Custom content: Building loyalty in the recession

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In putting together ideas for the cover story in the next issue of Content, the magazine that the Custom Publishing Council (CPC) publishes and distributes to marketers, I thought it would be great if we could make the following case: Times may be tough, budgets may be shrinking, marketing may be “the first thing to go,” but if you're going to put your marketing dollars anywhere, (and you need to do some very smart marketing if you're going to come out of the recession intact), custom publishing should be your destination.

Admittedly, that sounds like a pretty self-serving position for the CPC to take, even in its own custom publication. Wouldn't anyone, representing any marketing discipline, make a similar claim? Of course they would. The difference, it turns out, is that many marketers have already realized that we're right.

Consider this: When Jeff Heilman, who wrote the Content cover story, spoke with shopping center developer Simon Property Group's PR manager, he found that not only was Simon thrilled with the custom content it developed with Penton Media last year, but that it has more under “serious consideration.” The reason: custom publishing gave Simon “something readable and accessible, with control over the message. It did more than double-duty.”

Consider: When Michael Scott, managing partner of MacDuff Publishing, spoke with prospective clients about custom publishing just two years ago, they were a hard sell. “The thinking,” he told Heilman, “was entrenched in traditional media planning.” Today, in the midst of a recession, Scott says that “many of these folks are now calling us” with custom publishing “newly resonant” in their minds.

What's made the difference? Why is custom publishing “newly resonant,” when advertising and some other marketing disciplines are struggling?

For one thing, there's the flexibility of the form. Look at the winners of the CPC's most recent Pearl Awards, and you'll find magazines and newsletters, webzines and e-newsletters, blogs, videos and microsites. Different media for different audiences, but each one filled with reader-driven, branded content that is, in the CPC's definition of custom publishing, “so intrinsically valuable that it moves the recipient's behavior in a desired direction.”

There's also loyalty. As Samir Husni, (aka Mr. Magazine), writes in Content, “In difficult times… it is essential to keep assuring the target audiences for your branded content about the safety and validity of your brand, and to motivate consumers to continue their relationship with the brand.”

Finally, consider a recent column in The New York Times Magazine by Virginia Heffernan. Talking about “content, the once and future king,” Heffernan looks toward the day when “cosmetics companies will… start beefing up their own Web sites” and notes that “when advertisers become content providers, magazines lose ads and… drop off newsstands.”

Enabled by custom publishers, advertisers have already become content providers, companies have already beefed up the content on their website, and readers — particularly in a recession —are increasingly loyal to the brands that are providing them with “intrinsically valuable” content. 

Michael Winkleman is chairman of the Custom Publishing Council and president of Leverage Media, a custom publishing company. Reach him via Lori Rosen at lori@rosengrouppr.com.

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