There must have been some powerful magic in the humble two-page spread. I knew something was up when I received an email from Joe Pulizzi. Joe may or may not be the founder of the content marketing movement, but his Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defined it, gave it focus, and created the community.
Joe’s email, with the subject, “Get Ready For Brand Takeover,” suggests a resurgence of print magazines. But this time around, it's led by branded content (or if you’re over 35, “custom publishing.”)
Then a large institutional client sends me what the client considered a brilliant “digital first” internal presentation. It’s meant as an educational tool for its employees on how to do digital-first marketing. It’s also an example of digital-first marketing: It’s an ebook--in other words, a digital file that you download and read in a browser, comprising a series of two-page spreads looking like they were lifted directly out of a printed magazine.
Of course, there are plenty of audio and video icons on which to click and listen and view. But I follow technology very closely. I know that in three to five years, “print” magazines will have the same embedded capabilities--and more. Rapidly, my initial contempt for this retro bit of modern marketing gives way to the synthesis of Pulizzi’s email plus client ebook: Print is coming back!
So I call Joe. “I absolutely did intend to suggest the resurgence of print,” Joe tells me. “And it’s not just Red Bull.” The Red Bulletin magazine, spotted in two airport newsstands, was the impetus behind Joe’s email. “Yesterday, Airbnb announced Pineapple, a content platform it will launch first in print. TD Ameritrade publishes thinkMoney. A lot of e-commerce sites are launching print magazines! And seven of the top 10 U.K. magazines--including the top three--are branded content. But my favorite bit of irony is that Chango, a provider of programmatic advertising software, now publishes Programmatic Mind--in print.”
But why? Why would a marketer in the age of the interactive, programmatic, nano-measureable Web go back to the equivalent of stones, knives and bearskins?
Joe is an awesome communicator; we talked a long time. I’ll sum up:
• CMI’s content marketing research found that marketers’ investment in print magazines and newsletters fell and fell and fell; then a couple years ago it went flat. “That tells me it may have bottomed out. Marketers have stopped doing less in print,” says Joe.
• Today, we can target print audiences far, far better than before, because we can profile readers who are all on the Web, too.
• It's becoming tougher and tougher to get customers and prospects to complete forms around digital content. But an amazing print magazine? They'll gladly read that. A number of brands are launching and continuing with printed magazines because it enables them to acquire a number of data points from customers.
• Research shows that the average reader of a branded magazine will spend up to 20 to 25 minutes with it. “On the Web, you’re hoping for two minutes, maybe. So if you’re looking for engagement, a custom magazine can get you 25 minutes.”
• There are not a lot of high-quality traditional print magazines coming out. Brands committed to high-quality content marketing can have a major share of voice in print.
Joe is the kind of guy who puts his money where his mouth is (and vice versa, I suppose). He launched Chief Content Officer magazine in 2011--in print, of course. “And guess what? The No. 1 thing that the 2,600 people who attended Content Marketing World wanted from us was our print magazine!” says Joe. He acknowledges that the six-times-a-year magazine sometimes runs a loss. “But it’s one of our most important marketing drivers. It goes to content leaders--who have budget. So it’s important to everything we do.”
I’ll end on the closing of Joe’s email, the one that started me on this path: “I believe the newsstand will survive ... but 10 years from now, the majority of the publications you'll be leafing through will be from Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Facebook, and more. You heard it here first.”
P.S.: After writing the post above, I woke up the next day to this story about J.C. Penney resurrecting its iconic--and printed--catalog. I’m telling you! Marketers, jump on the print bandwagon before it’s too late!