So now you have your customer magazine online. Does it work?

When content marketing is gradually getting a foothold also in the B2B world, it always makes one happy to meet a company that cares to communicate with its customers. Like, for example, one that has a customer magazine. A customer magazine is an excellent vehicle for both creating thought leadership and sharing important information.

A company publishing an online customer magazine deserves a medal not least for having understood one of the requirements of today’s online marketing: the more content you have online being found by search engines, the more likely it is that those who are interested in search terms related to your business will find their way to your website.

But. Stop for a moment and give a thought to your reader experience.

A print magazine doesn’t work online

Regrettably many companies take the easy way out. The online customer magazine is a facsimile of the print magazine—in practice the PDF file sent to the printers. Easy to do and cost-effective, yes, but a lousy reading experience on a computer screen. And there are those who don’t know the difference between hi-res and low-res and simply upload their huge print PDF that takes ages to appear on the reader’s screen. When the generally accepted online patience limit is somewhere between 3 and 10 seconds, there are precious few people who will wait a minute or two to see your marketing material.

Today’s search engines do a pretty good job of indexing the content of PDF files. Nevertheless, a print PDF almost invariably has the same column layout as the print magazine. Imagine a reader who finds your customer magazine through a search term. When she reads the first column down to the bottom, she’ll have to scroll back up to see how the story continues. It doesn’t. This is the breaking point. If your magazine has, say, four columns, the reader experience will be dismal enough for the reader to probably leave your magazine before she’s completed reading the first article.

Many content publishers seem to forget that where a print magazine has a portrait format, the computer screen is landscape. If you publish a facsimile of your print page online, your reader will see about half of it. You automatically introduce scrolling and make your reader stumble.

Clever new technology may be an obstacle to success

Some marketers have discovered applications that make online magazines that can be leafed through just like “real” magazines. I suppose you’ve seen stuff like this. Assuming someone who finds your content through a search engine is really interested in what you have to say, why make the user interface more difficult than necessary? (Load time, minuscule print, text reversed out of a dark background…)

The more easily the content is readable, the better. A leaf-through magazine looks nice and probably has a certain amount of novelty appeal for many people, but if the print is too small to be read without enlarging, what do you actually achieve? Moreover, if you enlarge the page, you instantly lose the text flow. You’ve managed to create an obstacle between your reader and your content. Why would you want your message to be difficult to reach?

Surprise, the net works with HTML

A bit of effort to make your reader’s life easier is always a good idea. You already have the content. Make it an HTML page that’s easier to read online. The native file format for the web is HTML.

True, any reasonably modern browser can probably display other file formats than HTML at least passably. But if you’re not publishing your print magazine in mirror text, why would you force your online reader and her technology make an extra effort?

One company that gets it right is Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN). They publish their Inside newsletter in straightforward HTML format that loads fast and gives a good overview of the content on its first page. Take a look here. No fancy-schmancy technology trickery; instead, tight focus on content.

What about communication?

In the first paragraph of this post I talked about communicating with customers. Wikipedia tells us this:

Communication (from Latin “communis“, meaning to share) is the activity of conveying information through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behaviour.

Where is your interactivity? Does your online customer magazine have a commenting system? If it’s in PDF format, no. You already guessed it, I’m suggesting a two-way blog instead of a one-way magazine.

The more hooks you provide to the reader interested in you, your company and your product to connect with you directly and get direct feedback, the more committed potential you will get.

We’re talking about content marketing, right? Something that should produce something on the bottom line?

Enabling comments and feedback you will be opening a two-way channel. A potential customer who reads your message and may even bother to comment on it will be a lot closer to being a buying customer than someone down whose throat you’re pushing a one-way message.

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