Why retailers are becoming masters of publishing

We look at the rise in retail brands investing in their own content to drive better customer engagement as part of modern inbound marketing strategies

The traditional model of retailers investing thousands into magazine advertising is declining as these brands take publishing into their own hands, generating custom print and digital magazine content to drive customer engagement.

It’s certainly been sad times for the print magazine industry, with Australian magazine, Cleo, one of the latest casualties after declining advertising sales signalled its downfall. But at the same time, the rise of retailers now maintaining their own newsrooms, in-house journalists and magazine publications is heralding an exciting new chapter of engaging customers in more innovative and creative ways.

“I think the reason why magazines like Cleo are declining is because brands are now really understanding their consumer and owning that end-to-end experience,” Hubspot’s marketing director for Asia-Pacific, Ryan Bonnici, said. “For a brand like ASOS or SurfStitch, if they wanted to promote their goods in Cleo or any other magazine, they can’t necessarily control what is on the page next to it, or around it.”

According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound marketing research paper, 84 per cent of small businesses now predominantly use inbound marketing tactics for customer engagement.

“These brands are understanding that consumers’ likes and interests in traditional advertising is declining, so I don’t think they want to be associated with magazines that are just pushing ads,” Bonnici says. “By having your own publication, you can own that customer experience from end-to-end.”

The global disruptors

Walk into any newsagency now and you will see ecommerce fashion giant, Net a Porter’s Porter magazine sitting alongside its traditional magazine rivals. Global fashion giant, ASOS, online designer outlet, The Outnet, high-end fashion brand, Acne, and Canadian retail startup, Frank & Oak, are just a few more examples of retailers generating their own creative magazine-style content, with growing success.

The Outnet’s co-president of sales, marketing and creative, Andres Sosa, agrees that as time moves on, the line between retailers and traditional publishing is blurring.

“There is a lot of crossover and many publishers now have some sort of retailer offering, either in-house or through their partners, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t both thrive alongside each other,” he tells CMO.

“At The Outnet, we have a large number of staff within our creative department who come from journalistic backgrounds. I think this is hugely beneficial to the company in many ways. For us, they will continue to be at the heart of what we do – we will always look to inspire our customer via great content.”

In order to generate great customer magazine content to drive engagement, Sosa stresses it’s important to remember the customer comes first.

“Our customer is at the heart of everything we do and content is in our DNA,” he says. “Despite being a previous-season retailer, remaining on-trend is vital. That goes for everything we do – both on and off site – from our upload, styling and social media content to our curation and the way in which we approach our customer emails.

“The Outnet customer knows what she wants, so we are always very conscious not to dictate, but rather to inspire her. We have great sections on the site such as ‘What to Wear’, which also make life easy.”

One example of the Outlet leveraging creative content to boost engagement across its channels last year was the successful ‘A-Z of Dresses’ content effort. The group worked with numerous top-tier influencers such as Candice Lake, Martha Ward, Zanna Roberts Rassi and Sarah Donaldson on the initiative.

“The initiative ran in March, with fresh content every day spanning the 26 letters in the alphabet,” Sosa explains. “This enabled us to deliver really strong content that resonated in our various territories, in a format appropriate for our many channels.”

But not everyone can get it right, and as more businesses hop onto the custom content trend, the pressure is on to ensure the strategy genuinely attracts and retains customers, and doesn’t just come across as a stock-standard sales pitch.

“You should avoid the ‘just because’ syndrome,” Sosa says. “You must always have a clear objective and you need a purpose and clear idea of how people are going to be able to interact with the content. If you know your customer and what makes them tick, it’s easy to generate results-driven content that is on point.

“It’s all about quality over quantity. Everyone creates content, so we have to ensure ours is the best. You also need to have a point of difference and ensure the content you create is suitable for the channel/device through which it will be received. Ultimately, it’s vital to really know your audience in order to create relevant content that generates engagement.”

Local brands breaking the content marketing boundaries

In Australia, SurfStitch recently rolled out The Lens, creating what it claims is a ‘one-stop shop’ for the latest exciting lifestyle content. The publication includes professional athlete interviews through to travel diaries and featured music playlists.

