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How we grew a blockbuster 5 million views on the Cineworld blog

Branded Content SEO January 25, 2018

Blogging is now 20 years old, and has proved to be an endlessly adaptable tool for digital content marketing. Our biggest branded blog project to date, for leading cinema chain Cineworld, has been a fascinating experience with lots of learnings we’re happy to share.

We’ve been working on the blog since early 2013, and in five fast-moving years we have refined the strategy several times. At the end of 2017, we hit a key milestone: 5 million page views. That level of traffic has prompted £250k in ticket purchases, and assisted in another £750k conversions, all delivered by one dedicated content producer in our team. Here’s the story.

Getting started: brand differentation

The blog began in 2013 as an exercise in SEO and brand differentiation. Cinema-goers are frequently brand-blind: they go to their local or best-equipped cinema whether it’s an Odeon, Vue or Cineworld. So Cineworld wanted to link their brand with key movie titles and prompt more frequent cinema-going among their 18-34-year-old customers (who received content through weekly e-shots). The blog was hosted on Cineworld’s existing website and revolved around several pieces of new, feature and propositional content hosted daily. It began with four pieces a day, then swelled to five and eventually six.

Content on the blog is designed to achieve a range of different aims: to respond to breaking news stories (e.g. the release of The Last Jedi trailer), engage readers with feature ideas (e.g. Tom Hardy’s greatest roles) and reinforce aspects of Cineworld’s branding (particularly their all-you-can-watch Unlimited proposition).

Planning content: priorities, SEO and reactive posts

Cineworld cinemas host hundreds of films a year, but the blog focuses on priority films – the likely big sellers. Forthcoming movies are assigned a weighting, and we allocate an appropriate number of posts to them over the several month ‘lifespan’ of the movies. The posts take viewers on a journey from pre-awareness to awareness and up to and beyond the release of the movie itself. (E.g. The Last Jedi title is announced/The Last Jedi ticket booking open/The Last Jedi questions we want answered)

Alongside this backbone of forward-planned content, we also produce more reactive posts for Cineworld’s social media audience, who demand breaking news content as and when it comes in (check out the 2018 BAFTA nominations).

And we work closely with Cineworld’s SEO teams to strategically map clusters of keywords, around which we can plan content in our in-house editorial meetings. (Keyword research revealed, for example, that fan theories are one particular cluster that rank well.

Content formats that work

Our blog content takes a variety of different formats, which are then identified via branded banner imaging. (E.g. ‘news’, ‘feature’, ‘trailer’). As the audience has grown, we’ve begun to incorporate regular posts that are built around readers’ viewing patterns. For example, at the beginning and end of the week there is a greater desire for digestible news content: on Mondays we do weekend news roundups and on Friday/Saturday we leave viewers with a Shortcuts summary of our curated blog highlights.

Features regularly take the form of listicles and trailer breakdowns, incorporating images, YouTube links and GIFs – although we aim to find a balance between using clickable content (which takes readers off-site) and embedded screen grabs (which keep them on it).

News ideas are often incorporated as short, standalone pieces but we more regularly roll three news stories into one post for the benefit of SEO and mobile usage. As the blog has evolved, mobile usage has increased exponentially, to the point where 78% of traffic is now from mobile and tablet.

Bringing in the influencers

The final significant content strand comes from our commissioned writers and social influencers. In summer 2016 we ran a competition for Cineworld readers, asking them to send in sample content with the goal of writing paid content for the blog.

From the initial small group of winners, this talent pool has swelled to 12 commissioned writers, each of whom send in pitches every week and are personally selected to write content. In turn they share their content on social media, boosting views and helping both retention and acquisition.

Until the end of 2017 we worked closely with influencer Jack Howard who corners a significant  social media audience, with several hundred thousand Twitter followers. Jack was an example of someone who spoke directly to the blog audience and we enlisted him to write one blog post every month, which he would then share on his social media channels.

