Over the past few years, online magazines have emerged as an effective content marketing tool, with organizations of all sizes turning to the medium to reach consumers.
There are many sound reasons to add magazines to your content marketing strategy, including: 1) Digital magazines have minimal distribution costs; and 2) they give publishers direct control of the content, allowing for brand messages to be conveyed consistently and clearly.
However, even more importantly, digital magazines are taking off because they are an excellent way to emotionally connect with consumers. The lush and immersive nature of the medium inherently draws readers in, providing opportunities to build trust and affinity. This, of course, is the ultimate goal of content marketing.
That said, not all digital magazines are successful, just as not all print magazines are successful. The reasons online magazines fail are varied, but often they come down to a common set of content and distribution issues.
To help avoid these pitfalls, here are some of our best practices to follow:
Quality Content Creation: Make It Beyond Interesting. Yes, online magazines often feature products, but they are fundamentally different from brochures.
Sounds obvious, but this is one is more difficult to do well than we would like. The best online magazines devote serious effort to producing quality content, not just boosting sales, and provide content that engages their audiences.
A great example of this is Red Bull, a content marketing magazine pioneer (both in print and digital).
When you read it, you can clearly see that the company’s Red Bulletin is not all about the energy drink. Rather, it is focused on the things that interest Red Bull’s demographic—including high-quality coverage of sports, music, movies, and technology.
As one writer for the magazine told Mashable: “I’ve never been asked to crowbar Red Bull into any story I’ve done with them. The promotion of the brand comes through the activities I cover.”
Need inspiration? You can get great content ideas by studying the editorial strategy of news- and lifestyle publications that are already addressing your audience.
Make It Beautiful: Henry Luce, the legendary magazine editor and publisher, initially wanted to call LIFE Magazine “The Show-Book of the World.”
The name didn’t stick, but the sentiment captures something fundamental about magazines: The best ones usually excel at showing as well as telling.
Put another way, magazines are often emotionally engaging because they are image-heavy and visually appealing.
For content marketers, this means that looks are not superficial in this case—they are fundamentally part of the offering. Therefore, make sure to devote plenty of resources to the design of your digital magazine.
An example of a brand that does this well is the jewelry maker Pandora. The company’s online magazine takes its look seriously, with clear attention to the color palette, graphics, cover photo, and background image.
Be Mobile-Friendly and Responsive: The increased readership of digital magazines (both content marketing ones and non) is very much linked to the rise in tablet ownership.
This, of course, makes sense. In many ways, magazines on tablets are even better than “real” magazines—they provide the same big, bright feel, but with additional interactivity (and without the need for paper).
Given this, it is absolutely essential that your digital offering be mobile friendly.
The problem, of course, is that different consumers use different devices. Some may access your magazine on their phone, some on a tablet, and some on a computer. Moreover, even the same individual may read across multiple devices.
Therefore, your magazine must not only be mobile-friendly but also responsive, i.e. it must be able to quickly adjust how it is displayed depending on the device that is being used.
Focus on Readability: As mentioned earlier, it is essential that online magazines be visually appealing. However, it’s also important that they include readable text.
Too often, content marketers force consumers to zoom, tilt, or squint in order to clearly see the text of their digital magazine.
This is not good (to put it mildly). It is essential to focus on readability so that the consumer can engage with the content rather than struggle to merely see it.
One example of these readability woes can be see in the Vintages magazine from the wine and liquor distributor of the same name.
The offering itself is great, chock-full of information about wine and presented well. However, the inside pages cannot be read without clicking and zooming—again, far from the ideal experience.
Focus on Speed: Another usability issue that is often forgotten is speed.
Because digital magazines are so visual, they often result in large files. While this may not seem like a huge deal on a fast connection, on a slow one (especially a mobile one) it can be a serious issue.
Readers often have a very low tolerance for long downloads, whether in the context of an app store, digital newsstand, or direct file transfer. Therefore, do everything possible to reduce load time, otherwise you will face a steadily dwindling audience.
Include Call to Actions: Digital magazines are, well, digital.
Yes, that’s obvious, but it’s often overlooked by content marketers. When creating your magazine don’t forget that you are not bound by the constraints of print.
Specifically, this means that you should include interactive calls to action in your offerings. These can be links to products, conversion pages, or whatever else matches the goals of your business.
Again, the core focus of the magazine should be on the content and not immediate conversion. However, well-integrated calls to action are fully accepted (and expected) by readers.
Make It Accessible: Finally, your online magazine efforts are all for naught if consumers can’t access your offering.
As we’ve covered before here in our blog, many online magazines are distributed via walled-garden platforms, such as Apple’s Newsstand, that make accessibility extremely difficult.
Basically, too often digital content marketing magazines languish because reading them requires the use of specific devices or software.
Moreover, because many digital magazines are not accessible via simple web URLs, they cannot be shared easily via social media or even email. This too cuts down on the audience size.
An example of a digital magazine that struggled with these issues is the ZN offering from Zappos.
The digital savvy retailer created an interactive, Apple iOS-based app that smartly combined fashion editorial with product information. Yet, despite being highly innovative, the offering was eventually shut down.
Why? The reasons could include many of those covered above—including too much emphasis on sales or a lack of engaging editorial. However, it’s very likely that limited accessibly played a significant role (the magazine could only be found in the Apple iTunes Store).
Fundamentally, accessibility is so important because it is the starting point for everything else. If a large number of readers cannot get to your online magazine, it does not matter how beautiful, well-written, or fast-to-load it is.