Print Brands Grow Online: What You Should Do About It

The NYTimes.com’s recent redesign, “Ellegirl” closing its print edition while retaining the online and mobile platforms, and Condé Nast’s relaunch of Brides.com, a bridal content destination site, underscore the fact readers increasingly turn online for information. These redesigned sites to go beyond being subscription drivers to fully loaded online offerings that can attract higher-priced advertising. To achieve this, they need multimedia content and attractive, target markets advertisers want.

These events reveal we’re past the “online consciousness” point for print media. Print publications, magazines and newspapers alike, are scrambling to find new revenue models. Even with well-established brands, this will be a difficult shift. Though many print publishers have remained focused on older formats, new online media destinations have attracted loyal readers and changed how content is presented and consumed.

For online marketers and publishers, this has deeper implications. It’s not just about moving media spend from one platform to another. Unlike offline media, online isn’t linear. So this shift involves a change in what readers are offered, how they find and engage with the content, and how those interactions are measured.

Print media have traditionally offered advertisers reach, editorial, and geotargeting. Although this provides a great environment for branding, online media goes further with its ability to layer on psychographics and behavioral targeting.

Online media enables advertisers to optimize their media spend. As a result, marketers and advertising agencies can think contextually about reaching their target market and their purchasing behavior. Online media also opens other options for marketers according to Agency.com associate media director Joy Lin. As examples, Lin cites a bridal site or a site ranking school districts for a real estate client. The idea is to match the media buy availability to the points at which people are thinking about the advertiser’s product.

This shift may have unexpected consequences. “While overall online advertising inventory may increase,” Mark Stephens, Avenue A/Razorfish VP and general manager, points out, “premium quality inventory with strong brand and audience demographics may be a challenge, especially if advertisers insist on similar features as offline media, such as being the only advertiser on a page.”

As offline publishers extend their presence online, they must consider the following issues that affect how advertisers and consumers interact with them:

  • Continue to leverage their brands. Having built offline brand equity in a publication, ensure it remains relevant to readers online, too.

  • Create engaging online content. Bear in mind online content must now compete with a different array of competitors. This may require rethinking about how content is produced and consumed. This can be a challenge in particular for publishers who emphasize great photography or lengthy articles that require substantial reading time.
  • Build measurable, targetable audience segments advertisers want around relevant content.
  • Provide opportunities to increase reach by adding functionality that aids word of mouth and pass-along, such as forward to a friend. Allow bloggers to link to content (in cases when it may not be open to non-subscribers).
  • Develop advertising units that maximize consumer engagement. Since consumers’ scarcest resource is time, create content that gives them a reason to stay.
  • Diversify revenue streams based on your brand and content to add value to readers and advertisers. This might include related e-commerce that enhances the online experience.

As a larger proportion of marketing budgets follow users online, advertisers and publishers must consider how to support their investments. This means extending online reach with search marketing keyword buys to ensure potential consumers find you (including editorial categories, specific stories, and products) on search engines. For advertisers, this also includes a well-designed Web site, microsite, or landing pages to ensure a tailored experience is delivered to potential customers.

A number of metrics allow marketers to track online media and advertising effectiveness in detail. At the top level, the main factors to monitor include:

  • Engagement. In its simplest form, engagement can be measured as time spent online with your brand. Depending on your product offering, you may consider extending your metrics to more than consumer time on your site by including actions such as quiz taking or video viewing.

  • Customers. Measure the number of purchasers relative to media reach. Depending on the offer, you may also need to count qualified leads, such as email registrants.
  • Revenues. Track revenues to determine campaign success. Consider revenues per customer as well.
  • Expenses. Assess fully loaded costs for media and advertising. Include cost per customer as well as media source. Combine these metrics with those for revenues to determine profitability.
  • Word of mouth. Include the ability to quantify your readers’ willingness to refer your company to a friend. This can be done simply through measuring the use of forward-to-a-friend functionality or by using services such as Google Alerts, PubSub, Technorati, and Icerocket to measure mentions.

Print media publishers are under tremendous pressure to follow their readers (and their advertisers) online. Though print media still provide a viable offline media environment, particularly for branding, online media consumption is a different challenge. Publishers must provide an online brand extension that uses online formats to create a version of their product that’s refocused to be engaging and appealing to target audiences.

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