Now we’re enlisting more social media influencers to build on this approach, particularly on YouTube, the natural home of much film content. One such influencer is Dan Layton, who has more than 80,000 YouTube subscribers, and shows how the right partner can bring authenticity and appeal to a commercial message:

Running the numbers (as of early 2018)

The blog remains Cineworld’s biggest piece of owned content marketing, and a lynchpin for their digital strategy. In the last year, as well as breaching that 5m views figure, we can proudly point to:

  • A steadily increasing average dwell time – now nearly 40 seconds
  • A dwindling bounce rate – 21.64% (2016: 22.65%)
  • The blog increasingly becoming a key landing page, accounting for 35% of site visits (2016: 22.83%)
  • 38% direct conversions, 33.75% organic search conversions
  • Up to £1m ticket sales value per year, split between direct and assisted purchases

As the blog enters its 5th year, it continues to demonstrate how targeted content, created with passion and distributed appropriately can deliver real business value. Roll the credits…

Award-winning membership communications show one size doesn’t fit all

Dan Linstead Branded Content, Loyalty December 1, 2017 Leave a reply

The only charities to win at this year’s big content awards – both Immediate clients – prove targeting is the key to success

This week’s International Content Marketing awards were the most diverse ever, drawing over 400 entries from 23 countries. The content being judged included print magazines for airlines and supermarkets, a microsite for a US tyre company, a heritage engagement campaign and a social strategy for a frozen food brand. The Grand Prix went to a Norwegian road safety video. What can we learn from such a dizzying array?

Perhaps just this: that the range of entries reflects the diversity of audiences and channels out there, and that successful content marketing now demands an ultra-targeted approach. At Immediate, we were delighted to see two of our projects for major charities pick up awards on the night, both of which reflect that thinking.

Engaging families with the RSPB

Our portfolio of membership communications for the RSPB won bronze in the Best Membership category, the only charity to feature in the list. The RSPB has long been a trailblazer in segmented membership comms, publishing not one but 4 magazines, for adults and children of different ages, for many years. Many adults still go a bit misty-eyed when recalling their years in the RSPB’s junior ranks, as a member of Wildlife Explorers, the Young Ornithologists Club or – before 1965 – in the Junior Bird Recorders Club.

Our work with the RSPB over the past three years has focused on honing their message to different age groups and demographics to improve retention. For children, we have focused content around tighter age profiles, linked to school Key Stages. This has been particularly successful among families in the typically attritional first year of membership, where more relevant content has improved retention by 3%.

Other audiences have different needs from the RSPB, and over the past year we have also completed a major web migration project to ensure a variety of smooth user journeys through the website. Parents, teachers, kids, conservationists and – yes – serious birders will now find it easier to get the particular membership experience they want.

Finding new audiences with English Heritage

Our other charity client to win at the awards was English Heritage, whose 1066: Year of the Normans campaign won Gold in the Best Content Campaign category. This superb integrated project was designed to mark – and stake ownership of – the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, a milestone in English history. Brand activity included hiding 1,066 wooden arrows around the country, commissioning a new Bayeux tapestry from children’s author Liz Pichon, and a re-enactment of King Harold’s fateful 300-mile march south from York to Battle.

The content supporting this activity was equally imaginative, ranging from members’ features and videos (produced by Immediate) to a Facebook standoff between #teamsaxon and #teamnorman.

Part of the ambition of the campaign was to reach younger audiences, which led to collaborations with YouTubers Yogscast (who recreated Dover Castle in Minecraft) and TV historian Dan Snow, who broadcast live to schools on social media from Battle Abbey on the anniversary itself. The results were dramatic both in terms of immediate engagement and long-term value. Search for ‘1066’ in Google, and English Heritage used to appear around page 10 in the results. Try it now.

So, two very different, but both award-winning pieces of charity communication from Immediate and our forward-thinking clients. And the takeout? Like that historic arrow flying towards King Harold’s eye 950 years ago – it’s all about targeting.

5 challenges for charity loyalty comms in 2017

Dan Linstead Branded Content, Loyalty January 23, 2017 Leave a reply

With donor retention rates stubbornly low, improving long-term loyalty has to be a priority for charities this year. Here are five key challenges your content strategy needs to address

1. Build trust

Numerous studies have shown that trust in an organisation is a fundamental factor in loyalty. If we donors believe our money is being well-spent in pursuit of the right aims, we are far more likely to continue giving. But trust in the third sector is at a low ebb – the lowest ever according to the Charity Commission.

Their 2016 Public Trust and Confidence in Charities survey found 33% of UK adults had less faith in charities than a year previously, following high-profile fundraising and data protection scandals. Furthermore, trust in small, local charities is higher than large, globally active ones, creating an additional challenge for many household name organisations. Rebuilding trust – through words and deeds – is a key challenge for 2017.

2. Beat the first year slump

Charity retention rates are typically a bowl-shaped curve – good engagement from donors in their first year or so, a rapid dwindling over years 2-3, and then a corresponding increase in loyalty as tenure grows.

