This post originally appeared on the PNConnect Blog.
In historical print publishing terms, “Premium Content” is a relatively new phrase. According to Google Ngram Viewer, it was virtually absent from English language books until 1992 and then quickly rose in frequency through 2000.
But in Web and publishing years, it has been around for a while in several contexts. To media companies, it often means elevated experiences that they can then charge readers a premium for. YouTube recently announced pay-per-view channels which some observers called Premium Channels. In 2009, VEVO used the term premium content to mean professional content as distinct from user-driven or amateur content.
At PNConnect we use the term in distinction to “core content,” or the crucial bread-and-butter material a channel produces on a regular basis. It’s closer to the way newspapers and magazines online and off complement their everyday fare with high-profile feature stories, like The New York Times’ data-rich interactive layouts or Pitchfork’s special cover stories. In helping brands think more like media companies and publishers, we think a well-established social media channel benefits greatly from 1-2 breakout experiences per year that expand or break the mold of typical form factors. Premium here doesn’t mean “the best content,” it means an experience set apart from the everyday look and feel, perhaps targeting a specific niche audience within the channel, and likely already benefiting from a natural audience source rather than being the sole centerpiece of a big, flashy campaign itself.
The “real-time marketing” craze… isn’t that what we’re talking about here. It’s not just a topical, well-crafted tagline made into something akin to a visual advertising image to be posted to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, although there certainly may be a place for those in some programs. A Premium Content approach typically takes a moment in time that already has some marketing oomph behind it and finds a way to take a deeper view. Form should always spring from function, but these are opportunities to make that connection between design and material even tighter.
For example, as the highly anticipated launch of New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World hit its peak, in addition to creating the tried and true text-based blog post with photos and videos, the Disney Parks team developed an interactive timeline that dug deeper into the history of Fantasyland, surfacing vintage assets and elements and presenting them in an engaging vertical narrative fashion. It’s an extra wrinkle that both journalists and the fans of Disney lore particularly appreciate, and it also helps bring new audiences to the blog who might not otherwise have been exposed to it.
It doesn’t have to be a vertical narrative like this – it could really take any form that fits. Examples might include a special game, a high-quality illustration, a video, an interactive data visualization, an embedded timeline experience, something that traverses the physical world and the online world, or something completely new and experimental. Or just a thoroughly researched and well-told story from multiple perspectives, in a media-rich layout.
In baseball terms, we think a brand or company needs to have its staple three pitches (its “Core Content”) that it can execute at an extremely high level, but then also needs that special fourth pitch that it only trots out during the playoffs, giving batters a different look entirely. We find this helps to continually reinvigorate established publishing programs, giving hard core fans something special and also providing material that’s likely to be passed around to wider circles than the standard fare and thus bringing in new audiences.