Branded content is the bridge between brand and lifestyle

Julia Hutchison, COO at the APA (Association of Publishing Agencies), highlights how retailers have embraced branded content from print publications to new media to boost their brands.

Julia Hutchison
Julia Hutchison

In April 2010, the IPA Bellwether survey revealed that in the past three months UK companies increased marketing spend for the first time in two and a half years. As organisations begin to find their feet again, after what can only be described as a tough few months, there is one industry that has continued to see investment despite the financial difficulties – editorialised branded content.

There is no doubt that the media industry was hard hit by the recession. However, it gave marketing departments the opportunity to reassess their offerings and respond to the changing needs of consumers.

Instead of merely giving consumers money off vouchers and deals, retailers were in a position to maintain their customers’ lifestyle. So, for those who may have begun questioning their weekly shop at Waitrose, the brand continued to send content to reflect the value of its customers.

Subsequently, with marketers now looking for innovative ways to promote their brand, the industry has stood out from the crowd as an effective, flexible and engaging medium.

Whereas once customer publishers were solely synonymous with print magazines, they are now producing content, which is translatable across a variety of platforms, from social media, mobile and digital video to TV streaming, podcast and the e-zine.

This is because editorialisation can take many forms, so brands can choose the best fit for their audience. One sector that has particularly reaped the benefits is retail.

Since the recession, there is no doubt that consumers have sought greater value from the brands that they invest in and savvy retailers have directly responded to this with loyalty engendering content.

It is the vital role the medium plays in customer retention, which has bolstered its position, as brands look to extend their offering with existing customers. The ABC consumer magazine concurrent release in February revealed that of the top 100 magazines, customer publications account for 54% of the circulation.

In the top 15 alone there were 4 retail publications- Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, accounting for a total circulation of 6.4 million, 1.5 million more than that of those consumer magazines featured.

Whereas once there was a great deal of stigma attached to free content, the recession has signalled a change. Consumers now value free media, which has been reflected through the development of digital and the rise of titles such as Shortlist and Stylist.

We are seeing a growing appetite from consumers for information and they will reward those that provide it. Subsequently, retail brands are blurring the lines between traditional customer publishing and new media.

ASOS, the UK’s largest independent online fashion and beauty retailer is a great example of a brand that has used various communications platforms to engage consumers.

The award-winning customer magazine is in fact its single biggest marketing investment. Integrating online with offline, the magazine was developed to drive customer loyalty and traffic to the website- and it has done just that.

Working hard to ensure that it continually delivers innovative and engaging content, whilst offering the reader unrivalled fashion and beauty choice, the magazine has been highly successful in engaging consumers with a lifestyle that they want to share, garnering a response, which essentially has resulted in driving more traffic to the website.

Additionally, the digital team has created the magazine for viral distribution with an application fans can install on their Facebook profile, allowing for further interaction and engagement with the brand.

The main focus for customer publishers is in selecting the right channels for the correct audience, which means moving away from heavy sales techniques and doing everything possible to accurately encapsulate a brand.

Essentially, the magic formula for editorialised branded content is understanding the customer’s needs and translating these into an appropriate campaign. This has seen far more retailers investing in integrated solutions to ensure a wide reach is achieved.

Morrisons for instance, not only produces its offline customer magazine, which has a circulation of 974,431, but additionally it has interactive content online. The digital version of its offline counterpart features a voice over, interactive page turning technology, moving visuals, click features and video content, which includes TV-like video content of chefs preparing recipes.

Through utilising engaging communication techniques, Morrisons has added value to the customer experience, which in many cases could have a direct influence on sales figures.

Cross-media editorialised branded content is certainly becoming a popular platform for retailers looking to engage customers and increase loyalty. There is no doubt that this year will see brands becoming braver and experimenting more with their offerings as marketing budgets again increase. Essentially, with all the proven success, many retailers are asking if they can afford not to invest.

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