From a fundraising perspective, that’s “lousy”, according to Adrian Sargeant, Professor of Fundraising at Plymouth University:

“Over 70% of people that we recruit into organizations never come back and make another gift, so we’re caught on this treadmill where we have to spend lots of money on acquisition which most nonprofits lose money on anyway, just to stand still.”

A key challenge, then, is the development of better nursery programmes for new supporters in that crucial first 18 months. Give new donors the right mix of content and experience, and you could have them for life.

3. Articulate your cause

 All charities have a cause – it goes without saying, doesn’t it? Well, no, it doesn’t. That cause, that higher purpose, needs communicating more clearly and distinctively than ever. In 2017’s fast-moving, “post-truth” media landscape, high-impact, short-term campaigns will always be required to get cut-through to donors. But if a charity’s long-term mission gets lost in all the local initiatives, expect donor loyalty to suffer too.

That goes double for charities which offer a lifestyle benefit as well as a cause – heritage, culture and wildlife organisations, for example. If your donors’ lifestyle changes and they don’t value your wider mission, you’ll lose their support.

And of course, that mission has to resonate personally. As marketing guru Seth Godin puts it: “We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.”

4. Reconnect with ‘Brexit Britain’

 How well do you really know your supporters? 2016 threw up new and dramatic divides in British society, crystallised in the Brexit vote, which confounded pollsters by cutting across traditional demographic categories. So better data and – even more importantly – better insight from that data are going to be vital for charities who want to stay relevant to their supporters’ lives.

Data crunching has a big role to play, but so too does old-fashioned listening. When did you last do a supporter survey? A set of focus groups? Or get properly involved in a social media conversation with donors? Old assumptions about what people value got swept away in 2016. 2017 is a year to learn afresh.

5. Make it personal

 Personalisation is the media buzzword of the year, and it raises a host of connected questions for charities. Even assuming you have the data (see point 4), can your CRM system effectively join the dots between, say, a site visit and a legacy enquiry? Do you have enough – and the right kind of – loyalty content to engage different audiences? And are you giving your supporters the opportunities, platforms and incentives to talk back to you? As software becomes more sophisticated, 2017 will be the year when a personalised relationship with charities starts to become more than a nice-to-have. Loyalty will depend on it.

Immediate works with many of the UK’s largest charities and not-for-profit membership organisations, including the RSPB, WWF, English Heritage and the Scout Association. 


Loyalty comms has come of age. Time for a rethink?

Branded Content Branded Content November 24, 2016 Leave a reply

Traditional points-based loyalty schemes are no longer the whole solution, says Dan Linstead. Brands should look to membership organisations for content that truly builds long-term relationships

Loyalty – in the marketing sense, rather than being faithful to your other half, Swindon FC or the Queen – is 21 this year. In 1995, Tesco and fledgling data consultancy DunnHumby launched the Clubcard, with the supermarket’s then CEO Lord MacLaurin declaring, “What scares me about this is that you know more about my customers after three months than I know after 30 years.” The phenomenal success of the scheme gave Tesco market dominance, and spawned Nectar and the whole modern points-based loyalty world.

But at 21, that proposition is not so much all grown up, as looking seriously outdated.

Not only has Tesco’s once-impregnable citadel been stormed by its rivals (led by Aldi and Lidl), but the whole notion of loyalty based purely on discounts has started to look unsophisticated. Today’s shoppers, at all points on the income spectrum, are promiscuous (or smart, depending on your point of view), mixing and matching purchases from different retailers to achieve optimum value and choice.

Many of us carry around a wallet full of loyalty cards, meaning we are effectively loyal to nobody. And there is a deeper distrust, too, of the whole agenda of big data: a sense among consumers (particularly millennials) that these schemes serve the needs of their corporate masters rather better than they do the customer.

So it’s time for a rethink, to develop Loyalty 2.0 – and for inspiration, brands could learn a lot from the approach of consumer membership organisations.

At Immediate Media, we produce content for several of the UK’s biggest players in this space, and have seen audiences and engagement levels soar.  Over the same lifetime as the Clubcard, membership of the National Trust has doubled from 2 million to over 4 million. The RSPB has flown from 800,000 members to over 1.1 million. English Heritage has nearly a million. And what’s more, churn rates are low – typically 15-20% per year – meaning many members are in it for the long term, or even for life.

Now (outside the divorce courts) loyalty isn’t a black and white issue. Our allegiances to brands are a volatile mix of behaviour and attitude: we can still feel warmly disposed towards John Lewis while repeat-shopping at But what membership organisations have in common is a long-term relationship with customers based on shared interests and experiences rather than simply repeat transactions – and that’s the recipe for Loyalty 2.0.

