to Epsilon.

As a statistic, this seems to be in opposite. In the UK, however, there are similarly low figures – an open rate of only 21.47% against a click through rate of only 3.16%[3]. More interestingly was the way that in this sector, publishing bucked the trend – achieving almost 25% more than their competitors on average with 4.26% click through rate against a 21.52% open rate.

That’s a lot of difference between comparative industries – and one possible answer as to why is that publishers are able to create the subject lines and brand that enables the trust for people to engage with their EDMs.

Moreover, there are good news for advertisers: 67% of customers were willing, according to Clickz marketer Mike Hotz, to give email addresses to receive discounts and promotions. A further 57% ‘say they are more apt to buy a product in store after receiving an email’.

So before we even consider click through rates, there are some strong arguments to say that email is still an incredibly valuable and underrated tool in marketing.

And yet 61% of emails are considered non-essential by consumers. 49% of consumers subscribe to 1-10 brands, and 34% choose to receive 6 emails per day from brands that they trust[4]. This tells you that for brands – engagement and trust is important.

Publishers traditionally used their ‘impartial’ status as marketers, but not direct marketers, as a great skill to be able to generate trust in their audience – perhaps why they generate a higher click through rate than other industries.

What these statistics show is an astounding range of possibilities for the email publisher. Generally speaking, brands themselves can be far too defined to warrant an entire email of consumption – and Shortlist has shown there is a demand for a strong, daily email which can instead select and curate the brand stories you should be hearing about, wrapped around content that you are interested in.

So what is the future of the email with regards to publishers? Well, the opportunity lies in creating a compelling product that curates the content that consumers are looking for. Trust will be critical here – trust that the EDM not just delivers them relevant and engaging content, but content that will work.

For advertisers, this offering will be compelling – a way to cut through the traditional brand noise whilst maintaining a sense of product authenticity. For consumers, they get the news, content and information they want, in a convenient, easy to read format. And for publishers, they create a new channel of engagement – one that can draw people back to aggregating around their website.

In 2013, look for email publishers. They will be the ones creating waves – using email to create a strong, digitally based reach into consumers’ lives.

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