Own-brand magazines are defying the decline in print media consumption, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation that not only show a 3 per cent year-on-year rise for the 100 most read customer titles, but that the top two publications by circulation at the end of June were from Asda and Tesco.
Julia Hutchison, chief operating officer at the Content Marketing Association (CMA), says the strong performance of customer magazines is a symptom of increasing brand loyalty among consumers. “In a recession, when disposable income is being squeezed, brands are driving loyalty and ‘owning’ the relationship directly with their consumers by investing more in their own content,” she adds.
That investment is focused on digital add-ons. Having launched as a print title in January, Virgin Media Magazine has since added an email newsletter, an ezine and developed a strong Twitter presence. Editor-in-chief Mark Hooper says the magazine is now taking steps to join up these different content strands.
“Print, online and social media are all good for different things,” he says. “The magazine is bi-monthly, so it’s much more about building anticipation of what’s coming up on Virgin Media over future months, while the weekly email and ezine look at the best of the week’s TV as well as other services like online or on-demand. The Twitter account can back all that up with daily recommendations that engage our readers and promote campaigns or competitions.”
The title, produced by content marketing agency Redwood, has also incorporated a range of interactive technologies including augmented reality (AR) and mini video games. The AR capability has enabled it to promote upcoming films on Virgin Media by including images in the print edition that play adverts or trailers when an AR-ready device is hovered above them. Hooper says the title is also looking to develop its mobile offering.
Though marketers increasingly talk about the importance of providing valuable content rather than just promotions, the pressure to produce a healthy return on investment (ROI) has not gone away. Research on the retail sector by the CMA, seen exclusively by Marketing Week, suggests that the ROI from content marketing is both clear and substantial (see Research results, below).
The CMA not only found that the average weekly spend of a supermarket shopper increased by 13 per cent if they were a regular reader of the brand’s title, but the number of shopping visits per week rose by 10 per cent for regular readers too. Hutchison at the CMA says these findings show that supermarket titles work when it comes to reaching their core customers.
“The uplift in sales for people who read supermarket titles equates to about £9 per issue,” she explains. “That is fantastic ROI.”
Matt Walburn, customer and marketing director at Superdrug, also stresses the importance of measuring the ROI from a customer title. This strategy has been central to the development of Superdrug’s in-house title Dare, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. “The basis of everything has to be about encouraging people to purchase,” he says. “Content marketers can’t get carried away with just providing content with no thought for the marketing strategy. Otherwise they’re no different to journalists.”
The Dare media pack states that 87 per cent of customers are inspired to purchase by the advertising in the magazine, while 79 per cent feel encouraged to try new products that are recommended by Dare. The title, produced by content agency River Group, has expanded its reach this year by launching a digital version that is sent to Superdrug’s Beautycard holders.
Sainsbury’s Magazine editor Helena Lang says the title also keeps a close check on its impact on sales. The paid-for publication, which is run by content agency Seven, launched its first AR issue this month. Content includes how-to videos from top chefs Mark Hix and Sam Harris, an editor’s message, competitions and AR advertising campaigns by brands like John West and Heinz.
At first glance, the target readership of the magazine might not seem particularly tech-savvy, but Lang points out that readers tend to be among the more affluent customers who are likely to have the time and money to make use of tablets and other AR-ready devices. “Recipe videos are very functional,” she adds. “You can pause them and prop up your tablet or your phone in your kitchen so that the videos are a cooking aid. It’s not just for entertainment purposes.”
Tesco has also recently used AR technology for the first time. The brand’s latest edition of Real Food magazine, created by content agency Cedar Communications, provides a range of AR features including BBQ how-to videos and a ‘build a burger’ animation. Readers are also able to use click-to-buy features where they can hover their phones or tablets over the recipes in the magazine and be directed straight to the ingredients in the Tesco online store.
At the launch of the AR issue, Real Food editor Jenny McIvor said the technology “enhanced the value of our fantastic print content by connecting it seamlessly with the digital proposition, giving readers a richer brand experience while also creating new purchase opportunities”.
Lang at Sainsbury’s says that while it’s too early to put a figure on readers’ AR use, initial indications are high. “We knew that none of our newsstand cookery competitors would be doing anything like this so it was a real way to shout about our quality, high production value editorial in a new way,” she says.
Coinciding with the AR issue, Sainsbury’s Magazine also recently launched its new Kitchen Secrets food blog. Lang says this has added another layer to its content strategy by giving it a more immediate platform with which to reach customers. “We’ve tried a number of new things at once but all are linked together by the quality of the food editorial,” she adds. “Our audience, whether they’re going onto the blog, reading the magazine or accessing the videos, are ultimately all interested in food and cooking.”
Not all brands are focused on multiplatform content marketing, however. HSBC’s financial planning resource Life Events is one of the bank’s main forms of content marketing, but is primarily restricted to a section of its website. Chirag Shah, marketing campaigns manager at HSBC, says the innovation comes from the breadth and quality of the content, which was repositioned earlier this year with the help of agency Wardour to be much less product-focused and more informative and useful to people seeking financial advice.
