From the page to the screen and everywhere inbetween: how magazines are morphing into many-tentacled consumer brands

Back in 2010, when Playboy editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner was questioned about the impact of the internet on print, he didn’t show too much concern and instead shared a belief that magazines would stand strong because they were the most personal form of journalism – or as he called them “old friends”.

Hefner probably should have been slightly more concerned about the rise of the internet because in late 2015, as a result of all the freely available ‘entertainment’ online, it decided to remove the famous centrefolds from its pages and reinvented itself as a premium mainstream men’s title (now people could legitimately say they only read it for the articles). While it might seem like a strange example to use given what many would call its objectionable editorial focus and its recent cashflow problems, it is a media brand that has harnessed its influence and expanded into new areas, to the point where, in 2010, around half of its $215 million in revenue came from licensing consumer products.

And the MPA is trying to show the same is true of many of our local magazine brands: they are not just old trees. They are multi-faceted brands that engage audiences in a variety of different ways, across a variety of different channels, something the new Magazine 360 Metric hopes to cement.  

Alongside traditional measures like circulation and readership, the Magazine 360 Metric will place greater emphasis on digital performance and events. The categories include: average issue readership, average net circulation, digital edition, monthly unique website browsers (New Zealand), average monthly email newsletter reach, Facebook reach (within New Zealand), monthly YouTube views, brand extension one shot (rolling 12 months) and brand extension events (rolling 12 months), as well as Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and LinkedIn followers.

A similar 360 metric system was launched in America in 2014, and the president and chief executive of MPA (the Association of Magazine Media) at the time, Mary Berner told The New York Times that without it, publishers ignore a huge fraction of the audience.

“Given the success of many magazine brands on those new platforms, continuing to rely on print circulation and ad paging to determine demand for magazine media would be like measuring the viewership of the Super Bowl exclusively based on the people who watched it in the stadium.”

Already its year on year comparisons have proven useful in showing the changes in audience engagement. Last year, it reported the continuing decline in laptop and desktop audiences, while video and mobile web audiences grow. For every one desktop/laptop unique visitor that was lost, nine new mobile users were added.

Time will tell what patterns local audiences follow but already, Tangible Media CEO John Baker sees the introduction of the system as an important strategic move by the industry to shift perceptions, and he credits the MPA and its executive director Pip Elliott for championing it.

Build it and they will come

Marking the move to consider the wide range of touchpoints magazine brands now have at their disposal, a new category was added to the list at the Magazine Media Awards: Best Magazine 360 Brand Audience. Your Home and Garden took the inaugural title, with the judges commending it for “strong clarity of its various range of business assets”, and an entry that demonstrated impressive commercial outcomes.

Included in those assets is the publication’s social media presence on Facebook and Instagram, which, over the past three years, has built up an audience of equal importance to its readership of 272,000 and circulation of 36,175 (Sources: Google Analytics and Nielsen CMI Jul 15 – Jun 16).

In January, Your Home and Garden had 142,488 followers on Facebook and 28,296 followers on Instagram, a total of 173,788, which is 7.3 percent more than January last year.

Those followers have contributed to the 200,000 Kiwis reached by its Facebook articles in October 2016 alone. And alongside social media, Bauer’s Homes to Love website received 60,000 unique visitors in November 2016, racking up 300,000 page views.​

With the housing boom and the growing homewares market, it’s not surprising the magazine has had such a big uptake on its online platforms. Editor in chief Shelley Ferguson (who took home the supreme editor of the year award at the Magazine Media Awards last year) recalls her parents, who had the same house with the same furniture for decades, saying now, “interiors are like fashion – people want their homes to be an expression of who they are, and as their style evolves, so do their homes”.

And because Your Home and Garden’s content is at the forefront of these trends, its audience is highly engaged and eager to scroll through the online photo galleries and watch video content.

Those visiting on Facebook are also likely to click into the website and Ferguson credits the social media site as a source of traffic, saying they will view three pages on average, which is a “healthy sign of engagement and relevance”.

This behaviour means the social following has created its own revenue stream that’s continuing to grow.

