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Brands and content: what's the story?

Creative and strong editorial ideas that actively engage customers have been proven to lead to stunning results for brands, writes Mark Lonergan.

1. Let the narrative flow

Let me tell you a story. A story of real, authentic customer engagement. It's not about branded content. It's about brands and content. Because the work we do as content agencies is the most intimate form of customer communication. Our clients' customers are invited in, they join the conversation and actively get involved with the messages we create through stories. Best of all, it works - without shouting 'buy, buy, buy'.

So how do we balance hard results with the 'soft sell'? We don't. 'Sell' doesn't play the role it used to. It is about telling a story, not creating a fiction. It's about honesty wrapped up in beautiful on-brand tales of success, change, life and self.

Content marketing no longer has to be just about the product on offer. It has to be about much more than this. As content creators, we want loyalty to be driven by more than 'stuff you can buy'. We want people to be proud enough to wear the brand like a badge of honour.

2. Expect the unexpected

Ben Hammersley, technologist and broadcaster, once said: 'The secret to engaging with the customer is to make good stuff - things that are beautiful and true.'

We agree. Take these three story-heavy examples of brand vehicles: This Magazine for the online retailer Ocado is about time well spent, not grocery shopping. Live for IKEA Family is about home inspiration, not furniture. Completely London for estate agent Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (KFH) is about a secret London, not property.

These magazines are about values, passions and benefits, not products and services. IKEA has a catalogue to do that, KFH a website, and Ocado multiple ecommerce solutions. We love it when our clients choose the road less travelled, when they trust us to tell their story. It lets us practise what we are best at - giving strong editorial ideas a creative treatment that people want to dive into and engage with.

We don't do beauty without brains, however. Our measure of a successful brand story is one that the audience wants to participate in. An even more successful version of this tale is one that empowers them to be part of the story.

3. Reach above with below-the-line-tools

So what's the future of content marketing? It is one in which clients invest with agencies in a complementary set of print and online marketing tools that work together to achieve various goals. Many clients are now growing their digital portfolio alongside printed magazines, because they know that these channels are no longer mutually exclusive. They feed each other and are a handheld/screenbound microcosm of sharing, comparing and opinion. They allow customers to influence the brand and, in turn, generate loyalty.

Our industry is one of the fastest-growing there is. Mintel's latest research estimates its value at £880m in the UK. More and more clients are realising that they cannot ignore the value of owned media (such as customer magazines), which, in turn, creates earned media (social media).

4. Embrace the new hybrid

The Mintel research also illustrates that: 'Channels such as press and direct mail showed declines of about a third in the second half of the 2000s decade.

Customer publishing, in contrast, was able to increase its revenues by 37% as brands realised the importance of direct dialogue with their customers.'

This shift in the split between paid, owned and earned media is significant, but is the acronym POEM actually still relevant?

We rather like John Manoogian III of 140 Proof's proposed framework for the modern hybrid universe. It's an updated set of guidelines he's dubbed 'mass' - measurable, authentic, scalable and social. How does this work in our world? Agencies create authentic, scalable media (on behalf of our clients, who own it). They earn measurable direct feedback via the magazine, web, Twitter, Facebook and other sources, which, in turn, influences the amount of advertising and media they need to 'buy' above-the-line.

Retention is a major factor for our clients. It costs a lot more to convert a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.

This is where capturing their hearts at the beginning of a story comes in. We help our clients focus their budgets and measure more effectively through established, authentic conversations - a lively middle that leads to a very happy ending.

Mark Lonergan, Managing director, August Media

August Media is an award-winning branded content agency, specialising in magazines and digital solutions.

Shortlisted as one of Marketing's Agencies of the Year, August Media is recognised as one of the industry's leading creative agencies.

Established in 2005, it produces editorially rich work for a broad range of brands, including IKEA, Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, Ocado, Warner Leisure Hotels, City & Guilds, Whole Foods Market and P&O Cruises.

In January 2012, August Media acquired ID Media, a digital agency, which has a client list that includes Renault UK, Deutsche Bank, News International, Artichoke and the World Wildlife Fund.

Together, the two agencies' breadth of creative and strategic brand work offers clients a complete content solution.

August Media's clients include Deutsche Bank, IKEA, Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, News International, Ocado, P&O Cruises and Renault UK.

To find out more about August Media, visit www.augustmedia.com


Live For IKEA Family: inspirational results

Live for IKEA Family is a magazine that creatively masters brand synchronicity while pushing readers' expectations. Its distribution continues to grow: it is produced for 24 countries in 22 languages, and its circulation is more than 25m.

IKEA's challenge is to build loyalty and interest in interiors among its global customer base through a magazine and emerging digital opportunities. Our challenge is to keep the production process simple and efficient, across a variety of media platforms, while fulfilling IKEA's marketing objectives.

In 2011 we launched the multi-lingual, inspirational website www.ikeafamilylive.com and a social-media programme. In 2012 more digital channels are to launch, complementing the offering.

All features are created by our London-based team, who travel the world sourcing content built around a community of contributors and IKEA customers. Live effectively translates the view of an international company into a single cohesive voice and brings a broad family closer to the brand.




Objective Increase home-furnishing knowledge.

Outcome 80% say it gives them good ideas for their home. 72% keep the magazine for future reference.


Objective Drive footfall and sales.

Outcome 76% say that after reading Live they want to shop at IKEA. 58% say they have found something they want to buy.


Objective Inspire loyalty.

Outcome 66% would recommend the magazine to friends. 97% have a positive impression of IKEA.

'We chose August Media because it is a small, innovative agency with a passion for the brand. The results are great.' IKEA marketing team.

*Source: IKEA Family live CRM survey, 2010

From Marketing's Branded Content supplement Feb 2012


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