How local content can engage global markets

Brands looking to use their print and digital customer publications to reach a worldwide audience must strike a balance between cost and country-specific marketing messages.


Many brands have launched customer magazines in the UK to increase awareness of products and services, boost loyalty, and ultimately, to improve sales. But now the likes of Ikea, WeightWatchers and Land Rover are looking at opportunities to take this content overseas.

August Media publishes Ikea Family Live magazine, which the Swedish business uses as an engagement tool for its loyalty scheme.

Mark Lonergan, managing director of August Media, explains: “The magazine is one of the benefits of Ikea’s loyalty scheme. The way it tends to work is that when membership numbers reach a certain level in a particular country, you can introduce a magazine there.”

Ikea Family Live is already distributed in 23 countries, reaching 10 million readers, and the retailer has plans to introduce the title to an even wider global audience as its loyalty programme expands. However, the issue Ikea and others face is balancing cost-effective global distribution, while ensuring content has a local flavour.

Content for the Ikea title is created by a team in the UK to keep costs down, and then translated by someone present in an individual market. However, each issue contains local news and, since last autumn, a feature on a local home, taken from photos posted on Ikea’s Facebook page.

Balancing the need for local content without allocating a large budget to produce several bespoke magazines is easier when a business has a similar proposition.

Ikea sells self-assembly furniture around the world, so Lonergan maintains that having a central team to produce several editions of the publication is a successful model for the retailer.

“Our brief was to create a magazine that would work in each local territory without using too many resources,” he says. “Content-wise we can still have a global message, as everyone has the same dilemma of not having enough space in their house and wanting to live in a nice environment.

“Ten years ago you would have said that all the content has to be entirely local because markets are so different. But people have more in common than you think, so that allows brands to talk more confidently across several markets,” he argues.

WeightWatchers: has nine international editions of its magazine

Siriliya Nawalker, a publisher at River, agrees that there are more similarities than differences across markets. River produces nine international editions of WeightWatchers magazine, all put together in the UK. However, the brand does make a point of featuring local member success stories in each edition to make the magazine feel more relevant to a particular location (see Q&A, below).

Having similar content across several editions of a branded title is not just about saving money, argues Gavin Green, managing director of automotive at Redwood, which publishes magazines for brands such as Land Rover and Mazda. “By pooling global content, you can generally get better quality articles because with a larger print run you have bigger budgets so you can afford the top photographers and journalists,” he explains.

Marketers are using this high impact content in an attempt to make connections with consumers in the ever-growing markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Aviation brand Bombardier has already been proactive in this area. It launched a Chinese language version of its Experience magazine last year to cater for the rising numbers and importance of Chinese private jet travellers, says Richard Rawlinson, editorial director at Experience publisher Spafax.

Rather than producing a straight translation, Rawlinson says the magazine sources about 30% of its content exclusively for its Chinese audience. Articles might include features on different Chinese business markets, for example. Customer testimonals printed in the publication “reinforce brand and customer loyalty”, according to a spokesperson at Bombardier. To do this successfully across different markets “offering flexible content that is appealing to aircraft owners with varying cultural backgrounds is crucial”, adds the spokesperson. Based on the success of the launch in China, Spafax is now looking to introduce a title for its Russian audience.

Although many marketers are choosing to extend the reach of their customer titles through a centralised operation, Andrew Hirsch, chief executive of John Brown

Ikea (above) and Bombardier (below) offer global print titles

Media, argues that operations must be present in each market to be successful. He gives the example of the Discovery health firm in South Africa, which is launching a magazine in China to complement its business expansion there.

“I don’t think it’s good enough to just do something in a particular market,” he argues. “We only employ local people, so in South Africa our 45 employees are South African and they know all about the local brands. They also know who is respectable in that market in terms of writers and interviewees.”


Individual market nuances will also be uncovered more quickly with the expert knowledge of local staff, Hirsch adds. “In mainland China, a lot of companies aren’t allowed to sell direct to the public. For example, the approach for a financial services magazine might be more about education rather than about where to buy your financial services. The magazine wouldn’t be branded, but produced ‘in association’ with the brand,” he explains.

Hirsch continues: “In Hong Kong, a glossy magazine will be 200 or 300 pages. We might think that’s too much here in the UK. You have to look at the local newsstand market and how your magazine fits into that.”

