Reimagining Brand Content for the Digital Age

Reimagining the brand

We’ve all known for some time that great content is vital for brands and their marketers. From in-flight magazines to shop floor pick-me-ups such as Topshop’s magazine, brands across the board have been producing their own publications for years now. What’s new though is the way in which readers expect to interact with these publications and consume their content.

The fact is, as mobile and smartphone usership continues to rise at an astonishing rate, both publishers and marketers need to wake up to the changing needs and behaviours of their consumers. The digital consumers of today want it all. They want their content instantly, wherever they are, and they’re still very reluctant to pay for it. If brands don’t manage to cater for these needs, someone else will swoop in and take over.

When we consider the technological paradigm shift that has taken place over the last five years, it is clear that marketers have a unique opportunity to reimagine their content channels and build stronger relationships with their audiences. There’s no half-way house to be had though; only those that are willing to get properly stuck in will truly experience the benefits.

This lies at the crux of the real issue facing our industry today: audience needs and behaviours have changed beyond all recognition, but many content owners have yet to really embrace and reflect these changes through their product offerings. Even some of the largest brands and publishers have limited their ambitions (and real investment) to low-rent PDF-based digital replicas. And while this might be a low friction, low cost, short-term incremental revenue opportunity, it is a disastrous strategy for the long term.

So, what is the real key to success? How can savvy brands give their consumers what they want sustainably?

The most obvious place to start is to deliver your content where your audience wants it. But this shouldn’t mean simply transposing a digitised page of newsprint to a mobile phone. Not only is it a lazy work-around, it’s almost impossible to read, and doesn’t make the most of the interactivity mobile devices are now capable of. You have to design the experience to fit the devices that the consumers in your market use on a daily basis.

Secondly, deliver your content when your consumers want it. A digital offering shouldn’t necessarily replicate the frequency of a print publication. Modern consumers are rarely to be found without their smartphones or tablets, which offer them instantaneous access to a world of content and information, so increasing the frequency of your content can increase reader engagement and open up new advertising opportunities.

Thirdly, deliver additional services that help you extend your brand beyond your traditional print content. Mobile devices offer a plethora of capabilities that, allied with app frameworks, allow you to build fully customised apps that engage with readers in a totally different way to print – make use of them.

Finally, do all of this in a way that will allow you to transition easily from print to digital workflows when the time comes. It might be stating the obvious, but the tools used to produce content for print were not designed for delivering digital editions across a range of platforms. The industry will benefit from embracing structured content, and responsive layouts that are designed to reflow across screen sizes and orientations – embrace it.

It is clear that there is a bright future for content. People will always want great content, and are willing to pay for it if. However, it simply isn’t enough to dip your toes in digital with low quality replica products anymore. If content owners want to avoid extinction, they need to invest properly in the technology and create bespoke digital offerings. The last thing we want to happen is for another of our proud industries to fall by the wayside…

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HTML and the future of digital publishing

By Jon Marks, CTO and Co-founder, Kaldor

Search Google for “HTML vs Native” and you’ll get about 2.5m results. It’s a hot topic, and you’ll find a boatload of articles, many of which have an agenda, declaring that “Native is Dead” or “HTML Is Crippled and Slow.”

Don’t bother reading those. Here is the truth – native isn’t dead, although it is ill. Standards will always win in the end. While HTML is certainly crippled and slow, it’s improving every day. This is because standards are slow to evolve and be implemented.

While early adopters use blood, sweat, tears and a little magic to harness the powers of emerging technologies, it takes a lot longer than you’d think for them to become mainstream. Remember the Year of Mobile? It was going to be “next year” from roughly 2004 onwards. It took seven years for the real Year of Mobile, 2011, to arrive. Similarly, Flash only kicked the bucket about five years after it first received a terminal diagnosis.

Today, both HTML and native have benefits. Making hybrids of the two offers publishers an attractive proposition, where native wrappers precludes the need to use HTML in unnecessarily complex ways. Layers of native will continue to peel away as HTML is progressively developed and improved. This may mean that native operating systems start losing their identities, but that’s a discussion for another day.

