One of the biggest struggles custom publishers have with their clients is finding the balance between what the client wants to sell and what the reader wants to know. This is less of a problem for people who create conventional publications, where the reader is the prime target and the wall between church and state stands relatively unbreached. And this is less of a problem for people who create ads or brochures, where the sales message is always out in front. Custom publishing stands somewhere in between, walking the tightrope between reader needs and client demands.
However, recent Roper Public Affairs & Media/Custom Publishing Council research
demonstrates that readers do, in fact, turn to custom publications for information, not for sales pitches, and it’s the fact that these readers find the information they’re seeking in custom media that makes nearly three-quarters of American consumers say they’d rather read about a company in a collection of articles than in a traditional advertisement. The success of this approach to brand positioning has led more than two-thirds of those respondents to say that receiving this information, via custom media, has had a positive impact on their purchase decisions—the key to the heart of any custom publisher’s client.
And this good news—for both publishers and marketers—appears to be the case whether that custom publication is presented in print or electronic form, whether it takes the shape of a website, an ezine, an email, a blog, a text message, or a Twitter stream.
At the Custom Publishing Council’s second annual Custom Content Conference back in March, speaker after speaker made the same point: If brands are going to engage customers, they have to provide service and information from behind the spotlight, understanding that if the reader’s needs are served, theirs will be too. This is all good ammunition for publishers looking to make the case for reader-driven content with their clients.
Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott made the point, for example, that hotel websites are generally “egotistical” in how they describe their services. They aren’t focused on the guest’s needs, he said, but on how the hotel wants to portray itself. “You have to lose control,” he said, and give it to the audience.
Brand Autopsy’s “marketingologist” John Moore echoed that argument, saying that custom publishers need to help their clients learn to treat the Internet
“as an extension of the marketing department: listen to and leverage [customer] opinions.” Who does this well? Moore cited Dell, which monitors blogs and responds to them, and Zappos, which, he says, has “Twitter baked into its culture.”
“Having the brand front and center detracts from the experience of using a website,” said Hillel Cooperman, founder of Jackson Fish Market, a Seattle-based company that traffics in “branded software experiences.” It’s important to “support the effort, not dominate it,” Cooperman said. He criticized companies like Budweiser, which produced the now-defunct Bud TV
and was surprised when people didn’t show up to watch commercials, while praising the Nike Plus
effort, which provides advice, access to online communities, and information on local sports competitions.
For many marketers, ceding the spotlight to consumers may feel risky. What if the message or the brand gets lost in the process? Don’t worry: If marketers – with the help of custom-publishing partners – can provide information people want, their customers will help them to tell their story. And that’s critical. As Moore put it, “buzz doesn’t create evangelists; evangelists create buzz.” And evangelical customers are the best advertisers any company has.
Mike Winkleman is chairman of the Custom Publishing Council and president of Dobbs Ferry, NY-based Leverage Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.