The Digital Future of Magazines?

21 12 2009

UPDATE 2/21/10: New iPad demo from WIRED magazine.


When we got married 16 years ago, my wife and I subscribed to 7 magazines and read them all cover-to-cover. Plus, we’d buy more at the newsstand.

Today, we subscribe to just two.

Both pile up, unread, for months at a time.  Even The Atlantic Monthly, which I find both brilliant and entertaining. I feel lousy for not keeping up, but at least I’m supporting great journalism with my subscription dollars.

A lot of very smart people are working feverishly to restore the magazine business back to health.  Some friends passed me this intriguing video from a design house that has a slick-looking approach to the problem.

As good-looking as it is, for me it still misses the mark.

The problem isn’t that magazines aren’t slick enough or that they lack digital functionality. The problems is that magazines are a time-killing content medium in an age when we don’t have time to kill, and we’re already drowning in content.

My RSS feeder of free content is overflowing with stuff I can’t get to. I’ll bet yours is, too.

The Design Idea At 7:35

But just when I was getting ready to close the window and abandon the video, something cool happened. It’s at 7:35 in.

Now THERE’S something potentially revolutionary and useful: little intriguing chunks of quick, easily digestible content in a fun interface. That genuinely feels like a fun experience, and doesn’t fall into the trap of “but it has to feel like a magazine”. It reminds me, in a good way, of the Babelgum iPhone app.

The interface idea at 7:35, especially if some of the items were video, feels like it has the potential to be a winner.  What do you think?

UPDATE: Micah Baldwin, a friend of mine from The Internet Oldtimers Foundation, had a smart observation about the design which he has agreed to let me share:

“(this design commits) what I consider to be the cardinal sin of any web app today. It creates a uni-directional relationship. Its between the reader and content, but doesn’t take into account other readers. Basically, the concept of social. The recreation of the water cooler online.

What if the reader allowed for communication and conversation?

Now, the NatGeo piece I read on pygmies could be shared and discussed with my friends that I know are into the subject. Time and speed are now on my side.”

Is It Time For The Chief Brand Integration Officer?

10 12 2009

Once upon a time, marketing was easy.  In fact, Ed or Jimmy or Bubba from sales could handle it.

You didn’t need an MBA: the booming postwar economy made even lousy strategy look like a stroke of genius.

You didn’t even have to understand advertising. You had an ad agency to handle all that Hollywood  junk.  All you had to do was make some phone calls, steer clear of company politics, and have the occasional 12-martini lunch with your pals on Mad Ave.

Fast forward to 2010, and it’s a mess. Your traditional agency still does gorgeous TV, and some of their young guns really do “get” digital. But, maybe their digital offering isn’t as good as agencies that were born digital.

So, how do you manage this?

You can do what most marketers do and work with a crazy-quilt of agencies. You’ll have a traditional agency for TV. Another that does paid search, one that does social media, one that does mobile, one that does PR, digital ad infinitum.  You’ll get best-of-breed thinking, but you’ll spend a lot of time playing coordinator and referee. Oh, and trying to coordinate all the data from these disparate efforts will be a ginormous pain in the shorts.

Or you can go with a “we-do-it-all” interactive agency. They may not be as deep in search as a pure-play search agency, or maybe they’ll be stronger in analytics than in creative.

But at least all your stuff isn’t in silos.

Except… it still is.  If you’re like most marketers, what about the impact of the other 80% or more of your spend that remains in traditional? How does all that integrate with your digital efforts?

The Integration Problem

I’ve worked in traditional, digital and now I’m on the client side. Having seen a 360 degree view of this, I’m more convinced than ever that marketers must take the lead across all these different specialties and integrate them to drive results.

It would be great if you could have your lead agency do this, but you really can’t. No matter how great an agency is, I think it’s impossible to be entirely objective.

Every agency is passionate about their specialty. If they’re not, they can’t be good at it. And as a practical matter, every agency is in business to sell more of what they do. They need to upsell as much as you do.

So the job of integration, of synergizing disparate efforts so that 1+1 adds up to 11, has to be done on the client side. Easy, right? Well… maybe not.

The Overloaded Brand Manager

The job of integration usually gets placed on the shoulders of a brand manager who is already tasked with managing far too much.  Trying to wrap your head around traditional, digital, manufacturing, innovation, social media, competitive threats, private label, and the ugliest roughest retail environment in history all at once ain’t easy.

And, marketing organizations typically lack people who have enough experience across these silos to see the opportunities that exist — and especially not those that can be created.

Is It Time For The Chief Brand Integration Officer?

Marketing organizations now need a senior manager with deep experience in both traditional and digital who is tasked with integrating them.

A strong Tradigital exec who can look at great ideas from different agencies and find the ones that work not just as one-offs, but multiply the power of the overall effort.

Today, 10 years after the dot-com bust, a small number of these people exist. They’re the oldtimers who left successful traditional advertising and marketing gigs to dive headfirst into digital.

What do you think? Does a new position like this make sense? Who ought to do this job, and why? How would this work within a traditional brand management structure?

Comments, please…