The power of print. Lessons from the world’s biggest brands

Young companies are launching magazines to deepen connections with consumers.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

By Chaymae Samir | Oct 17, 2019

If you missed Part 1 of our series on the current state and future of print, head to If Millennials killed print, will Gen Z revive it?.

Last Christmas, Amazon announced that it would print a toy catalogue during the holiday season. For any other traditional retailer, this wouldn’t be a novelty. But the e-commerce giant has built its $100bn empire entirely on digital platforms. Why would the company turn to print when they have the world’s devices through which to advertise?

And they’re not alone. Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Google, and Asos are just a few of the many brands that have turned to magazines to communicate with both employees and customers. 

Are these brands feeling nostalgia for the 1990’s? Possibly. But it’s more likely they understand that generation z and millennials see novelty in print, thus leveraging printed media as a special component in their media mix. In a rush to digitize everything, sophisticated print magazines are a great way to stand out from the crowd. 

From storytelling and branding, to monetization, what can publishers learn from some of the strongest brands turning back to print? 

The millennial appeal

There is a huge misconception that younger generations are so addicted to their phones that they no longer are interested in reading physical products. The opposite is in fact supported by statistics. According to MNI:

  • Baby Boomers read 9.2 magazines per month
  • Gen Xers read 9.1
  • Millennials read 8.9

This means younger generations are reading almost as much as older ones. 

FedEx Office found 90% of all consumers prefer to read printed materials vs. digital screens and “despite the familiarity with digital, nearly half of Millennial respondents (ages 18-34) reported having something professionally printed at least once a month.”

And, if you’re thinking brand magazines are just glorified catalogues, then get this: so successful are some ‘’free’’ brand magazines, they are now ‘‘on sale’’ standalone publications. Superdrug’s Dare magazine retails for US$3.87, Net-a-Porter’s Porter for $7.5 and ASOS magazine for $1.25. 

PressGazette.co.uk reports the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) estimated ASOS Magazine’s distribution at 453,287 for the final six months of 2018. The magazine claims its circulation rises to over 700,000 when also distributed in France, Germany and the US.

The in-house editorial team produces content about fashion and beauty trends. It built itself a strong reputation, challenging the likes of Glamour and Teen Vogue, and featuring A list celebrities like Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence and Lena Dunham.

ASOS.com (short for ‘As Seen On Screen’) is usually given away to the company’s “most loyal” customers. The 100th issue went on sale at £1 ($1.29) in February.

For Net-a-Porter, another UK-based fashion retailer, Porter Magazine is meant to support its digital channels. And it’s paying off!

Tess Macleod-Smith, VP of publishing and media at Net-a-Porter, said that “85% of our top customers were inspired to shop after reading an issue of Porter, and those who become subscribers increased their spend by more than 125% and their frequency on the site by more than 25%.”

Porter is sold in over 30,000 retail stores and features over 300 pages of fashion content

In his book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, David Sax, a Canadian journalist explains that the millennial fascination for print comes from digital burnout: “Because the millennial generation came of age with broadband, internet, smartphones and social media, we assume that is all they want. But, in fact, when you look at who is driving the return of things like vinyl records, print books, paper books, new magazines, niche publications, it’s exactly that demographic of millennials, and those younger than them.” 

He adds “That’s because they don’t view digital as special. Digital is like the air around them. To them, there’s a uniqueness when someone presents them something in an analog format. They’re more willing to see the value and not to see it as antiquated.”

The fight against digital ad fatigue

“When you look at the cost of digital media, which is going up significantly in pay-per-click terms, and then you look at the cost and flexibility of a printed communication, which is actually going down in real terms and making it more accessible, then you’ve got a bit of a tipping point going on.” 

Simon Biltcliffe, Chief Executive, Webmart

Put simply, ad fatigue is the condition that arises when consumers have grown tired of viewing the same ads.

In a world where consumers are fed up with too many online ads and retargeting campaigns, the payoff for print ads seem to be higher than digital ones. According to MarketingProfs, 92% of 18- to 23-year-olds find it easier to read print over digital content and the response rate for direct-mail marketing is 37% higher than the email rate.

Canadian Tire is a retail company which sells a wide range of automotive, hardware, sports and leisure, and home products. A couple of years ago, it mailed out 12 million 200-page paper catalogues across Canada, showcasing 1,000 products. 

This may seem like a backward move for a retailer that has poured millions into improving its digital capabilities during the past five years. But executives insist the move is actually more digital: 

“We are not investing in paper,” president Allan MacDonald said in an interview. “We are investing in a promotional tool for our digital catalogue.” The approach is referred to as ‘’phygital’’, a bricks and clicks, or clicks and mortar model.

Canadian Tire introduced a new kind of catalogue, combining augmented reality with print on paper. It introduces relatable images that are linked to the online and in-store experiences.

Using Canadian Tire’s mobile app, WOW Guide readers could use a smartphone or tablet to hover and discover video links, as well as information on pricing or local inventory details, for example.

Somewhere between a catalogue and lifestyle inspiration, WOW might not appeal to part of their older target audience, but is an effective way to connect Canadian Tire with a younger generation of customers. In fact, and immediately after the launch of the WOW Guide, the retailer’s weekly online sales doubled. 

Publishing as content marketing

“In the age of fake news, trolls and bots, print can give that trust, authority and credibility,” 

Amy Hutchinson,  Marketing Director, BPIF

Many other brands that originated online are using print. Especially with the introduction of new data protection rules under GDPR, startups are thinking differently about how they communicate with their customers. They are becoming publishers in their own right. 

Dollar Shave Club created Mel Magazine, which comes in the monthly subscription. Casper started Woolly Magazine in partnership with McSweeney’s, and Airbnb has Airbnb Magazine.  

In this day and age, establishing a brand often comes with creating stand-alone content in the form of blog posts or images on Instagram, so it appeals to the customers you’re targeting. But a successful magazine, can bring in advertising dollars and convert into new subscribers. 

Away, the direct-to-consumer luggage company, is now publishing its own magazine called Here. It retails for $10 and was slipped into every piece of luggage purchased when it launched. 

“We had an amazing distribution platform because it’s going in the suitcase, so it means that anyone who’s buying it has a certain amount of income, is about to travel, and we knew exactly who the demographic it was going to because we were a direct-to-consumer company and these are our customers,” said Jen Rubio, president and chief brand officer at Away.

“Here is written for the way we actually travel, with stories worth sharing — for travelers, by travelers,” Away says. “Every issue features cultural reporting, travel journals, photo essays, interviews with known travelers, and city guides from local creatives.”

And it’s that customer knowledge that’s appealing to companies like Bumble, who are paying the brand to advertise in their magazine. Rubio says that the worst case scenario is that the magazine would become a “great travel blog.” The best-scenario? It would be a “stand-alone media division that’s generating revenue, generating profit for the company.”

What’s the takeaway?

So what can we learn from these companies? Building product stories around people creates ongoing success and brand loyalty. Good content always comes first, and print should always balance quality editorials with commercial goals.

Most importantly, understanding your customers (and audience) wants and needs means that it’s not just about digital or print. Print provides an “offline” more authentic experience, while digital can convert to sales. If companies like Google and Amazon, whose businesses are digital based, are turning to print and direct mail, clearly it is because it shows an attractive ROI.

Next, we’ll be heading to emerging markets, where we’ll see how publishers are tackling the challenges that come with print advertising. 

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