Regardless of differing views surrounding the most effective way of handling international customer magazine production, digital strategies are playing on everyone’s minds. August Media’s Lonergan says Ikea Family Live runs a digital-only offering in markets where the postal system is less reliable, such as Russia, and this might also be a way for other businesses to introduce branded content in emerging markets.

John Brown’s Hirsch says producing mobile content is also key in emerging markets. Content, however, has to be tailored to suit the more basic phones that are prevalent in countries such as China and South Africa (see top trends, below).

Despite the challenges businesses have to face when expanding their customer publishing operations, it doesn’t seem to be putting them off. The Association of Publishing Agencies’ (APA) International Customer Publishing Awards had double the amount of entries in 2011, compared with the previous year. This is a strong indication that marketers will increasingly be turning their attention to their branded titles as a way to reach out to a global audience.



Siriliya Nawalker
Publisher of WeightWatchers magazine at River

Marketing Week (MW): What is the overall purpose of WeightWatchers magazine?
Siriliya Nawalker (SN):
WeightWatchers uses customer publishing to increase brand awareness among its target audience who aren’t attending WeightWatchers meetings.

MW: How many international editions does River publish?
We publish nine editions, including the UK version. The German, Dutch and French editions were relaunched last year after River took them over from another publishing company.

The Swedish magazine is a very new launch. We have a team of Swedish people here in the UK who put the magazine together and we source member success stories from WeightWatchers groups in Sweden.

MW: You took over some of these international editions from another publishing company. What changes have been made?
The magazine is more consistent now; the brand values for WeightWatchers are the same all around the world so it is only natural to have a magazine that has similar values across its territories.

We have continued with a format of key editorial pillars, such as WeightWatchers success stories, fashion and beauty, food, health and wellbeing. Our front cover feature is always about a local person.

MW: What is your approach to localising content versus distributing the same content across each issue?

SN: The level of localisation is dependent on the subject. With food, we have found that it has become more generic across countries because everyone eats Italian, Spanish, Thai and Indian food. So, we are able to use stories about food from the UK and repurpose them across markets.

Health and wellbeing articles will be based on what we have written for the UK but we might find local experts. Beauty is a bit easier because most of the brands we use are international but we do need to make sure a product is available in each market.
But the aims of the magazine are similar across all markets.

MW: What individual market nuances do you have to consider?

SN: With food and recipes, we have to make sure all the ingredients are available in each of the countries, and most of them are. There might have to be some tweaks. For example, they don’t have non-fat Greek yoghurt in France so if we publish a recipe that has this ingredient, we will come up with a substitute for the French edition.

However, we do have to vary the message around weight loss. In Germany, we can’t talk about the health benefits of losing weight as it is seen as a commercial claim, so we will have to re-word it, to make it more about general wellbeing.


Top trends: 2012 predictions

Siriliya Nawalker

Publisher of WeightWatchers magazine at River

We are reviewing our digital strategy, especially around apps. Demand will vary across markets because of iPad user numbers and broadband distribution.

Emerging markets are an area we could look at for customer publishing for the brands that operate there. Brazil, Russia, India and China are all growing in terms of their potential for customer magazine launches.


Andrew Hirsch
Chief executive
John Brown Media (publishers of Discovery health magazine in South Africa and China)

Digital strategies are important, but you have to understand what technology is being used, and distribute content accordingly. Only about 11 million people in South Africa have access to a computer so print media is still quite popular. SMS marketing is popular because many people have a phone that isn’t a smartphone. Similarly in China, there are about 1 billion mobile phone users, but the majority won’t be smartphones. As a result, we need to think about distributing content made for this screen size.


Mark Lonergan
Managing director
August Media (publisher of Ikea Family Live)

We’ve been expanding the digital offering because in some markets the postal system isn’t great. In Russia, for example, we only have a digital magazine, so we’re expanding on that.

In terms of digital, publishers used to be happy with making digital magazines just standard page turners – they were holding on too tightly to the magazine experience, rather than developing specific things for that channel. But in emerging markets people are bypassing PCs and going straight to mobile.


Gavin Green
Managing director of automotive
Redwood (publisher of Land Rover and Mazda customer magazines)

As car sales grow in places like Brazil, we will probably see more customer magazines being produced in the BRIC countries. Clearly the more customers you have, the more that will be printed.

We also expect to see a lot of growth in digital. Land Rover has an iPad app, while Mazda has an emagazine. We are incorporating more video content, which has been our main growth in the past year.


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