Content marketing might be the most prominent trend in the industry, but the concept of brands producing their own content is by no means new. Well, unless you classify 130-years-old as new.
The granddaddies of content marketing are branded magazines and branded reference books, and they date back to the 19th century. One of the first acknowledged magazines published by a brand is The Furrow, still in circulation after being conceived by the John Deere company to educate consumers about technology and trends in the agricultural industry.
Some branded publications have become such iconic brands – think Michelin guides and Guinness Book of World Records – you almost forget the products they were designed to promote (tires, suds).
Despite the credentials and proven track records of branded magazines, they seem to have fallen into disfavour in the conference rooms of media agencies and corporate marketing divisions.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s most recent study of industry trends, 88 per cent of business-to-business (B2B) companies use content marketing, spending 28 per cent of their marketing budgets on it. Meanwhile, 76 per cent of business-to-consumer (B2C) brands use content marketing, and they spend a third of their budgets on it. In both sectors, the most widely used tools, by far, were social media, e-newsletters, videos, and blogs or articles on corporate websites.
Far down the list of content-marketing tools was the branded magazine – deployed by 36 per cent of B2B and 41 per cent of B2C brands. Why the lack of respect for this tried and trusted marketing tool?
You won’t be shocked by my answer: it’s made of paper. In this age of digital-first marketing – where great reach, variety of audience and sexy interactive kicks can all be obtained for what’s often a smaller spend – fewer trees are being put to the sword in the name of brand engagement. While that’s good for the environment, marketers are making a mistake in their haste to jettison branded magazines.
I am no longer surprised when clients look to our content studio for solutions that don’t include a magazine option. However, we do work with our brand partnership colleagues in advertising to include magazine options in our proposals when appropriate. It’s often a good fit that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Let me name the ways:
- Visual storytelling
- Long-form journalism
- The luxurious “weightiness” of a magazine product
- The longevity of its presence, sitting on a potential customer’s desk or in a reception area for much longer than the flash of a few tweets
A magazine might not have that instantaneous reach we all desire from a digital campaign, but it’s a quality-over-quantity proposition that enhances a company’s brand halo in the right, select hands.
I’ve been lucky to have worked with several clients on branded magazines, including the Toronto-based Sunnybrook Foundation, which uses its biannual magazine as a key fundraising tool, as well as global firms such as PwC and KPMG. Magazines can be paired with a digital play – something we provide for Sunnybrook, for example, with online readers able to click on a donate button embedded on article pages.
Research shows that print-digital combinations can be highly effective.
And while a regular publication fits for certain brands, it doesn’t have to be a continuing process. One-off magazines in various formats specifically for targeted campaigns, such as in airports, can be very effective.
Part of the bias against the branded magazine is no doubt due to its perception as costly. But it’s all relative: one great way of looking at it, as I read recently, is that for the cost of one or two full-page newspaper ads, you can produce your own magazine. And I can think of few opportunities better positioned to showcase your thought leadership, expertise or products while promoting engaging journalism.
Branded magazines are still all around us: on airplanes, at big-box stores, and in hotels. In their least-effective form, they are little more than hard-sell brochures. But under the guidance of a brand that wants its magazine to be as authentic as any you might buy on a newsstand, great things can happen.
Simon Beck is the Senior Editor, Globe Content Studio