Reports of the death of hard copy publishing have been greatly exaggerated.  Not only are magazines finding their groove even among the so-called digital converts, there’s a new growth sector emerging. Its called custom publishing.

I am an unashamed fan and custom publishing evangelist from way back. I discovered the merits of magazines over a decade ago, when I published a glossy for Philips Lighting as part of an integrated strategy that brought an unprecedented volume of qualified leads from difficult-to-reach targets in Central Europe. I’ve produced many, for different clients since and I see no reason to believe that the growth in digital has made hard-copy publishing any less useful to marketers. Like anything else though you have to use custom publishing correctly, but if you get it right there’s no end to the ROI.

Custom magazines (and I don’t mean the tatty rubbish that a lot of companies churn out) can enhance your brand perceptions immeasurably, engage your customers and, as I have proven many times, generate business. They can even make a profit!

Last year I published Saudi Arabia’s first retailer-owned women’s glossy for an fmcg company. We distributed 50,000 free copies and they delivered measurable sales and greatly enhanced our brand engagement, but that wouldn’t have been the case if the content hadn’t been high quality and tailored to our target and our objective. The trick is to resist the urge to produce a brochure, which is something the owners of the business I was working with last year found it hard to get their heads around. Your products have to be contextualised and woven into stories with subject lines that appeal to your target market, but you can produce product ads and include them in the same way that any magazine would carry advertising. Content themes should not just relate to your product groups or sector, but cover subjects that your customers and prospects are interested in and, most importantly, every theme should take every opportunity to relate back to your brand promise and support facts.

Recently however, custom publishing has upped its game with the launch of titles by Net-a-Porter, Swedish fashion brand Acne and others. These are necessarily as well turned-out as the brands they represent and their editorial policy extends the theory of custom content further. Their point of greatest difference however is that they appear on news stands and are paid for by their readers. This is a measure of a powerful brand community and something that can only make the community stronger. Our Saudi magazine readers, unfamiliar with the concept kept trying to pay us for our magazine, such was the value it held for them and therefore an indication of the value it brought to our marketing strategy.

Remember fanzines? Well, they aren’t dead either. British rock and jazz musician Jamie Cullum published his own hard copy magazine Eighty-Eight (Referring to the number of keys on a full-size piano). This has upped the fanzine game too with high production standards, classy graphics and its a perfect example of how it should be done. The content is entirely related to things that interest Jamie, much of it not elated to his music. A friend of mine called it self-indulgent, but its actually pretty clever. Being a member of Jamie’s brand community (a fan) means that you share something of his interests already, but also, because of that you want to know more about his other interests and maybe make them yours too. It’s all part of getting under the skin of a personality or brand and feeling a real kinship and when fans want to do that you know you are onto a winner.

I’m reluctant to recommend that everyone rushes into custom publishing despite the undoubted benefits it can bring, simply because people (even the publishers) usually get it wrong. Those I produce have succeeded because they have been fully integrated into the broader marketing and brand strategies. Throughout each publications there are connections to social media, on-line, store promotions, loyalty programmes and customer support that build brand engagement and deliver store traffic and sales. It has to be subtle. If you don’t get it right you’ll at best not realise the potential value and it could even work against you, but if you can find someone who knows what they are doing to lead you through the process it’s definitely a tool that most businesses should consider adding to their toolbox.

There’s an interesting article on this subject on Retail DIve

Phil Darby
April 30, 2014

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