People often ask me about how to market an online magazine. And I say different things to different publishers, depending upon what I know about their publication and marketing to date.
Obviously, it won’t help to tell a publisher who’s all over social media for the past 2 years that they need to understand the platforms. They probably do to a large degree. And it won’t help to mention to a print magazine the branding value of a print edition. They get that much. So it can be tough to know where to start without knowing their exact situation in great depth.
There are four main points I can emphasize to anyone with definitive certainty on this topic. How to market an online magazine will start with a focus on one or more of the following:
1) Customer & market data that solidifies competence in branding the audience and competing for targeted market share. This needs to be reviewed and updated every 6 months to stay fresh and effective in a digital world.
2) Audience demographics
Who you’re targeting. This comes from your customer and marketing data.
3) Tone (or valence) used on the target audience. You get this from knowing your audience demographics.
4) Brand positioning that consolidates tone/valence & targeted demographics against business constraints
Don’t worry, I’ll go into more depth on each of these.
Market to your prospective online magazine audience demographics with avatars
Whether or not to try what works for pop stars is not a question that will come up for a magazine who already knows their target demographics. They’ll probably already have a customer profile and a customer journey. What are those? I’ll explain that, too.
The customer (or buyer) profile
This is simply a profile of all the key traits that matter when it comes to what kind of a person would likely get the most value out of your magazine. The buyer/customer profile (also called a customer avatar) helps you to tie a specific homogeneous demographic set from within your available data sets to a well-defined, easy-to-visualize profile. This profile represents the type of person most likely to embody all these demographic data points.
If you don’t have a customer profile/avatar, you can create one. The good folks at HubSpot have actually done a bit of the legwork here with their walk-through persona-maker. Alternatively you can go a little slower and download one of their great buyer’s profile templates to start your “journey” into buyer profiles.
And speaking of journeys, that leads us to the customer journey. This is an essential component of using prospective audience demographics (in the form of customer avatars) to promote a digital magazine in your niche.
The magazine subscriber’s customer journey
Imagine the pathway that many people will travel online and/or offline in discovering your magazine. First off, they’d be looking for something, wouldn’t they? This is step one of what marketers call the “buyer’s journey”, or something along those lines, depending upon which school you adhere to.
Now, let’s imagine this is a single career woman. She’s trying to figure out how to carve out a personal life that allows her to enjoy her freedom from a family for a while longer.
She’s also going to be spending and enjoying some of her disposable income on interesting story-worthy adventures. So she decides to take up skiing. So where does she start?
Well, this is an educated and project-savvy project manager at a big company. So she thinks methodically…like any PM would.
She begins a search for a skiing magazine that focuses on the best ski resorts to go to, the best equipment to buy and use, and maybe the best clothes to wear.
She may even need to plan a different diet that is more skier-friendly out there on the cold slopes where uncomfortable positions will be happening after a meal at the lodge restaurant.
She may even be thinking about the learning process and preparing before she arrives on the skiing scene.
- in her 20’s to 30’s
- healthy enough to ski
- making 65+K a year
We’re now ready to create our buyer’s profile:
- Age: 24-37-yrs old
- Single, no children
- Income” 65+K
- Healthy and active
Now we can imagine her. In many cases, the profile may not include a stock image photograph of a real person. But it can help to make the prospect “real” in the mind of all dealing with buyer profiles in the course of planning marketing initiatives. Sometimes you may see an illustration of a woman with vague ethnic and/or age indicators, and that’s fine, too.
The bottom line with a customer profile is that there should be more than one! Not only may the buyer’s profile be distinguished by gender (if that can matter – and it often might), but also by other key lifestyle indicators.
These indicators may include:
- age (do older people ski?),
- income (how affluent does one need to be to go skiing?),
- ethnicity (do all ethnic backgrounds in a culture equally favor going skiing?)
- and so on…
Tone (or valence)
Okay, if this is going to be in keeping with our example of a skiing magazine, then the tone of the magazine probably has some flexibility, but not a wide open sort. In particular, the tone is likely to either appeal to extreme sports enthusiasts (skiing qualifies to some extent), or to vacationing higher-income types. We might also include students.
The tone should generally follow the profile. Ever notice that Coca Cola and McDonald’s both seem to periodically update the company slogans? That’s valence – the type of (product/service-positive) voice and sentiment one might imagine from the average customer in describing the offering (if they liked it).
B2B companies usually take a more straight-forward approach to their own customers, perhaps because they’re speaking to companies who themselves are familiar with marketing tactics. In those cases, valence may be employed, but it might appeal to work ethic or company values rather than, say, a mood, as is the norm in the previous two B2C brand examples.
Perils of not understanding your prospective magazine subscriber
Ever been to an airport in an Asian country? The VIP lounge is the place to be, but most often it’s where nobody actually ever is.
Perhaps the airlines don’t know their primary traveling customers as well as they think they do. They waste a lot of space on a level of experience most thrifty Asian travelers are simply not interested in. The same seems to apply to the foreign visitors.
Or perhaps they’ve done the math and the occasional VIP lounger racks up thousands late each night when everyone else is curled up in their chair snoozing.
On the other hand, the eating establishments in the main airport concourse areas are often busy enough, and only tend to have a single attendant. So in terms of meeting the key customer profiles on the concourse floor, they seem to be on to something there.
Now apply all of that profile logic to you own magazine.
- Is your magazine welcoming to your true target audiences?
- Does it offer what they really expect and want?