“The site aims to provide information to people at every stage in the journey of a life event, so we’ve done a lot of research around what people want and need,” he adds. “People going through a bereavement, for example, don’t want to be overwhelmed with information and often want step by step help. So we’ve created tailored content for each need that you wouldn’t find together in any other place.”
The content is delivered as both written articles and videos and is informed by HSBC advisers, case studies and external experts who can offer help on different issues. For example, the site features advice from estate agents for first-time homebuyers. Traffic is generated by natural searches for financial guidance and through the HSBC site.
Shah says the site has received twice as many article views since it shifted its focus away from promoting products to providing advice. This has encouraged people to further research the products and services available to them through HSBC. “We don’t think of the site as being a massive marketing tool,” he adds. “It should be interesting enough that it pulls people in rather than us needing to push it at people.”
Publishing house Penguin has also adopted this approach towards its teenage audience. The company’s teen-focused blog Spinebreakers relies on a steady stream of loyal readers visiting and contributing to the site, rather than an aggressive marketing strategy.
Anna Rafferty, managing director for digital and online at Penguin, explains that the site was developed five years ago with agency Livity after the brand realised there was little book-related content aimed at teen readers.
The company drives teenagers to Spinebreakers through activity on social media and partnerships with organisations like the National Theatre and the BBC, which generates publicity for the site. While these efforts help to attract around 15,000 users a month, Rafferty says the priority is to create a community among Penguin’s teenage readers by generating valuable content. “We don’t want just anyone coming to the site,” she says. “We want people who genuinely care about books.”
Getting the balance right between innovation, content and ROI is crucial to content marketing success, which is why the Co-operative Group opted to launch its new food magazine in just two formats – a print title and app.
Co-op senior marketing manager Amanda Collins says it’s important not to over-complicate a content strategy.
She explains that the bi-monthly magazine – which launched this Easter in partnership with agency River and is distributed through 500 stores – “is a place where we can showcase our great own-label brands and bring the food to life”.
“We want to inspire our customers,” she adds.
Content Marketing Association research
The headline finding from the Content Marketing Association’s (CMA) new research on the retail sector, seen exclusively by Marketing Week, is the increased average spend of a regular supermarket magazine reader. The survey of 1,826 UK adults finds that the average weekly spend across the whole sample was £75.30 per week, which increased by 13 per cent to £85.10 for regular readers – defined as someone reading every issue of at least one supermarket title.
The research, which was conducted this month by Panelbase on behalf of the CMA, also shows that 61 per cent of respondents say they read magazines published by either retail brands or supermarkets. Of the four magazines published by supermarket, each reaches 56 per cent of the consumers who do most of their grocery shopping there.
In addition, 69 per cent of all readers agreed that “it makes me more positive towards the store producing the magazine”, while 54 per cent of all readers and 67 per cent of regular readers say they have bought a product or service featured in a magazine.
However, only 3 per cent of readers say that coupons are the only reason they read the titles. The CMA says this shows that “the content produced is valued to a greater extent than the coupons” and that customer magazines are “not just seen as a gateway for special offers”.
There’s often a temptation with content marketing to think about the next big innovation or technology without actually thinking about what it could mean for the customer. It’s vital that content is always relevant and empowering to customers regardless of the technology used.
For example, we recently created an augmented reality (AR) issue of the Real Food magazine that we produce for Tesco; the first food magazine to use the technology. But rather than doing gimmicky stuff on just a handful of pages, we used AR consistently throughout the magazine to create a useful experience for customers. Every page was augmented with click-to-buys or content linked to video tips and how-to demonstrations. It was all built around how to make the customer’s experience simpler and more enjoyable. This was effective multi-channel content in its truest form.
The same is true of content used on social media as social dialogue. A lot of brands think they need to have a social media presence. However the bigger question is how will that conversation benefit the customers they want to talk to? A brand’s social media presence should be a personality with which people want to engage and simultaneously create a dialogue that enables customers. For example, our Live Food Chats on the Tesco Facebook page let customers pose their questions to food experts. We ran a Back to School chat recently and it really epitomised the Real Food mantra of ‘Family Meals Made Easy’. This is a great example of how content can actually become customer service by making life easier for people
It’s interesting to note from the CMA research in this article that regular readers of the retailer’s title have a higher average weekly shopping spend than their non-regular reading counterparts.
I think this goes back to the nature of these magazines and the fact that they create a degree of loyalty, through the useful content they feature, that other kinds of marketing can’t match. It comes back to marketing that really does something new rather than just saying the same old thing. It’s this marketing which really delivers commercial success.
Effective content marketing is focused on enabling customers, rather than just projecting a brand message. So the uplift in spend comes from the fact that customers feel empowered and savvy; they know they can make the money go further with retailers thanks to the know-how they’ve attained from the content available to them.