Key branded content trends for 2012

branded content2011 was a landmark year for the media, and one that saw customer publishing agencies continue to go from strength to strength in both established formats such as print and newer digital platforms like apps. Our most recently commissioned market intelligence report from Mintel revealed that the popularity of digital formats bolstered the industry, making it one of the most robust marketing disciplines, now worth an estimated £88million.

APA also found that ever increasing levels of convergence played strongly to content marketing’s strengths, with more brands choosing to supplement their offerings with multi-channel content. It is therefore unsurprising that digital activity – encompassing websites, e-zines, email, mobile applications and video – now accounts for 37% of the industry, an increase of 22% since 2007 and 32% since 2005. Digital reach is now extensive, with a user total of 41.2 million, averaging 1.1 million visits per digital title per month. Frequency of content has also increased with a third of website based content updated daily, indicating marketers’ commitment to keeping content fresh and up-to-date. This also reflects findings from APA commissioned YouGov research in 2010, which showed that consumers wanted new content daily from their favourite brands. Email is being used very selectively with 60% of brands sending out no more than six content-driven emails per year with the most common e-zine frequency 3-5 times per year. On the basis of these trends, digital is expected to overtake print by 2013. Despite this rebalance of channels, print is still very much viewed as an essential part of the content marketing mix moving forward.

So what then is likely to happen in 2012? Here are three key trends that we think you should be keeping an eye on:

1 Digital magazines will evolve and extend beyond apps and PDFs

For much of 2011, one of the key questions for mainstream publishers was how to shoehorn their existing titles into app-based magazines for the iPad. However, there are now signs that publishers are thinking beyond the iPad. The addictiveness of tablet computers is increasing, and therefore so are the benefits to brands of distributing their content through this channel. In 2011, the Financial Times made a bold move in unveiling a HTML 5 app that enables users to have access to a magazine-like format on their tablet, without having to go through the Apple app store to download it. In 2012 there is likely to be more use of HTML 5 in this way as publishers seek to create magazine style content that works across many platforms, including Android, rather than purely focusing on the iPad.

2 Brands will be focusing more on content than on apps

The last few years have seen the emphasis on brands building apps to engage with users via smartphones. There are still many superb branded apps being launched, and the cost of producing them has fallen dramatically. However, many brands appear to be realising that for day to day engagement with consumers they can’t beat content: a beautifully crafted website or print publication is the perfect vehicle for attracting and keeping customers. This is reflected in a bouyant customer publishing industry in both the UK and US, the success of existing titles and the number of new agencies with branded content creation at their heart.

3 This might be the year of the tablet

The addictiveness of tablet computers is increasing as the flexibility, ease of use and interactive nature of tablet devices has meant many users use their tablets several times a day; a behaviour that we think will be capitalised on by brands even further in the next few months as they seek to create engaging content for their customers.

Our recent survey revealed that 73% of respondents would opt to download a free app associated with a brand over a non-branded paid for application – a statistic that really demonstrates the value branded content holds for consumers. Failing to provide a free app could result in brands losing out on a significant number of potential customers, something that brands are realising more and more, with 67% of those surveyed hungry for brands to provide them with more interesting and exclusive content for their iPad. Providing these free services could therefore open up a whole new world of possibilities to brands, while creating innovative new ways to reach and engage with consumers. 82% of people spend between 50% and 100% of their time using applications, and half of the respondents admitted to having over 40 apps on their iPad. These figures are ones that brands should, and in the most part, will really take as a call to action in 2012.

82% of those asked in a recent study said they use their iPads several times a day, with 57% using their iPad for between one and four hours daily. The commercial power of the free app is perhaps higher than most brands apprehend. A staggering 81% have sought out a further interaction with the brand as a result of using an app, 19% said that they bought a product or service, 29% considered buying a product or service and 33% visited a brand’s website. With 71% of respondents saying that they were not likely to swap their iPad for another brand of tablet, it becomes apparent that brands who create free apps would be undertaking a sustainable investment which would reap nothing but higher consumer interest on a long term basis.

Furthermore, it’s not just iPads that provide brands with increasingly important engagement opportunities.  Up until fairly recently, most people’s experience of reading content on the Amazon Kindle has been undermined by its low resolution, monochrome screen. This has started to change as a growing number of people now consume the content on Kindle apps on coloured screen devices like the iPhone and iPad. The big change, however, for magazine content producers in 2012 is the arrival in the UK of the Amazon Kindle Fire. It is a 7inch tablet which has much of the functionality of its rivals – the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab. However, the key difference is that it is optimised for consuming Amazon delivered content and will retail at almost half the price of the cheapest iPad. If the Kindle Fire is a huge success it presents a massive opportunity for publishers. Not only is it a superb way of delivering magazines, it arguably offers a better way of monetising them than its rivals. Whereas users have come to expect apps to be free on the iPhone and iPad, almost all Kindle optimised content has some sort of price tag. Put simply, if people get used to using the Kindle to view paid for content from mainstream publishers, the device will then offer huge possibilities to customer publishing agencies.

The flexibility, ease of use and interactive nature of tablet devices is one that we believe will be capitalised on by brands seeking to create engaging content for consumers, and will be an important part of the content marketing landscape in 2012.

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By Julia Hutchison