The evolution of brands into media companies in a content-rich world

Standing in front of a packed house on the roof of London’s iconic National Theatre at a multi-channel publishing seminar we hosted alongside Adobe and WoodWing last week, I was struck by the totemic shift we have seen in publishing over the past ten years.

In particular, who is a publisher these days? The National Theatre, for one, sees itself as a fairly prolific publisher – and yet is clearly far from the traditional definition. As Head of Digital at the National Theatre, Toby Coffey, explained at the seminar, this stems from its content-led marketing strategy and the launch of its app - called ‘Backstage’ – which we built for them. As a result, every month they are now delivering hours of content – be it written, video, photos or audio. 

Interestingly, this change in the definition of publishing was reflected in the audience too which comprised major advertisers as much as major media brands; in addition, Rupert Knowles, Senior Solution Consultant at Adobe, showed some fantastic examples of brand websites that have evolved to talk to their customers in the same way that media companies do.

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One of these was outdoor clothing company Patagonia which, in 2012, had a traditional product-led website but now has an editorial style website which is almost indistinguishable from a travel magazine. It features its customers as much as its products – with Patagonia ‘ambassadors’ from around the world having their own pages, blogs and videos, plus the ability for anyone to upload their own photos of where and when they’re wearing Patagonia. 

One of the biggest drivers in this massive sea change is the creativity and flexibility with which anyone, anywhere, can create and deliver content – as a result of the new technology now available in this space. Content is the glue that can bind consumers to publishers and advertisers alike and, with the advent of mobile, app based content tools such as Adobe Digital Publishing Solution (DPS), it is now possible to create the kind of platforms that enable them to interact in richer ways with each other. If you integrate into this the likes of WoodWing’s cloud-based HTML5 authoring tool, Inception, then brands and publishers can easily create beautiful, responsive content for any channel without the need for developers. The straightforward controls in the system also mean that the content created will fully reflect brand guidelines.

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For consumers, this is making it easier than ever for them to consume and engage with that content – for instance when they open an app created with Adobe DPS they can instantly access streamed content, rather than having to download it, and they can personalise what content they will see and how they want to discover and collate it, depending on their interests. 

Add to this the fact that we are only just scratching the surface in terms of other technology that can deliver ever richer experiences, such as geolocation, gyroscope and virtual reality and you can see why Toby Coffey was so vocal about the ease of creating Backstage and the significant impact he expects it to have on his business – in particular engaging with global audiences and ultimately creating a new revenue stream through premium content. From start to finish it took two of us five weeks to build it – with me creating the app and configuring it, preparing it for submission to Apple (for the App Store) and taking it through that process. The other team member worked on WoodWing Inception, defining and creating all the CSS styling (specifying how the content should look) for the HTML5 content in the backstage part of the app.

Toby’s team are clearly having great fun stretching the boundaries of creativity in content development; for instance creating fascinating 360 degree photography of costumes (costumes are one of the top content subjects at the National Theatre) and producing lenticular-based imagery that make it possible for fans of the theatre’s dual-cast Frankenstein production to morph Johnny Lee Miller’s face into Benedict Cumberbatch’s by tilting the phone left and right – making the publication page go viral. Although, sometimes they have found that it’s the simple content that gets shared the most – a photo of Cumberbatch eating a yoghurt being a case in point that made the papers around the globe!

However, while not all brands or publishers have access to A-list stars, the opportunities for consumer engagement and brand building through great content, delivered by new technology, are the same. Whether you’re creating an annual report, luxury magazine, website or app, today’s content tools mean we can all be fantastic storytellers – and if you can tell an interesting and relevant story, your audience will listen.