5 Ways to Describe (and Understand) Custom Content

Custom content, also known as “custom publishing,” “content marketing” and sometimes loosely by the term “special sections,” has emerged as one of the fastest growing fields in the media industry. In fact, acording to a recent study, nine out of 10 organizations use content marketing.

Most readers will benefit from good custom content without even knowing what it is. Those who specialize in it (I’m happy to be one.) know it when they see it. Trouble is, it’s often difficult to describe.

Yet, I find myself being asked to explain it more often than ever these days. A useful, detailed explanation of custom content can be found here. If you need a more abbreviated version, try these five key descriptors.

  1. Custom content is original content, usually in the form of a glossy magazine, mailer or web article that is produced as part of a company’s overall marketing plan. Lowe’s, USAA, Delta Airlines, Whole Foods and countless other companies in industries across the board publish some sort of custom content aimed at reaching readers who might use their products and services.
  2. Custom content is usually produced by a skilled editorial or marketing team, not by the company commissioning the piece. Most major publishing houses, including Rodale, Conde´ Nast and Meredith Corporation have custom-publishing divisions that exist solely to make custom content. Independent companies also exist for this purpose.
  3. Custom content isn’t new. While it may seem like a phenomenon that’s emerged in the past ten years, the custom-content model has been in use for a long time. Check out this video for more on that.
  4. Good custom content employs high standards. Because custom content is produced in part for marketing purposes, it is not, by definition, editorial work. However, good custom content must work just as hard. It’s well-known that readers will reject content that isn’t beautiful, interesting, useful or true. In that spirit, Lowe’s Creative Ideas has given readers useful advice on DIY home projects for more than ten years. Kraft foods publishes easy, affordable recipes for busy families in its Food & Family magazine. Good custom content is original and developed by skilled authorities in their chosen field.
  5.  Custom content can be reader-focused, business-to-business or both. Some custom magazines are designed to reach audiences within a specific industry. The Gemological Institute of America publishes a quarterly magazine for its members that covers industry trends and educational opportunities. I work on a magazine for Meadow Gold Dairies in Honolulu that’s designed to reach both the company’s members and Hawaii families.

Comments, please! How do you define custom content? How does it fit (or not fit) into today’s changing media landscape?

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