However, Ferguson says the publication’s magazine audience remains the most valuable in dollar terms because of the revenue generated through advertising and subscriptions.

Aiding the online expansion are digital and video editors who now work alongside the editorial team to ensure the content across all platforms is consistent, on-brand and engaging. “People won’t come back” if it’s not right, Ferguson says, so planning meetings include discussion about how features will work online ­– both the website and social.

“It’s not rocket science, but it’s very different from the traditional magazine model,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean Your Home and Garden feels the need to be fuelling the fire on all platforms at all times. Ferguson says it sticks to what it’s good at and where its audience is, and this doesn’t include the 14 categories included in the metric.

“I suck at Twitter, so I don’t do it. I love Instagram, so I do it. Same for Your Home and Garden – we only play in arenas we’re good at, can fully commit to, where it makes sense for us to be, and where our audience is.”

For the publication, this also means attending and hosting events, which Ferguson would like to see grow as a contributor to audience as they help the team get to know the audience. In turn, the audience often shares the brand interaction on their personal social streams.

The human connection of an event is refreshing in an era of online noise and Ferguson

thinks many people will be craving more meaningful experiences in coming years.

However, she warns of “event overload”, saying events shouldn’t be created for the sake of it, and audience interest should be the driver.

“There has to be a reason your audience need to be there, whether you’re teaching them something or just giving them an amazing experience,” she says. “It has to be authentic.”

One of the best examples of a magazine using an event to engage with its target audience – and then extend it – is New Zealand Geographic’s Photographer of the Year. Since its establishment in 2009, it’s become the county’s biggest photography competition, as well as one of the largest photo exhibitions, drawing in tens of thousands of visitors.

Editor and Kowhai Media director James Frankham says it wanted to create a different way to engage with audiences and advertisers and it felt photography was an important aspect of the New Zealand Geographic experience.

Last year, it drew 3,500 entries, the exhibition had more than 40,000 attendees and around 36,000 people voted for their favourite shots in the People’s Choice Award. As always, it also generated great content for the magazine.

It’s business time

While the ever growing way to engage with audiences is expanding the reach of consumer magazines, for B2B magazines, a tight-knit community and a wealth of industry knowledge remains fundamental to their existence.

Cathy Parker, publisher at Adrenalin Publishing Ltd, says regularly working and talking with members of their business community, editors have a strong connection with the audience, enabling them to ensure editorial is relevant, interesting and informative.

However, she does acknowledge the importance of moving beyond the page, saying the connection can now be made daily or even multiple times a day when interesting information presents itself using websites, social media and eNewsletter platforms – “and maybe in the not too distant future AR and VR”.

But knowledge of its community is not only beneficial to the readers, it’s also worthwhile for clients. And Marketplace Media director Simon Little says it can better serve them because it knows the industry so well.

Having been working in the consumer electronics and hardware spaces for nearly two decades, Marketplace Media’s publications has specific knowledge of the industry both onshore and offshore and are able to offer insights to clients to help their pain points.

“When we go out and see them, we’re not talking so much about selling a page, but trying to figure out where their problems and needs are, and then coming up with a solution to suit. That could be editorial, involvement in awards, a video or a double page spread,” he says.

While the bigger players ­like Facebook and Google certainly have their place, they become “a bit irrelevant” in the niche markets B2B magazine’s serve, because B2B publishing has never been about the most people, it’s always been about the right people.

“We are in the industry, we live and breathe it, it’s what we do.” 

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Frankham says the event has become a crucial part of the magazine’s evolution, which has seen it transorm its voice from an encyclopedic and editorial tone, to one that’s focused on storytelling and having a diverse set of relationships with readers and advertisers.

“I think it’s just one of those things that all magazines and media properties need to be looking at,” he says. “If you run an event, it’s often expensive and it’s often a very difficult way to reach a small number of people, but the experience is unique and it’s a much higher quality experience than you can have in an online environment.”

The Photographer of the Year competition took out the award for Best Brand Extension at the Magazine Media Awards, with the judges praising its customer centricity: “Connecting consumers with the brand in a big way with a competition and event that saw significant numbers engage and subscribe”.

