Case In Brief: AAA Mid-Atlantic Goes Digital

The organization is leveraging tablets and smartphones to deliver additional content to its members.

Mobile and tablets adoption is increasing steadily. According to research published by Pew Research Center in October, half of all adults in the United States have a mobile connection to the web through a smartphone or a tablet.

In fact, 22 percent of U.S. adults own a tablet, with the number doubling in just a year. It is therefore not surprising that an increasing number of organizations are including tablets in their mobile strategies to make sure that they reach their customers on their device of choice.

The American Automobile Association's mid-Atlantic chapter noticed that while the print issue of its magazine is still very popular, a number of its 2.5 million members were using tablets to access its Website. In fact, 25 percent of members read the AAA mid-Atlantic's magazine, AAA World, on a device of some sort, and half of these are accessing it on an iPad. Especially because the company's members come from different demographics and have varying interests, it was imperative to deliver content that was relevant to them, notes Ed Kiggins, creative director of the AAA mid-Atlantic chapter.

Kiggins says the AAA mid-Atlantic has a lot of resources that it can provide to its members, some of which like videos or slideshows, are not fit for a print publication but work perfectly when viewed on a tablet or smartphone. "We wanted to give [members] as many resources as we possibly can," he says. While the organization was using QR codes on its magazine to entice its members to go online to get more information about a particular article or a promotion they were interested in, Kiggins says this strategy wasn't as successful as the AAA mid-Atlantic hoped.

In view of this, in 2010 the organization turned to digital platform provider Zmags to create an online publication that maximized the creative possibilities provided by tablets. However, since people tend to read less online as they do on a magazine, the content needed to be platform-appropriate. "Video has been our major mover," Kiggins says.


One of the benefits of an online publication has been the access to almost real-time readership results. Kiggins explains that the online publication includes a heat map, allowing the organization to know where members are clicking and even which parts of a page they're enlarging. "It gives us a unique ability to close the disconnect between words and deeds," he says, explaining that at times customers' answers in surveys don't reflect what they're actually doing. "Rather than ask them to tell you, you're actually seeing what they're doing," he says.

The online version is also giving the AAA mid-Atlantic the opportunity to share more information with its members, and it has been seeing results. For example, in December 2011 the organization ran a video-driven campaign about Disney World, showcasing a video every day of the month. Kiggins says the organization saw a 50 percent increase in Disney cruises reservations and a 30 percent increase in overall Disney tourism booked through the AAA mid-Atlantic, when compared to December 2010. Another media-rich campaign for Universal studios translated into a bump in sales of more than 20 percent.

Similarly, last September the organization ran a campaign about online tourism, providing a video catalogue and slideshows that were only accessible through the digital version. Kiggins notes that these were among the best viewed items and translated into sales. He adds that content is still being viewed be people planning Disney vacations.

Although the organization is still publishing its print magazine, it is looking at different means of suppression to reduce printing and postage costs. Kiggins notes that the company has started offering opt outs but only 30 percent of members want the digital version only.

The AAA mid-Atlantic will also continue looking for ways to bridge the print and digital words. In fact, Kiggins says the organization is currently looking at augmented reality to provide a better experience to its members who read its print magazine and are interested in learning more. This will allow readers to use their smartphones or tablets to access digital media, but also allow users to connect directly to social media and the AAA mid-Atlantic's online store.

Lessons Learned

Understand customers' preferences: Giving customers their preferred content will help keep them more engaged.

Leverage video and images: A picture says a thousand words, and savvy organizations are using digital platforms to deliver more engaging content.

Test content popularity: Digital channels give organizations feedback in real time, allowing them to make necessary changes.