Screen Test

Just as you thought it was safe to relax, secure in the knowledge that you were on top of current jargon, a new word has come along to further enrich the marketing lexicon.

Repurposing is now the buzz word of choice among customer magazine publishers. It refers to the process of adapting – sometimes reinventing – a paper-printed product for use on the Internet.

Repurposing is the latest in a string of significant developments for the contract publishing industry in the past few years. First came the drive to be recast as customer magazine producers; more recently an attempt to reposition themselves as customer communications agencies. This shift reflects the moves by many companies to exploit new online opportunities. Most contract publishers are involved in the Internet to some extent; all express interest in increasing this involvement for the future.

And this is where repurposing comes in. One of the most marked trends in this development of online opportunities is the growing awareness among publishers that material which works on the printed page will not translate comfortably in its entirety to a Website, but needs to be analysed and amended.

This requirement is central to the work of customer communications agency TPD Group, one of the leading exponents of online publishing, for clients such as Microsoft and Mondex. Chairman Julian Treasure says: “We’ve been investing in interactive communications for about four years, since the time, in fact, I began to understand what the Web would offer. It’s a perfect opportunity to establish a dialogue with customers and add value for them. However, just putting a magazine on the Internet will not work. It’s reductive. By putting up static content you negate the opportunities that interaction offers.”

Susan Riddiough, project manager, new media at Premier Magazines, agrees. She says: “People read differently on the Web. They scan more, picking out key words and phrases. Words on the Web need to be written in a more conversational style. Not great big long articles, but maybe short summaries with an option to look at the whole article. The further you get into the site, the more text will appear, as by that point the reader is demonstrating a deeper interest in the subject. We don’t do online versions of titles, though we do take some content from magazines such as British Airways High Life to utilise on the Web.”

The Publishing Team’s publishing director, Neil O’Brien, adds: “The way people read magazines is by giving them time and sitting down and relaxing. On the Internet you need to cut the print down to the basic information, using no flowery language or extravagant design. Online readers want straightforward, clear, concise data.”

It helps to see online publishing as a completely different medium from print publishing. O’Brien says: “Consumers have actually to make a decision to visit the Internet and the site, so you will always have to work hard to attract them in quite a different way from getting them interested in a newsagents.”

Nicola Murphy, marketing and sales director for River Publishing, which has four publications, for IBM, BMW, Mercury Asset Management and Woolwich building society, on the net, agrees. She says: “You have to remember this is not database marketing. You can’t pick who’s hitting the site. A magazine is an opportunity for a very intimate one to one experience where you can get straight into peoples’ hands. With the Internet its more like watching a TV ad where the consumer has to turn something on and come to you.”

Murphy, like many of her contemporaries, argues that a Website and a magazine can each be very powerful marketing tools and that they work best when fully integrated. She says: ‘The Internet is not competitive to the magazine, each enhances the client’s whole message and hopefully gets people interested in the other medium.”

Exclusivity on the Net can be protected through passwords restricting access to particular parts of a Website. Magazine subscribers may be able to pay for selected pages on screen. Clearly such fractional purchasing stands as a threat as well as an opportunity for clients. However Julian Treasure is convinced of the benefits. He says: “The need to make the online product appropriate for its medium will lead to content fragmentation with lots of specialist content. This means you will get a kind of supermag with a defined target audience and you will need selectors who are very in tune with that audience to choose the material to go online.”

For Treasure, the key benefit of online is the opportunity for interaction with customers it offers. He says: “You need to flag the interactive opportunities in the magazine because it really is a perfect opportunity to establish a dialogue with customers and add value. Customers can interact with you immediately and define the content of what they see through selection options after a general starting point. Of course there are ways in which online is limited – you can’t take it on the beach or into the bath with you, and the very fact that visitors will selectively browse your site means that they will only develop a partial knowledge of your product – but there are limitations with paper-based products too.”

Eddie Southcombe, managing director of BLA, part of the William Reed Group, adds: “The Website must allow you to interact with the online version of the magazine. A car magazine, for instance might include a feature with photos, about a new model. Online you could open the car door and look at the interior or open the boot to examine the engine or take the car on a virtual test drive. The magazine is the gatekeeper for the Website to give the reader a three-dimensional experience.”

Other options might include a personal finance online magazine able to take reader data and give advice on the best mortgage.

Says O’Brien: “For Barclaycard online we have taken a feature from the magazine we published in print and added a competition . The reader has to look around the company Website in order to enter the competition. That’s just a simple example of what you can do.”

An interactive site gives plenty of opportunities for real time research to measure the effectiveness of the Website and indeed any other communication to customers. In addition information can be updated instantly.

Says Murphy: “It is very hard with a quarterly magazine to sustain interest. On the Internet you can change information all the time.”

Southcombe agrees but warns: “Although you can update regularly which makes online a very flexible option, doing this could become complex, unwieldy and expensive. With this as with all aspects of going online you have to maintain strict budget control so the whole process does not become a runaway train.”

All publishers are aware that some types of publication lend themselves better than others to exposure on the Internet. At present levels of interest among business users, young people, students and computer users are high and, naturally, many of today’s most sophisticated Websites cater for these groups.

However, despite the general level of excitement about the Internet, few businesses are prepared to take a pioneering or radical stance. They are more likely to stand, as if frozen in headlights, in awe of what the Internet can do but unsure of how to use it themselves.

O’Brien comments: “The Internet is perceived a holy grail. We tell clients to ask themselves: Why do you want to be on it? What will your customers want out of a visit to your Website? What is your business objective and will it be served by being online? If not then you may simply be just indulging in the latest version of vanity publishing.”

Caution and learning curves apart, the existence of the Net means that, for many consumer brands, the opportunities to develop whole portfolios of content online, from product reviews to virtual reality exper- iences, are dramatic, creative, lucrative and just around the corner.

Key points about online communications

1.Breadth and depth are unlimited, cost of storage is low.

2.Currency – Online material can be kept constantly updated and relevant.

3. Reach – The international nature of the Web means a huge potential market is out there. The user comes to you and there are no or low distribution costs.

4. Multimedia opportunities include words, pictures, audio, video, data.

5.Interaction means people can scan information, respond through the same channel and even buy things there and then.

6. Global precision allows each person using a site to feel it is a personal communication even though it is also a mass communication.

7. Flexible purchasing gives users the opportunity to buy the bits of information they want. This of course is both an opportunity and a threat.

8. Unscheduled – The user decides on timing. Client doesn’t have to publish once a month or follow a schedule.

9. Non-linear way of accessing information means the user decides on the sequence of information and chooses where he or she goes.

Source: Julian Treasure, TPD

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