The experts say custom publications should be used to extend the brand, not bombard the client. Brand loyalty is the ultimate goal of those in the retail and services industries, as are high readership figures for those in the magazine industry. Somewhere in the space between, custom magazines pop up like wild mushrooms to blur the line between the two.
There is nothing wild, however, about these meticulously planned publications. They all seem to be guided by watertight content strategies and a strong focus on target audience.
In Europe, research commissioned by the Association of Publishing Agencies has found that 82% of readers spend up to 45 minutes on a custom magazine, and that 64% return to it more than once. With these great prospects on the cards, it seems like a no-brainer for any corporate outfit: a custom magazine is a must.
But, what exactly do you need to get started, and how do you know it will work for you?
Natalie Jardine, marketing manager at New Media, says the first ingredient is an understanding that custom magazines are not a method of bombarding clients with the brand.
“All clients realise that in this day and age people are inundated with messages from so many angles,” she explains. “That’s why they need content that can really engage their customers. This only happens when a brand shares its message in a non-invasive, credible and trustworthy way on a platform with which the customer is already familiar.”
She says there has been an evolution from traditional customer publishing into content marketing.
“We engage our clients’ customers through a multi-layered approach on various platforms using crafted content. Be it lifestyle, financial or medical, content must add value – in other words be useful to the customer – whatever platform we use to communicate the message.”
An example of this is their stable’s well-established Taste magazine, which they publish for Woolworths, and which is cross-produced on other platforms. At last count, the magazine’s circulation stood at 25 242 with readership of 110 000. At the time of going to press, the Taste website had drawn 28 436 unique browsers in the previous month, and 3 062 readers had visited the site via their smartphones.
Jocelyn Warrington, an independent media consultant with more than a decade of experience in the custom publishing sector, explains how companies wanting to start up a custom title would benefit from it.
“Custom publishing provides businesses with a way to make their voices heard and to engage with customers for far longer than other forms of advertising,” she says, “It also enables these businesses to get their message across in the way they want, whereas with an advertising slot or trade publication they are often constrained by house style and the editorial guidelines of the particular publication. A custom magazine is not only designed to best serve the needs of the particular business and its clients, but is also populated with the exact content the business feels is right for them.”
She says hiring an independent publishing company with a solid reputation is very important.
“Corporates hire independent publishing companies that, in turn, employ professional editors and experts in the field of publishing to ensure their publications put the needs of their customers (readers) first. In a sense, the publishing company functions as a ‘middle man’, filtering the content for the readers’ benefit and the reader then sees the content, effectively, as having been independently endorsed.”
According to Sean Press, owner and CEO of Contact Media, “Sometimes corporates wanting to start their own custom title are misguided in thinking the publication will be a corporate profile. It is not that at all, though. You have to be very strategic right from the beginning and realise that content is king and that you have to spend a lot on it. You are not going to get away with just doing a Q&A with the CEO. You have to be very clever in how you conceptualise and write your content.”
He adds, “In today’s market, especially with the recession, there are two main aspects to doing this: new acquisition and retention of existing clients.”
He says customer loyalty is created when the publication promotes a specific lifestyle that the readership can relate to, and credibility comes about when content is still seen as king because readers primarily want to be entertained and engaged by what they are reading.
“Sometimes publishers make the mistake of giving the reading community what the corporate wants, and not the other way round,” he says.
From a corporate’s perspective, it is important to choose a media house that understands the audience you want to reach.
Says Nosipho Damane, speaking on behalf of Momentum, which has established their Momentarily magazine brand over the past 10 years, “It is crucial to understand the needs of your target audience – in our case intermediaries and financial planners – and to be able to identify the gaps in the market, so that you can provide a magazine that will add real value to your target audience and will stand out.”
She says Momentum went the custom publishing route because the company “needed a platform on which we could regularly and meaningfully connect with our financial planners and intermediaries.
“The quarterly publication provides them with relevant and up-to-date information about the trends in the financial sector and insight into new Momentum products.”
Nenad Senic, an international content marketing expert, says a crucial starting point for any company embarking on a custom title journey is defining their main concept.
Guiding questions for this include: “What content will be in your new printed custom magazine? What will be its main message? What underlying messages do you plan to communicate? Every part of your magazine should be well-defined before you begin to think about the first issue. Moreover, if you can’t fathom what content you could put in the first four issues, you will find yourself in trouble very soon.”
As any of those with established brands will tell you, these questions are not as simple as they look. And so the consensus across the board seems to be this: a custom magazine is a crucial marketing tool, but do your research, choose a reputable media house, define your target audience. Remember the golden rule: content is king!
This story was first published in the December 2012 issue of The Media magazine.