Forgive the question, but does your content marketing strategy ask your audience to ‘lie back’ and think of you?
Or does it demand they ‘lean forward’ and pay attention?
Hopefully, it does both at different points in the buyers' journey. But with everything that is new and shiny in MarTech right now - the endless possibilities of AR, video, personalisation, social and the rest - companies can easily get caught in a trap of believing only digital novelty can capture the promiscuous attention of their audience.
When you’re working out how best to engage your audience, you should think for a moment not only about how they might want to find you - but also how you might want to find them.
Leaning forward or lying back?
The art of the inbound strategy is identifying the unmet content needs of your ideal customer in their daily navigation of the world and being there to meet them when they arise.
There are some times when you want to grab your audience with the relevance and acuity of your response to their need - and there’s other times when you want to draw them closer with something more complex; something, even, for them to luxuriate in.
A healthy content strategy recognises the need for both approaches and capitalises on all the opportunities presented by the entire media mix.
Where are those opportunities now?
As content marketing gurus Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi argue in their recent podcast, one of the most obvious places to engage with people in deeper and richer ways - is in print.
Hang on - isn’t print dead?
The amount of articles dedicated to the ‘Is Print Dead?' topic, must now be equaled by those arguing that it 'isn't dead after all'.
And the interesting thing is, they are both right.
Will print media ever regain the dizzy heights of mass-circulation seen in the pre-internet age, when 8 million people regularly read the News of the World? No. Not while the internet still exists and fulfils many of its old functions, anyway.
People don’t seek out print for their breaking news anymore, they don’t eagerly pull that evening edition from the hand of the news vendor to find out what's going on in the world. That ‘lean forward’ instinct is now served by the mobile device and the webpage. These are the places we turn to first for that vital fix of news - to get immediate answers to our most pressing concerns - to source information quickly and efficiently.
But that doesn’t mean that print has no role to play in the content mix. Instead print is one of the few remaining content sources where we are really encouraged to lean back, consider and enjoy. A format that gives us time to think as we consume, without being urged to click through and click away for that next hit of data.
It's the natural home of long form content and 'food for thought'.
As Joe Pulizzi has pointed out:
“The web is where we go to get answers but print is where we go to ask questions.”
Who wants to lean back?
Increasingly, brands are starting to explore the different quality of audience response to print.
Witness Airbnb, Netflix and even Uber, three notable 'digital only' disruptors, who have all recently launched print magazines.
Beautifully produced, well written, lavishly illustrated - these brands are helping consumers rediscover the pleasures and potency of print - the joy that a physical connection with content can bring and the unique relationship it can help forge with a brand.
But, of course, this is nothing new.
Ploughing an old furrow?
It's a secret that farm machinery giant John Deere has possessed for a long time. John Deere launched The Furrow magazine over a hundred years ago and it is still going strong. At the last count it had over a million subscribers in 43 different countries. It's not a catalogue but a magazine. A publication that helps farmers to farm. A periodical so well produced, full of such great and useful content for its community of readers, that they actively collect and even treasure their back-issues. They are kept as works of reference and as enjoyable, browseable companions - perhaps for more quiet moments of bathroom-based reflection
A new trajectory
Companies have also realised that there's an opportunity in print to revitalise and reinvent a brand altogether. Consider the Arc Magazine, for example, a publication that made welding 'sexy'. Lincoln Electrical's magazine (now with a reported reach of 350,000 readers) made the skills and possibilities of industrial welding relevant and accessible to a whole new generation of artistanal producers and creatives.
The possibilities of print
Maybe it's these stories (and more) that are bringing brands like Airbnb and Uber into the print arena - the unique potential to create highly personal and lingering relationships with their customers beyond the transactions they facilitate and the platforms they normally operate on.
In this format they can speak to their customers for longer periods from different and more intense angles, positioning themselves as a primary source of information and commentary around the topics their audiences are most passionate about.
After all, a print offering arriving through the post is so staggeringly rare nowadays that it instantly presents a unique moment to cut through for attention hungry brands.
Which brings us to another important point.
Keeping the conversation going
In an age of digital overload more and more people are choosing to switch off. In a constant state of sensory overload, exhausted by endless notifications and alerts - many of us are consciously trying to change our habits. According to one study, 7 out of 10 people in the UK are actively looking to reduce the amount of time they spend using devices, and 20% of us have entirely 'digitally de-toxed' for significant periods of time already.
The mental and physical health benefits of doing so are now well documented. And in these periods of digital down time we're rediscovering other forms of entertainment and distraction. Books, magazines and audio figure larger on our horizons now than they have for a long time.
Why print matters
So, print has exciting potential for brands right now as a part of the whole strategic, marketing mix.
With the right combination of quality journalism, a touch of glossy glamour and dedication to serving an audience's passions, a print offering can build genuinely powerful relationships with key audience segments.
And passion is the key here, even for B2B and even in the most unlikely sectors. Because some people get as passionate about welding, agriculture and inbound marketing, as others do about travel, film and music.
Done right, the print magazine is that passion distilled, an object that can be held onto - and settled back with - to fill quality time away from a screen.
In that sense, it can be the embodiment of what Robert Rose identifies as the central purpose of content marketing.
Content marketing is about celebrating what makes your business unique. It is, inherently, about making the business more social and more human.