HTML’s strongest advantage is that it is a web standard – an internationally agreed upon method of storing and sharing information, so it is not going to disappear. And WebKit, the open source layout engine technology at the heart of most browsers, has benefited from 1,400 man years of work. The separation of presentation and content at the heart of HTML neatly allows for cross-platform interoperability, although this is not as easy as it should be yet. This brings with it a strong advantage in that content, and workflows, are future-proofed. Native apps are not protected in this same way. In addition, existing outside of the native ecosystems is attractive to many businesses as it allows them far more control over things like data and revenue.

So which bits of your app should still be native? Remember that different apps require different features, but as a guide, the bits that are painful using HTML are:

Smooth, responsive transitions - Even the tech community can’t agree when (or if) HTML will match the performance of native apps. It’s complicated. What is clear is that the native apps in the stores are, for whatever reason, a whole lot smoother than the web apps;

Offline storage - HTML only allows you to store a limited amount of data, and the standards are currently a bit flaky. Expect this to improve quite quickly;

Offline advertising and analytics - This might be fairly publishing specific, but both are a real challenge using HTML;

Background activity - At present, if a user doesn’t have a web site/app loaded in a page in front of them, you have no way of interacting with that user. Native apps, however, allow you to send notifications, download background content, or wake up the app based on time or location. In essence, a user can only pull content using a web app, but you can push content using a native app; and

Payment - This is a big one. Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft have millions of credit cards on file. A single-click payment system converts many times more users than a multi-step set of forms. And while there are open standards emerging for this, reaching a critical mass will be difficult. I suspect that, even in the Year of HTML, people will still be submitting apps written entirely in HTML/CSS/JavaScript to native ecosystems purely for the payment mechanisms.

As we predict that native wrappers will die out in the relatively near future, it’s important to be ready for the coming changes. Workflows, technology and content can and should be protected through the smart use of structured data and HTML – but it’s also important to avoid relying purely on HTML until it makes sense.  The future belongs to it – standards always win in the end. However, sadly, the future isn’t now. It’s 2017. And you can quote me on that.

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A wake up call for brands, agencies and publishers

The way people read magazines has undergone a fundamental transformation over the last few years, with growing numbers now choosing to read their favourite titles on a tablet or smartphone.

The problem is that this relatively sudden shift in consumer behaviour has caught publishers off guard, with a recent report from Monotype Imaging revealing the shocking news that 93% of the top 100 consumer magazines have no cross-platform offering. Worse, only 25% of those publishing on iPad were fully optimised for any tablet.

So what is behind this situation and what should brands, agencies and publishers be doing about it?

It’s not down to technology. The tools are readily available to create cross-platform content and advertising. The issue is that many publishers are reluctant to embrace them. Too many are steeped in legacy, print-centric processes that are preventing them from jumping in to deliver the mobile experiences their readers increasingly expect. But they’re running out of time. As mobile increasingly becomes their readers’ platform of choice, the move into mobile publishing is no longer an option, it’s a necessity.

So how can content owners go truly cross-platform without simply scaling the creative of their product and rendering it unintelligible on smaller screen sizes?

The simple answer is in responsive design and the use of technologies that truly embrace its core principles. Today no technology does this better than HTML5.

Responsive design is a web design approach that ensures content is presented in a way that provides the optimal viewing experience no matter what device the content is accessed from, with the layout automatically adjusting for any device’s screen.

This is far from a panacea though.

All this responsive content has to be delivered to devices in a way that is appropriate to any given platform, while providing the best possible user experience. The only true way to do this today is still through the use of native apps. So we need to take the best of both worlds, using responsive HTML for content delivery but displayed to the reader in a native ‘container’ that provides the optimum user experience. The result is an absolutely superb reading experience, whether it’s editorial or advertising content.

Crucially for publishers, responsive HTML means any platform their customers are using can be supported by a single editorial process.

This is because it’s the same page being delivered to every device, which simply arranges itself in the most appropriate manner for the screen size and orientation.

Suddenly, publishers’ understandable nervousness of mobile publishing is calmed. With a single editorial process they can make sure their content is available to all their readers, across any device, to the same level of quality they’ve always demanded of their print products.

It’s time to make the move. Your readers won’t accept your excuses for much longer.

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