Online vacation rental company Airbnb, luggage retailer Away, dating app Bumble and golf equipment and apparel brand Callaway have all recently embarked on this journey with the launch of print titles tied to their respective industries in order to market their brands on a new platform.
Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and the Orange Effect Foundation, says that this engagement strategy has been successful for retailers for a couple of reasons, one being because the marketing focus for many companies right now continues to be digital, and therefore there is “scarcity of competition” in the print space.
“It’s almost like the early days of the web when the first movers in content creation dominated. Now it’s happening with print,” he explains.
The other reason he sees for this trend is the fact that consumers trust print more than content published on digital platforms. “With all the fake news going on, consumers believe that if a company invests in the printed word it’s more valuable. Whether it’s true or not, that’s the perception.”
These engagement plays aren’t always successful, as demonstrated by the Lifetime channel’s partnership with Hearst to duplicate the success of O, The Oprah Magazine. In 2003, they launched Lifetime magazine, which ended up shuttering less than two years later.
And in 2017, mattress retailer Casper replaced its online publication Van Winkle with a print quarterly called Woolly Magazine in order to lead the conversation about sleep and wellness. It, too, ceased its print publication less than two years later and now only exists online.
Retailers, though, continue to move boldly forward with these print extensions, likely because they’re often aided by their marketing departments, which absorb the costs associated with launching a magazine because these platforms are not necessarily seen as revenue drivers, but as audience builders.
Scott McDonald, president of NOMOS Research and author of a 2015 white paper for the MPA—The Association of Magazine Media titled “What Can Neuroscience Tell Us About Why Print Magazine Advertising Works?” tells Folio: that another reason retailers might be attracted to this marketing tool is print’s ability to capture more of the readers’ attention than digital platforms.
While his study focused on how print magazines serve as strong ROI performers for advertising partners, McDonald says that the neuroscience behind how readers remember print ads can be translated to how they engage with a branded print product.
“People read slower on paper and retain more of it. Plus they tend to fantasize more, projecting themselves into the pictures,” says McDonald. “It’s a leisurely activity compared to the more purpose-driven and distractible experience of navigating on screens. Retailers could take advantage of that difference.”
Readers projecting themselves into a branded magazine and building deeper engagements with the retailer in that way is what both REI Co-op and Goose Island Beer Co. either hope to accomplish, or have seen success with so far with their magazine extensions.
To get a better understanding of why these large retail brands are pursuing print as an alternative marketing platform and what value it brings back to their brands, we spoke with two companies from very different industries.
Replacing a catalogue with a magazine
With a membership of over 18 million, REI is the largest consumer co-operative in the U.S. Last year alone, the company grew by 1 million members and now consists of 155 stores nationwide, but after a long stint of being a catalogue retailer since it was founded in 1938, it is now replacing that marketing tool with a print product aimed more at building engagement than increasing sales.
“The real objective here is around engagement and reaching the REI member base and people that have a relationship with the outdoors and helping enrich that relationship to inspire more participation,” says Paolo Mottola, director of content and media at REI. “And also, to reach folks that may come across this magazine and REI for the first time at the newsstand—we want to invite people into the stores.”
The new quarterly magazine, Uncommon Path, is scheduled to debut this fall with an initial circulation of 700,000 and will be distributed to a limited group within the 18 million members, sold on newsstands and in REI stores for $4.95 per issue, as well as polybagged with select Hearst titles during its first run.
“We looked at print, naturally, because we know that there are still people that want to consume content in print,” explains Mottola. “Our catalogues have kind of organically included more and more storytelling over time, and we’d seen good engagement with that, so this was just sort of the next big step to make our print offering more about editorial and storytelling.”
And while the magazine will carry on some of the responsibilities that the catalogue had by only featuring products that can be found on the company’s website or in its stores, Mottola says that his team’s editorial approach will be very similar to how any consumer magazine presents merchandise by looking for the journalistic story first, rather than listing the season’s new products and features.
“Of course we’re going to be totally transparent that we’re a retailer and where we start is with the product that we carry in our stores, but really what we get to do in this format is say why this product is really cool and innovative and important and enables different types of experiences.”
In order to deepen that line of distinction between what is editorial and what is a long form advertisement, Mottola says that the magazine will still sell full-page, traditional ad spots, which McDonald agrees helps to bolster journalistic integrity.
“[Including advertisements] likely gives it more credibility and authenticity, especially if it credits the competitive brands with some virtues, rather than just trashing them and coming off as a sales pitch,” explains McDonald.
Creating the magazine is not the first step in REI’s editorial journey.
Currently, Mottola’s team operates the online Co-op Journal, which publishes breaking news and features related to the outdoors, two podcast series, a film program that releases an online documentary once a month and the largest free online outdoor education library called “Expert Advice.”
“What we’ve done with the magazine specifically, is actually extended what we’ve been building in content capabilities for the last few years,” he tells Folio:. “It’s the chemistry of all those offerings that meet different customer intents in different mediums that encourages us to look at print and say, ’We probably have some of those audiences that would love to engage with us in print and there are probably a lot of audiences that we’re not meeting yet.’”
He continues that all of these digital platforms have been performing promisingly in terms of reach and engagement. Each short documentary, for instance, sees about 1 million views and its interview-style podcast “Wild Ideas Worth Living” has tens of thousands of downloads per episode.