And due in part to the continued growth of the event, Kowhai Media saw an opportunity to further service the photographic community, launching a magazine called Pro Photographer in 2013. Editor Rebekah White won the editor of the year award in the industry and trade category last year.

What about print?

While an acknowledgement of the spread of magazines across multiple platforms and the growth of audiences on digital may call into question the strength of print, Baker says the Magazine 360 Metric can play a part in transitioning the perception of magazines from being “just printed things” to “contemporary, relevant, cross platform media”.

And this is not at the expense of the story behind the physical magazine, he says, adding that there has been a real windshift over the last year or so, which suggests a renaissance in the appreciation of print media by readers and advertisers.

Also championing the positive effect digital platforms have on print media is Ferguson, who says the belief that digital is the death of print is a “mass generalisation”.

She says Your Home and Garden has experienced exactly the opposite, saying existing print readers can now live the brand in daily and weekly touchpoints, while those touchpoints help to attract those who are not typically magazine readers and, ideally, upsell them into the paid-for print product.

Your Home and Garden is no longer a print publication, she says. “It’s a lifestyle brand” and it’s created an organic ecosystem that audiences and advertisers love.

Getting a better view

Having all the numbers laid out in front of them is “enormously useful” for advertisers and agencies, Baker says, because, at a glance, they will be able to see the overall audience potential for a magazine media brand and categories.

“As a planning tool it will enable a richer view of magazine media potential and as a result, the opportunity for innovative campaign development along with some previously out of sight blue water for marketers.”

As an example, when Bauer Media faced the challenge of encouraging women to purchase Anchor Milk as their everyday milk, its online platforms provided the perfect springboard and it over delivered on the campaign’s KPIs by 388 percent. It also reached 856,000 print readers.

Fashion Quarterly, Next and Woman’s Day participated in the campaign, which saw a fashion photo shoot combined with the message that Anchor Milk is the newest beauty product for hair.

A media-wide movement

As well as following in America’s footsteps, the launch of a local Magazine 360 Metric reflects changes to other media that have also shifted focus from traditional platforms to the big picture of audience behaviour and engagement.

Last year, Recorded Music New Zealand added on-demand streams into the equation to measure the music charts, after previously relying solely on the number of sales made.

Given music charts exist to reflect music consumption in New Zealand, Recorded Music chief executive Damian Vaughn told StopPress the charts now provide a total view of what Kiwi consumers are listening to.

Measures now take into consideration on-demand platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, as well as downloading via iTunes, and purchasing CDs and vinyl.

TV has also seen a move to consolidate its online and linear audiences as advertisers have become comfortable buying audiences, rather than time slots.

However, that’s not to say the Magazine 360 Metric will see all measured categories come together in one number. Context is king. And last year, Baker told StopPress that reading a magazine is very different to browsing a website, and he doesn’t believe the two experiences should be conflated into a single audience-based metric.

He said it would be tantamount to commoditising the magazine audience and would detract from the value that comes in the shape of a reader willing to pay for something (and, in many cases, a reader willing to take the time to fully digest their favourite magazines, without interruption).

Good numbers

While the Magazine 360 Metric measures followers, Ferguson says Your Home and Garden puts its focus on engagement, looking at local reach, shares, comments, reactions, clicks to the site and time spent on the site by those visiting from Facebook.

“On these metrics, we stack up really well,” she says, because home owners, interior designers and real estate agents tend to share the links.

Nielsen’s CMI service offers qualitative data on the audiences of specific media brands, particularly in print. And, online, looking at deeper engagement such as likes, comments and shares does the same thing – and can also help overcome the issue of bots, which, according to FiveThirtyEight, make up 56 percent of all traffic for larger websites and up to 80 percent of all traffic for the ‘mom-and-pop blogs’ out there.

Speaking beyond magazines, Baker says qualitative data is woefully lacking. He says it would allow for an understanding of how audiences engage with digital content and how it influences behaviour, and magazine media publishers, by the nature of their content and the connection they have with their audiences, have an opportunity to lead this.

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

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