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Opportunities & Threats: Customer Publishing

Nicola Murphy's article in the Publishing Partners Guide 2017

By Nicola Murphy

Opportunities & Threats: Customer Publishing

In 1997, Campaign published an article entitled, The continuing rise of the contract publishing industry. Over the preceding ten years, contract publishing had come of age, fuelled by the advances in data and desktop publishing technology and the adoption by major retailers and FMCG brands with large customer bases. The article was right, we enjoyed ten great years as the drive to build customer loyalty programmes took the discipline from cottage industry to effective, insight-lead and brilliantly executed agency partner status.

Ten years on from this article, I would argue that the contract publishing industry is once again set for further growth and development and poised to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities offered by this discipline. To do this, however, we must address head on, and without fear and nostalgia, the slow decline of print as a customer channel of choice and open ourselves to the opportunities offered if we harness the skillset and experience offered by publishers, editors and designers to plan and deploy great content through a much broader channel landscape.

Technology has created a much richer media landscape, allowing us to place content quickly, engage customers in real time, through their own preference filters and measure with pinpoint accuracy how effective the content is and, crucially, what contribution to the brand’s bottom line we are able to deliver. Print will continue to play a crucial part of this media landscape but just not in such great volumes.

Digital has changed every rule. Now, thousands of brands (not to mention personalities styling themselves as brands) place complex messages, emotions, and associations in the path of actively choosing individuals, editing their own media diets in a world of change and choice.

Content should be the perfect answer for this age: if people are being editorial in what they consume, let’s tailor our approach to create stuff that works for our brands by being valuable to them.

If it can do that in a form that works, in a place and time where the audience is receptive, content is the most versatile tool out there. It can build awareness and affinity, generate leads, inspire action, manage reputation, prompt purchase, and more, and truly brilliant content can do any of these things with a shareability that punches well above the media budget.

But Content is also the Problem. It’s the new spam.

Any brand can build or license a piece of content of any form, to achieve any task, often very cheaply and at high-volume. Because of this, we now have more content for more brands in more forms at a higher turnover than ever before. And while so much content is free, audience time is more valuable than ever. By producing more rather than better, the content business has fragmented the attention of its audience.

In the rush to create and propagate, many brands have forgotten that simple value equation - the Content Contract. What’s valuable to us has to be valuable to them, if it’s going to get through.

How will the winners win? By having enough understanding of all the new parameters of content to not let it distract them from the single most powerful factor in content: how well it connects with the individual it’s talking to.