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.

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.