Good content is at its heart. Through magazines, online video social interactions, membership organisations are building genuine relationships with their audience which stand the test of time. They are increasingly using member data to segment their communications, making them more relevant for, say, families or culture vultures. And this is helping to drive specific actions, whether that means supporting a campaign or buying merchandise.  But data and transactions are the icing on this cake, not – as with traditional loyalty programmes – the cake itself.

Above: English Heritage loyalty comms: experience-led, targeted and interactive

Above: English Heritage loyalty comms: experience-led, targeted and interactive

So what can brands pick up from the membership approach to content? What distinguishes content which genuinely helps to drive loyalty from infotainment which is seen for a minute and then forgotten? Here are three questions to consider:

Are you providing a platform (and are people using it)?

Interactions are at the heart of the new loyalty: people are engaged by getting involved. At a basic level, that means empowering your audience to respond to content (our magazine for the RSPB, Nature’s Home, receives over 1,000 emails an issue), and ensuring you’re responding to posts smartly on social media.

But it’s also about sparking ideas for co-creation, tapping into your audience’s passions and giving them a public space for their stories. The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild campaign is an astute example of this; in the commercial space, the long-running Volvo Saved My Life project has a similarly emotive idea at its core.

Are you giving people something they couldn’t get elsewhere (be honest)?

At some level, loyalty is always about utility: relationships thrive when there are practical benefits involved. Many membership propositions are built around usefulness, and through appropriate content, most brands can be similarly helpful to their audiences.

The internet may be awash with how-tos, lists and tips, but there is still ample space for content which is well SEO-ed, clear and genuinely thought-through from a consumer perspective. One of Immediate’s consumer magazines, BBC Gardeners’ World, has had striking success recently with a new members-only area of their website, the ‘Secret Garden’, which features expert video guides to common gardening problems. Dwell time on the site has dramatically increased, and members rate the digital content as a key benefit of membership, suggesting exclusive content really can build loyalty.

Above: Secret Garden members area: driving engagement

Above: Secret Garden members area: driving engagement

Are you relevant to their lives, right here, right now?

Clubcard-style loyalty is supposed to be all about relevance, using data to offer appropriate purchases and offers to customers. The membership approach to loyalty means transferring that insight into the content arena, using a CRM-driven understanding of your audiences to shape everything from tone to timing to localization.

Above: RSPB loyalty comms: building a lifelong relationship

Above: RSPB loyalty comms: building a lifelong relationship

What brands call the purchase funnel, membership organisations call stewardship, and it’s more than a semantic difference: one aims for a transaction, the other aims for a relationship.

Forging a personal connection with members and supporters is the bedrock of charity marketing. Our work for the RSPB, for example, encompasses separate comms plans for four different age groups and four UK regions, as well as a variety of e-shots based on product adoption and membership life stage. Targeted content is helping to maintain a relationship with members from pre-school right through to retirement, matching their needs and staying relevant every step of the way. And that’s a genuine basis for loyalty; something more than any discount card can offer.

Dan Linstead, Editorial Director (Branded Content), Immediate Media Co.

10 lessons branded content marketers can learn from children’s magazines

Branded Content Branded Content, Magazines, Marketing November 24, 2016 Leave a reply

Children’s publishing is dynamic, ultra-competitive and can teach us all some valuable lessons about staying engaged with consumers, says Matt Havercroft

Holding the attention of a 7-year-old for more than a few seconds is a tough job: just ask any teacher. Kids’ relentless energy and freewheeling brains mean they naturally flit from idea to idea, and focusing on one thing for even a few minutes can… seem… like… forever.

Which is why, in our increasingly attention-deficit world, the best content for children provides handy insights for content marketers. If this stuff connects with these most fickle of consumers, what conclusions can we draw when communicating with grown-ups?

At Immediate Media, in addition to our content marketing work for clients like the RSPB and Cineworld, we also have a division which creates many of the UK’s biggest newsstand children’s magazines. From CBeebies to Match of the Day, Girl Talk to Horrible Histories, these magazines have to attract kids’ interest (and their parents’ investment) amidst a sea of free gifts and TV faces. So they’ve learned a thing or two about cut-through.

Here, in time-honoured fashion, are ten top tips…

1. Know your audience

It’s the mantra any self-respecting marketer should live by, but how well do you know the people you are communicating with and could you get to know them better (be honest now)?

All of our children’s titles are targeted at a very specific audience and age group (sometimes as narrow as a single year group), which means that most of our readers have usually moved on within 18 months, only to be replaced with the next generation of 4, 7 or 11 year olds.

