Repurposing Content: Make It Work for You

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One of the simplest definitions of "repurposing" is the ability to re-form content or data to work with any media.


An example might be using content from collateral materials to create a direct mail piece -- and eventually moving to more sophisticated media such as CD-ROMs or the Internet.


There are several reasons to consider repurposing content and data:


* New technologies have created more effective ways to reach customers.


* Customers are demanding a more personalized approach. As a result, printers have become digitized over the past 20 years. Moreover, the Web gives companies direct access to customers.


* Repurposing content can improve the bottom line, as new media allow for cheaper distribution to a highly targeted audience. In fact, a recent XPLOR International Survey found that 85 percent of printers think that the Internet will help them save money. Consequently, more than ever, printers and direct marketers are working together to repurpose both content and data.


For example, an Internet shopping site needed to combine artwork from hundreds of seasoned DMers for a personalized selling opportunity. But the designers worked with many seasoned DMers who primarily used paper to promote products and were unfamiliar with electronic formats. They tried scanning in artwork from existing direct mail pieces but to no avail.


In the end, the site designers learned that simplicity is key and created a single format template to explain to online shoppers exactly what the item offered is, as well as how and when they will receive the item, giving consumers the ability to make decisions using the same set of criteria for each offer.


The site designers also learned to recreate graphics or reuse logos because not every printed material translates to a computer monitor. The site is using sophisticated demographic information to create content for related traditional direct mail offers. As online shoppers share valuable demographic data, it can be used to mail offers for coupons and trial offers to the stores nearest them.


In addition to repurposing content, it's important to re-examine and repurpose data as well. The data can be just as -- if not more -- important than the offer itself to improve overall lift response rates and increase the ROI. By repurposing its data, overlaying standard customer data with demographics and psychographics and using sophisticated data-mining techniques, one retailer was able to create an entirely new retail environment tailored to a specific group of customers.


Putting it into practice: advice for direct marketers: Based on these customer examples as well as other expert sources, here are my top 10 tips for repurposing content or data:


* Emphasize the importance of creating a product to fulfill a specific niche. It sounds remarkably simple, but it is important to find out what your customers want before sending offers in the mail.


* Simplicity is the key to creating compatible designs and content: Always be sure materials are easy to transfer and navigate. As a word of caution, remember simplicity doesn't mean losing graphics capabilities.


* Treat customers well and they will be amazingly loyal, which is truer than ever on the Internet. The Internet is an intimate and immediate conversation that breaks down layers of traditional retail and distribution from reaching a customer.


* Use the Internet to help capture and distribute data. Take advantage of the interactivity of the Web to encourage customers to submit information and enhance your variable database.


* Remember some customers require or prefer proprietary ISDN networks such as WAMNet, DAX and 4-Sight to help transfer proprietary content and data en masse. For digital printing, samples of inventory can be placed online and tied to a Web-based order form. Printers in turn can offer a new distribution outlet with little inventory burden.


* Staff with data experience is a plus. Data communications is a specialized field but still prone to the same problems of out-of-date equipment as the rest of the computer industry. In time, adding staff with data communications expertise will be as important as having staff with graphics arts capabilities.


* Identify as many possible uses for the original content as possible. Choosing a medium is an important part of repurposing. This involves up-front design and the need to anticipate all of the possible alternatives of repurposing your information. For example, what happens if an author dies after a piece is produced? How do you know the original intent?


* Remember repurposing takes longer than expected. Some experts say to allow 50 percent more time than originally estimated for new media projects. Bear in mind, there is a lot of re-editing and re-formatting involved.


* Handle all copyright questions up front. Be sure to resolve any possible copyright issues for the original work and make sure to buy all the rights you intend to use. It's important to ask, "Does your company have the online rights to each piece?"


* Finally, partner with suppliers equipped to handle your technological improvements. As existing new media continue to evolve, it's important to work with a supplier that can meet your company's growing demands and help manage various forms of data.


Now it's time to ask, is your brand or service prepared to repurpose materials? Undoubtedly, it requires vision, planning, clear goals and know-how to succeed.


If you have these four elements in place, you are well on your way to successful repurposing.


Jack Smith is senior vice president of marketing and merchandise media for R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., Chicago.
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