Savvy brands know that traditional marketing just doesn’t cut it anymore. Consumers don’t want to read advertising – they want interesting, engaging content.
Which is why custom publishing – or content marketing as it is now more likely to be called – is acknowledged as an important part of the communications strategy of many big brands from a variety of industries.
PHD media agency managing director Wayne Bishop says content marketing is huge overseas. “In Germany, for example, there aren’t many major brands without a magazine – even McDonald’s has one.” In South Africa, custom titles are associated with services like medical aid, the AA [Automobile Association] or a retail club and are mailed to clients and subscribers. There are also titles linked with retailers that are available on shelves next to the consumer magazines, like the Pick n Pay-branded Fresh Living and Woolworths’ TASTE. Whatever the industry, the aim is the same: to find and retain customers by engaging them with relevant, interesting reading.
Both of these food and lifestyle titles have won awards for their content and quality, and hold their own against the best of the consumer magazines. However, in this multi-platform era, custom titles don’t just compete with other magazines, but with any media that take up consumers’ time. Content has to be top-notch and must not feel like advertising. So publishers hire the best editors they can find, who often come from consumer magazines. Fresh Living editor Justine Drake is one example: she edited the Pica Award-winning Eat In magazine and has helped maintain Fresh Living as the highest-circulating food and lifestyle magazine in South Africa.
Custom magazines are not a new phenomenon. Irna van Zyl, executive director and founder of New Media Publishing (NMP), points to The Furrow, an agricultural title launched by John Deere tractor manufacturers in 1895. The Furrow is still released quarterly in 12 languages.
What is new is that the magazine is now the centre of a wider multi-platform strategy, says Van Zyl, whose titles include TASTE, which in October celebrated its 10th birthday; décor magazine VISI; and the Ackermans Club magazine. Van Zyl says content marketing (see story on page 19) is a more appropriate term because of the multi-platform nature of the strategy. “[Content marketing] is just a new word. Custom publishing used to be done mainly though magazines, whereas now it includes websites, events, many platforms as well as the magazines.”
Van Zyl says TASTE has a highly successful website that has attracted 43 000 unique browsers, a mobi site and an e-newsletter. “Video is also becoming big. We have had record views for the videos made for our publications. Video is an exciting way to tell stories and supplement stories that appear in the print titles. It’s not just about posting how-to videos. There’s such a wealth of what you could be doing.”
John Brown Media managing director Lani Carstens says, “We are becoming platform-neutral… what’s important for us is that the content is available where customers want to engage.” John Brown’s titles include Spur’s Totem magazine, Fresh Living and the Discovery Health magazine Discovery.
The line between digital and print is blurring, she adds. But a digital strategy “shouldn’t be done in isolation. You’re not simply taking magazine content and plonking it in the digital environment.” Carstens explains that the content needs to be specially crafted as part of a multi-platform strategy.
The magazine retains its place as the “anchor” of content marketing strategy, says Van Zyl. “It’s the solid, tactile medium that you can keep and go back to again and again.”
Readers still want print magazines. “Brands that don’t embrace both platforms are at a disadvantage. A beautiful magazine is a treat; that’s why magazines are often referred to as ‘the leaning back medium’,” says Carstens.
Custom publishers claim that their research has shown that custom magazines increase brand engagement. John Brown found that Edgars Club readers spend 30% more than non-club members, while NMP found that on average, a consumer’s attention is kept for 30 minutes or more by a customer magazine.
Advertisers can find value in these magazines too, says Bishop. The fact that each magazine is associated with a specific brand offers the opportunity for transfers of brand equity. “Flora Margarine has health connotations, so there would be a transfer of attributes in a magazine like the Discovery Health magazine. I’ve put Brut deodorant in the Mercedes Benz magazine. They are both brands associated with a higher class lifestyle,” says Bishop.
Marketers also value the often massive distribution that some of these titles have, he adds. Discovery goes out to just under one million people, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data. With many custom titles, its often also possible to have a very good idea of who is getting the magazine.
Bishop likes the content marketing tag. “At PHD our model is discipline first, then channel… The discipline behind content marketing is one of experience, it’s about immersing the consumer in the brand. Content marketing lends itself really well to this… It forces you into a channel if you use the term ‘custom titles’.”
Carstens says that having the backing of a large brand is an advantage. Most of their revenue comes from their marketing spend rather than advertising revenue, so “we’re not held up by crippling budgets. Circulation is down everywhere and this puts pressure on editorial budgets. In custom, we have the advantage of the client’s investment”.
Custom titles have been somewhat less in the doldrums than their consumer counterparts, but that’s not to say that tough times haven’t impacted on this sector too. In 2012, both Vodacom and Cell C closed their print magazines (though both cellphone giants still publish them online), which dropped overall ABC figures in the category substantially.
The brand association comes with its own problems, though. Says Bishop: “You probably have access to specific resources. But [a consumer magazine like] Food & Home has had years of doing what they do from a consumer-led perspective. The others are brand led… they launch as an extension of a brand and are there to serve the brand’s purpose, not the consumers’. If it wasn’t brand led, it wouldn’t be limited to certain advertisers – you would put your competitors in the magazine.”
However, publishers insist they can represent their brand clients without compromising on the kind of content people want to read. Says Carstens, “There’s a difference between a brochure that pushes products and a magazine that gives you lifestyle inspiration. The consumer mustn’t feel sold-to; they must feel engaged. That’s where editorial intelligence comes in…
“There has to be a level of trust between the client and the publisher. They have to trust us. At the same time, we have to be clear about their brand and what they want to achieve. It’s all collaborative.”
Van Zyl says NMP doesn’t see itself as an above-the-line agency. “Our skill set comes from journalism; it’s about storytelling in a certain kind of way… The difference is that we spend a lot of time thinking about the audience, whereas an ad agency will think about the brand, what’s important for the brand.”
NMP started TASTE with a real team effort from Woolworths, she says. “Under the guidance of Woolworths we really pushed for stunning visual quality. At that point there was only one other food magazine, Food & Home. TASTE was very different to what existed in this country and it was all done in close collaboration with the philosophy that we would… create credibility in our content.”
For many brands, an investment in content marketing may seem expensive. But as consumers are exposed to more and more content, quality stories can help these brands stand out. And even in an increasingly online world, magazines are still the lynchpin of a wider strategy.
This story was first published in the December 2013 issue of The Media magazine.
IMAGE: New Media Publishing website