And he hopes that the magazine continues in this trend of engagement, particularly in reaching people who don’t have an existing relationship with REI through newsstand sales and getting into new mailboxes.
Uncommon Path is being created in partnership with Hearst for editorial production—six in-house staffers at REI will contribute content, as well as staff at Hearst and a network of freelancers—ad sales and distribution, including being polybagged with Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Bicycling and Runner’s World to select subscribers of those magazines.
The magazine itself, however, will not sell subscriptions for the time being, but Mottola says “that’s just because we want to understand the reception to this and how people are seeing it and get some feedback first, and then think about how we expand that into a subscription-type model.”
He anticipates that the startup costs of the magazine and a partnership with Hearst will be offset by other revenue streams within the co-op, but eventually hopes that ad revenues and newsstand sales will help fund the project.
However, because REI is a co-op, 70% of all of its profits from retail, editorial, membership and other revenue streams, goes to profit sharing, philanthropy and partner dividends that are aimed at helping outdoor infrastructure and promoting outdoor lifestyles, “so there’s a lot of work that we do for our members that isn’t about a direct bottomline,” he says.
“In that context,” he continues, “when we look at this, we understand that we’re going to have those direct revenues, but it’s also not all about that. Hopefully, if we’re seeing engagement with the book, that’s how we’ll measure the success of it.”
Building engagement through education
Goose Island Beer Co.’s Ingrain magazine just celebrated its first birthday and fourth issue. And in that year, the 3x frequency publication has grown from 20,000 subscribers to 40,000 across 10 U.S. cities.
The cost of the magazine is completely absorbed by the brewery’s marketing department and it was originally created as a way to educate readers about hobbies and interests that are concurrent to the craft brewing community.
“Ultimately, we would really love it if we could somehow show that this magazine is getting people more interested in craft beer. I don’t know if there is a way to do that, and it’s definitely not a requirement for doing it,” says Christina Perozzi, editor-in-chief of Ingrain and the head of education at Goose Island. “It’s more about being a cultural leader and being inclusive of people who might not be into craft beer or know about the Goose Island Beer Co. and expanding the category, versus someone who reads this magazine and then going out to buy a Goose Island six-pack.”
That’s why the subscription is free to anyone who signs up for it—they don’t want the cost of a subscription to inhibit anyone who might be interested in learning more about craft beer or other hobbies around it. It’s also the only way that Ingrain is distributed at the moment, through its partnership with Condé Nast.
Goose Island’s owner, AB InBev—which also owns Budweiser, Stella and Corona, among others—also co-created the online beer magazine October with Condé’s Pitchfork.
A subscription model, however, offers an opportunity for a more personal connection to a consumer versus gaining followers on social media or e-newsletter subscriptions, according to Pulizzi. “Social media connections that brands grow on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube belong to those companies, not the brands,” he says. “If a consumer subscribes to your magazine and actively trades their personal information to receive your magazine, that means something. And talk about first-party data.”
Also unlike Uncommon Path’s partnership with Hearst, Ingrain is produced completely in-house at Goose Island. Everything from editorial content to page design to photography is pitched and contributed by full-time staffers of the brewery who have taken on the magazine project in-conjunction with their other duties.
Initially, Perozzi’s team didn’t think that keeping the project in-house would be within their abilities, but they realized that not only was it monetarily prohibitive to contract those services from a publishing partner, but the content wasn’t in their voice.
“We decided to try and do one issue and then we said, ‘OK, let’s do another one,’” Perozzi explains. “And I think that they’re getting progressively better. We’re finding our voice in terms of a printed magazine.”
For each issue, an email goes out to the company to crowdsource stories that people are interested in writing. There are also regular columns that are written by employees who have an expertise on specific topics, like meat columnist Jesse Valenciana who has authored two books on barbecue.
She also says that while her team likes to include coverage of the brewery’s new beers, they don’t treat the magazine like a catalogue of their products. Only after the story comes to fruition, will they go back and look for integration opportunities. And in order to maintain journalistic standards, features will often include coverage of direct competitors.
“It’s researched, truthful reporting—though I don’t want to say unbiased,” says Perozzi, who acknowledges that the magazine is a product of the marketing department. “My philosophy is, if you’re educating people about craft beers in general, it not only helps Goose Island, but the entire craft beer industry as a whole, which is what craft beer is about—it’s about collaboration and breweries helping each other succeed.”
While the magazine does integrate advertisements, she says that they don’t charge their partners for them because the goal is to feature like-minded companies, including competitors, who offer brand value, and she doesn’t want there a financial roadblock in the way of creating those partnerships.
Perozzi says there’s also a play for reaching people who aren’t existing customers of Goose Island and non-craft beer drinkers in general.
“If we’re writing an article about music, we’re not trying to make it about selling beer, we’re writing a journalistically sound story about a band and we hope that people who are interested in that will want to pick up the magazine. Maybe the next article they read is about the history of a specific beer style, and they become curious about craft beer because they’re learning about it in a way that they’re not expecting to.”
For retailers or consumer brands looking to bolster their engagement with print, this strategy does offer a way to connect with audiences in a slower, more deliberate way. And while it’s not a guaranteed method for gaining more customers, “In a world of throw-away media, developing a printed vehicle gives the brand some level of control on what they want to say and how they want to say it,” says Pulizzi.
To learn more about attracting and keeping brand evangelists, attend the “The Science of Building Brand Loyalty” session at this year’s Folio: Show, October 30-31.