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Beyond the Page: Habitat, the Trojan horse in Resene’s marketing strategy

In the second instalment of a series that showcases how some of the winners from this year’s Magazine Media Awards are adapting to the modern era and helping advertisers grow their businesses, Damien Venuto talks to the team behind the owned media title of the year, Habitat.

October 2, 2015 | features

This year’s Magazine Media Awards saw the return of the owned media category. Its precursor, the contract or customer publishing category, had in recent years been removed from the awards lineup; but, as part of the overall awards revamp, the category was reintroduced under a new name.

The first winner of this new category was Habitat magazine—a biannual home-styling publication owned by Resene, published by Tangible Media and which is distributed to a mailing list of 284,000 homeowners.

Sitting down with Tangible publisher John Baker, his broad grin quickly reveals how much this win means to him. But this isn't surprising. Habitat is, after all, a project he’s worked on for the last 12 years of his career.

“It goes back a long way,” Baker says. "[Resene marketing manager] Karen [Warman] was a client in the early 2000s, and she got in touch because she had aspirations to launch her own magazine.”

Warman, who has come to act similarly to a publisher in terms of managing the production of every magazine, says the creation of Habitat was not only an important move from a marketing perspective but also because it played a valuable role in keeping customers informed with accurate information.

“There were lots of articles and stories written [in the media] about paint at the time, but often they were written by writers who weren’t really familiar with paint products so a lot of the stories were based on international research and information which didn’t reflect the technology and trends in our local market,” says Warman. “Our staff would often complain about customers who had read these articles coming in confused about paint and colour choices, and our staff would patiently untangle the confusion for the customer so they could move ahead with their decorating project.”

Baker says that he and Warman sat together and developed a concept for a magazine that would meet the needs of what was then a target market of 150,000 people.

“After the brainstorming and ideation process, we decided to create an editorially-led product—not a magazine about paint, but a magazine around home improvement,” he says.

From the outset, Baker says the aim was to design a magazine that could just as easily be sold on the shelves of a local supermarket—and this, he says, is something that continues to drive his approach to branded magazines.

“If it’s just a piece of advertising or PR dressed up to look like a magazine, then inevitably it won’t have a long-term future. There’s window dressing and then there’s actual commitment. And we maintain a pretty ardent commitment to maintaining a genuine editorial product.”

Opening the door to advertisers

As the part of the process to give Habitat the feel of an authentic magazine, Baker and Warman decided to invite brands to advertise on the pages.

“The opportunity emerged to make that channel and context available to non-competing brands who also had something to gain by us growing demand in the category,” says Baker. “It’s also the case that any media property looks more authentic and credible if it has advertising content in it. One of the great things about magazines is that advertising can add value to the experience and create the perception that this isn’t a Resene product, but rather a Resene-sponsored product.”

Warman adds that this allowed the magazine to extend beyond Resene’s homeland of paint into other areas that readers might find relevant when renovating their homes.

Habitat magazine has always been more than just paint, so our aim has always been to bring in experts from architecture, design, landscaping and other product manufacturers and specialists so that they can share their knowledge also,” Warman says. “Decorators don’t pick paint and wallpaper in isolation, it needs to work with other elements of their home, so we have always seen it as important to bring these together, both through the articles and the advertising.”

But convincing advertisers to post ads in the publication was a different story, as Baker explains that some questioned why they should paying for Resene’s marketing.

“That’s a classic thing that you hear,” Baker says. “Whereas the reality, given the scale of the project and the cost we’re delivering it at, it’s actually the other way around. Resene are actually investing in a media channel and giving other brands access to it … How else can you access a quarter of a million New Zealand households pre-qualified by virtue of them being homeowners that are interested in renovating?”

That said, the publication was not produced with the aim of becoming profitable in its own right.

“While the advertising helps pay a few of the bills, the lion’s share of Habitat’s cost is, and has always been, met by Resene,” says Warman.

Digital disruption  

As is the case with the broader magazine industry, the squeeze of digital disruption has also been applied to owned media—and Warman says the budgets are becoming tighter.   

“As the market has become more and more fragmented, resources, both time and money, need to be stretched further and further,” she says.

And a magazine by itself is also no longer enough. The splintering of media when coupled with the insatiable demand for more content has caused Resene to invest significantly in digital content as well as the magazine. 

Habitat magazine was joined four years ago by a website, which was then revamped in early 2014 – habitatbyresene. There is now a wide social presence with Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

“Online content came about because we found that once we had Habitat magazine twice a year, readers wanted articles and inspiration in between magazines,” says Warman. “So rather than create more magazines, we instead created a weekly Habitat of the Week EDM to bring fresh decorating inspiration each week backed up by the then Habitat of the Week website, now renamed Habitat by Resene.”

More recently, Habitat has also moved into video content with the development of a video platform that currently houses a series of ‘How to’ video clips, which play a particularly important role in the DIY space.

We had so much fun with our latest Create with Paint video: making a concrete bedside table! Have a watch of our video,...

Posted by Habitat by Resene on Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Marketing bedfellows

But the purpose of this magazine isn’t only to entertain and inspire the reader. It also plays an important marketing role for Resene.

“One thing that was very clear is that while there’s a reward aspect with regard to the customers, more importantly it plays a strategic part in driving the demand for continuous improvement in the home,” says Baker. “It’s bit like a Trojan Horse. By getting inside the walls of the household, we can inspire people to continue improvement. By driving that demand, we actually drive the category.”

Baker sees content marketing and advertising playing complementary roles when it comes to a marketing strategy.

“One of the reasons why advertising and content are such comfortable bedfellows is that they do different jobs,” he says. “Advertising is best at market share. It’s best at building brand awareness and growing market share for a brand. Whereas, I think content marketing is about category growth; it’s about creating demand that didn’t exist, rather than fulfilling demand that already exists.”

Warman mirrors these sentiments, saying that it’s part of the reason why she uses both traditional advertising and content marketing. 

“We find the mix of branded content and conventional advertising works well. Conventional advertising tends to be faster to generate attention and great for ideas that can be quickly conveyed, and branded content helps us provide a deeper level of information to help decorators with their planning and to make decisions and choices for their projects.”

And while Habitat might not be a magazine in the traditional sense, Baker makes a valuable point when he says: "There’s no greater testimony to the effectiveness of magazine than in brands creating one for themselves." And having already done just that for 12 years, Warman shows no signs of losing her faith in Habitat

Judges' comment:

"Habitat magazine has become a brand piece for Resene and core to its market strategy of building loyalty among its customers and inspiring new ones to join the fold. It is a product that continues it evolve, and with a daring new extension into the digital space, delivers even more value to its owner. As a result, Resene have responded by doubling-down on their investment in the strategy, a move that speaks volumes about the confidence they hold in the Tangible Media product. This is dynamic customer publishing at its best." 

This story is part of a content partnership with the Magazine Publishers Association. 

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