“SurfStitch really understood the power of building up an audience that loves the lifestyle it reflects,” Bonnici comments. “More brands are now making the effort to truly understand who their buying personas are.

“SurfStitch understands the people that really love that surfing lifestyle are the right people buying its products. But it’s not just about the products: These brands want to create content that’s really rich and powerful that consumers actually want.”

What Bonnici finds interesting about retailers like SurfStitch is that they are not only pulling people in with engaging content, but effectively building a community around the brand.

“The people finding The Lens content on the Web obviously like surfing, and they’re going to be more likely to have like-minded friends, so SurfStitch is making its content really sociable,” he adds.

Another Australian retailer to recently launched its own magazine is Chemist Warehouse. In December, the retailer partnered with News Corp Studios to publish a new quarterly glossy magazine, The House of Wellness, in order to engage consumers interested in health and vitality .

News Corp Australia’s director of national sales, Sharb Farjami, claimed the magazine is a great example of the diverse custom marketing solutions open to marketers that wants to push the boundaries and innovate.

Wellness magazine will leverage our heritage of creating informative and inspirational content to engage customers and drive demand,” he said at time of launch. “Each issue is estimated to reach as many as four million affluent and influential consumers, providing a powerful platform for Chemist Warehouse’s suppliers to target audiences.

Chemist Warehouse chief operating officer, Mario Tascone, sees the House of Wellness brand evolving into Australia’s biggest health media title, designed to cement Chemist Warehouse as the number one destination for wellness in Australia.

“This evolution starts with the introduction of our first edition of the House of Wellness magazine,” he claimed. “Its mission is to help even more Australians get well, stay well, live well and look fabulous. It will be the new authority in all things health and beauty and judging by the demand for space from our suppliers it is sure set to grow bigger and bigger each edition.”

More than just glossy inbound marketing?

According to Bonnici, what these brands are doing through content marketing is a natural extension of traditional, solid inbound marketing techniques.

“People keep saying all these brands are becoming publishers but I think they’re just doing what people in content marketing have been doing for a very long time,” he says. “People don’t want to constantly be sold products, and people that are buying into these brands are buying into a lifestyle.

“Look at Mr Porter’s The Journal: The team creates amazing video content and tutorials on how to pack your suitcase, or how to roll your clothes for travelling. It’s those little things customers are looking for online. Inbound marketing is all about pulling people in as opposed to pushing content to them.”

Traditionally, Bonnici claims brands like Burberry would create great content, but push that out in the form of standard advertising campaigns and billboards.

“This works to some degree, but we’re seeing the effect of this slowly decline because people aren’t looking for that Burberry trench coat on a billboard, they’re just being forced to look at it,” he explains. “But now, they are creating content like articles outlining the top 10 trench coats to wear this winter. It’s about creating content that helps the buyer get what they want.”

Chief content officer at content marketing firm Mahlab Media, Martin Wanless, says brands can now really tap into what people are talking about, their lifestyles, their desires and reinforce that relationship through effective content marketing.

“The relationship with the customer becomes a lot bigger and deeper, rather than a purely transactional one,” he says. “But I think the brands that are going to be successful over the next few years are going to be not only those that create good content, but a great 24/7 customer experience.”

In order to generate good content to attract and retain customers, Wanless stresses content needs to be believable, genuine and trustworthy.

“The problem with traditional marketing is it is very campaign-based,” he continues. “Where brands really succeed is having a sense of authenticity, building trust and having real transparency, while focusing on building up an audience over a long period of time.

“You need to have that publishing mindset, where you’re building an engaged audience gradually for the long term. It is not about a hard sell or a quick win, it’s about having a content-first mentality and understand how to tell your story to your customers.”

But despite the dynamic and ever-evolving trends within social, content and digital marketing, Wanless is confident print is here to stay and has a serious part to play in engaging the customer moving forward.

“If it is good, if it is quality, people will want to read it because it taps into their lifestyle,” he claims. “Print is what you call the ‘lean back’ experience, while digital is more of the ‘lean forward’ experience. It’s all about knowing your audience and knowing which channels or platforms they are accessing and engaging with.

“For brands that have a genuine, reliable and trustworthy relationship with their audience, I think print is a good medium.”

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