To survive we have to constantly adapt to make sure that our content reflects each new wave of readers’ interests. On the pre-school titles that are purchased by parents, it’s just as important to meet their expectations as producing content that resonates with their child.

2. Every brand needs a manifesto

All of our magazine brands start with a statement about what they are, what they are offering and who they are targeted at. These are then used to ensure that every piece of content is right for our readers.

It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but should be a statement explaining your brand/product’s unique selling point, how it compares to what else is in the market and a profile of your target consumer (name, age, location, life stage, interests, hobbies, heroes). This should provide the starting point for everything you do.

3. Research, research, research

The majority of our younger readers are incapable of sending us an email to share their thoughts on a feature. They’re too young to engage with us on social media, and liable to have completely changed their interests, understanding of the world and even, possibly, their personality within the space of a year. So it’s essential for us to maintain regular contact with our target age groups.

To achieve this we conduct reader surveys in the magazines and face-to-face focus groups in schools and peoples’ homes to ensure that we have an in-depth understanding of our readers’ worlds. These can be as frequently as every fortnight. After all, there is no one better qualified to tell us what he or she wants. Is it time you booked some quality time with your own consumers?

4. Make content relatable

Every piece of content we produce needs to be brought into our readers’ worlds. For example, a distance of five miles is far easier for your average 5 year-old boy to understand if its explained as 77 football pitches. It’s easier for an 8 year-old wildlife enthusiast to imagine a blue whale weighing 190 tonnes if it’s described as weighing the same as 16 double decker buses.

These examples are quite specific to children, but the same principles apply to any reader. What do your readers watch, read, like to do? Who do they look up to? What are their interests? How can you bring these into your content?

A distance of five miles is far easier for your average 5 year-old boy to understand if it’s explained as 77 football pitches.

5. Sell all of the benefits

Each magazine needs to sell its benefits hard to stand up against all the other media competing for the attention of our readers. While parents tend to look for quality, variety, entertainment, value, educational value and crafts that are quick and easy, our young readers are more interested in their favourite TV characters, yucky stuff, silly facts, games, puzzles and fun.

Our covers unashamedly sell all of these benefits to both. Every feature has to be clear on what it offers. In a world where minimalism is en vogue, it’s easy to forget that people still need to be told explicitly why they should buy your product.

6. Keep up appearances

What image do you want to project to your consumers and does that tally with the product you’re producing? In print magazines fonts are hugely important in providing consistency and brand identity, not least when you’re producing content for such iconic brands as Mr Men and LEGO. On features relevant fonts need to be used to bring each piece of content alive. For example, the word ‘wild’ should look wild.

Then there is the paperyou’re printing on. On children’s magazines packed with activities, the main consideration is how the paper is going to be used. Is it crayon friendly? Will it be used to make things (card inserts)? For you it might be a question of whether the printed product projects the sense of quality you want to achieve.

7. Make an instant impression

If we haven’t grabbed the attention of our reader from the moment they open the magazine, we’ve already lost the battle. Activities are good for the first page, whereas stories can offer a welcome change of pace later on. When words have to be used sparingly, every one needs to count. On children’s magazines it’s often the speech bubble copy that engages the reader the most.

Engage the reader from the outset, keep things quick and simple and maintain interest by surprising them from one page to the next. These are universal rules for any magazine worth its salt.

8. Good design sells

Beautiful pictures sell magazines. Cool activities and eye-popping layouts sell kids magazines. As much as any journalist likes to think that their perfectly crafted piece of prose will wow the reader, chances are that reader won’t even read it if the layout or images let it down.

On our children’s craft titles such as CBeebies Art, many of the features start with the art. Inventive, audience-relevant design can be just as powerful as a punchy headline, if not more so in the case of children’s magazines.

9. Good ideas should be recycled

If a theme, feature or treatment is popular don’t be afraid of doing it again. Most magazines work on a cycle of content that is tried, tested and honed to perfection over years. Finding ways of recycling themes or treatments that work is just as important as trying new ideas to keep things fresh. If it ain’t broke…

10. Be clear on your promise and deliver it

Cover stars on CBeebies Art or Toybox are things you can make. On Girl Talk, a magazine for pre-teen girls, it’s role models. On Horrible Histories it’s a dastardly character from the past. On Mega it’s something, well, mega!

What are you offering that sets you apart from the competition and, more importantly, how are you delivering it, in spades, to your audience?

Matt Havercroft, Group Editor (Branded Content), Immediate Media Co.