Experimenting with branded longform content

Is longform content just editorial showboating? Or can it be used effectively by brands?

One of the main talking points in mainstream media in the last year has been the rise of interactive longform content. Experiments like The New York Times’ Snowfall, Pitchfork’s Cover Stories and most recently the BBC’s Arms Wide Open have illustrated how, thanks to technological advances, media companies can create stunning interactive content which mix images, videos, GIFs, maps and more on a standard web platform.

The richness of the content hasn’t escaped the notice of brands, and the first longform content for marketing purposes is now starting to be published.

A recent example is the integration of Nike in the Haymarket site Four Four Two’s World Cup Guide. The guide mixes images, words and stat-based infographics in an innovative way. It then also includes links to pages that feature dedicated Nike content.

It is inspirational work and will clearly encourage other brands to work with publishers in this way. So how then do publishers go about creating this type of content?

The Shorthand option
There are two ways of creating this type of content, either a company can build their own content management system (CMS) or work with someone else’s.

Creating from scratch a CMS for longform is an expensive and tricky process, but it does enable the publisher to have complete control over the elements they incorporate into the story and the way in which they are presented.

An easier option for now is to use someone else’s software, however there is limited choice at the moment.

The market leader is Shorthand. It started a year or so ago and has already worked with an impressive roster of media companies and was behind the BBC and Four Four Two’s content.

Its services are invitation only at the moment. Would be users fill out a form and then wait for the company to respond. Shorthand has been very picky about who it works with so far, perhaps in an attempt to perfect the platform before making it widely available.

In the meantime though there are several other ways that publishers can create this kind of content. If your website is built using Wordpress software then Aesop’s Story Engine, which has been available a year or so now, is well worth experimenting with. It lacks some of the features of Shorthand but is capable of producing some striking content like this. The Aesop plug in is added to the Wordpress Content Management system and once installed it is fairly simple to use.

There is a list of other options here.

Editorial showboating?
Ultimately though the key question for marketers revolves around how useful is long form content for brand building and customer acquisition? It is just editorial showboating or does it really engage readers? Josh Schwartz, Chartbeat‘s data scientist has compiled a report in which he makes some interesting conclusions. Looking at the impact of longform content on he notes that 60% of people don’t ever finish an article and that many people will share longform content without ever actually finishing it.

Schwartz’s advice for content marketers is to ensure that the content you create is reusable, for example can you place video content on other sites? Is there an abridged version of the piece which could be used anywhere?

Ultimately creating longform content - specifically if interactive elements are included in the mix - is a time consuming process. It may be hugely creative and editorially challenging and in some instances very rewarding for readers, but as for whether it is effective as marketing tool only time will tell.

Commissioned by The CMA

Posted in CMA blog
5thJun 2014

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