- Is the content addressed to them directly and in a thoughtful way? And if so, how directly?
- Does the target audience member have time for lengthy pieces? Or do they normally expect short bursts of information as in a financial newspaper article?
This last consideration brings us to the next aspect of how to market a magazine using tone/valence.
Brand positioning via content, angle and coverage
Magazine marketing tools & methods to master
Set up web & customer data analytics at the beginning.
Pick an SEO strategy for magazine issues
Decide on a social media marketing strategy
Execute social media by function:
- customer service
The best advice here can be encapsulated briefly…
Consult your buyer profiles when:
- creating or posting content
- responding to prospects on the platform
- jumping into a conversation to shamelessly plug your brand
- trying to make it entertaining enough for “downtime”
Ways that atypical hot-button topics backfire:
- Partisan political articles call into question the impartial expertise of the magazine on a subject considered to be politics-neutral (like golf, cars, travel, food, fashion, or family).
- A partisan political stance can be relied upon to cut away approximately half of your prospects.
- Activist causes can often be parsed as talking points in an eternal noise-war between two political parties.
Media outlets usually do have some bias; it’s unavoidable in a market where people expect this, like political analysis.
Some brands do some rather shrewd calculating in this area and side with a cause on a public issue coming to a head. Or they represent both sides of every debate. It’s usually based upon customer data.
Your magazine’s editorial line may be able to swing taking sides if you truly know your demographics are extremely homogeneous. That said, being shrewd on important issues can be seen as being phony and over-calculating. It’s possible to simply provide a safe space from raging partisan animus. That in itself may often be the most compassionate thing any magazine (or brand) can do in public in the information age. Many worry we are losing our basic humanity to a kind of politicized media possession. Better safe than sorry for a newer magazine.
Use email intelligently: to deliver issues & to prod
SEO is key to your magazine marketing
Use social media marketing to entice.
Many brands have done social media marketing well, and you can, too!
Consider your buyer profiles carefully whenever:
- creating or posting content
- responding to prospects on the platform
- jumping into a mention-triggered conversation to shamelessly plug your brand
- trying to make it entertaining enough for audience “downtime” brand-reinforcement
Advertising strategies for online magazines
Your business will eventually need to advertise; the question is when and how.
For one thing, your ad budget will have to defer to your capital. If you don’t have capital and a good business plan, you’ll need to shelve the advertising until you do have those two key prerequisites.
Next, when advertising, do you choose Google Ads or Facebook Ads? Well, where’s your audience more likely to be? Do they research for what you provide? If so, Google Search Ads make sense.
Google Ads is about more than just Search. Google’s display ads networks can be an essential way to reconnect with site visitors a while after they’ve visited your site. This is called retargeting or remarketing and it’s perfect for shoppers surfing online for the best baseball glove or fall hat. But it’s also a way to work on branding that prospect towards your baseball or fashion magazine.
Is a certain well-known figure within your target industry or niche in the news right now? And did you land an interview with that person? Once the interview’s in the bag, you’ll want to capture that celebrity’s fans by bidding on relevant search terms and frequenting their favorite online haunts with retargeting ads that let them know that, yes, you have that favorite person in your upcoming issue!
Monetize the video content you want seen
Should you host the interview on your YouTube channel as a freebie to attract more attention to your magazine? Allowing YouTube video channel ads to run throughout your interview video is one way to monetize it while giving it away. HubSpot has covered YouTube advertising methods in some detail, so we’ll defer to them on this topic.
Having an open-ended monetization plan for free text or video content allows flexibility to make money outside the paywall. In fact, many niche magazine websites, like ForeignPolicy for example, allow AdSense to run in the margins of their online websites even on the other side of the pay wall. This can ensure the maximum possible revenue from subscribers and non-subscribed visitors alike.
WebDev factors for marketing a magazine
If your magazine has a great WebDev point-person or team, that’s great, because you’re going to need them. And they’re going to need to understand the technologies you plan to work with. So bear this all in mind when lining up the WebDev support team or point person.
Sponsored magazine ad content
Sponsored content is content that a company is paying you to include, whether from OutBrain or directly. This kind of content will require some technical finesse (code snippets, APIs, etc.) to make happen on-call. So will issues like being trammeled by a horde of new visitors for that hard-to-get feature interview.
From conversion optimization to SEO to advertising and social media engagement, your web developer is going to have his or her hands full. And THAT is the way it should be. If your long term goal doesn’t include having a budget for WebDev, you’re making a big mistake. Most of your monetization methods will require some degree of WebDev savvy.
Our clients often have us take up the web development end in whatever ways possible in connection with publishing their magazine issues or fine-tuning their magazine website UX.
Marketing an online magazine requires robust, focused reporting
What do the metrics says about the customer’s journey?
To effectively market an online magazine to your target audiences, you’ll need customer profiles and very defined, multi-endpoint goals for those customer profiles to engage with. But you’ll need to fully understand the journey, and so will all stakeholders, not just the marketing team!
Learn to see the customer journey like a game. Avatars traverse a journey and try to meet certain shared goals. These goals are shared by both avatar and business.
Analytics are used to track the game throughout every experience along the journey. This is true even if the journey takes place partly offline. In such cases, vanity URLs allow the offline user to reconnect with your analytics and register their spot in the buyer’s joourney. And hopefully, everybody wins.
But research, marketing strategy, tactical implementation and analytics are still not enough! If you really want to understand how to market an online magazine to the right audience, you’ll need to go deep into your data and analytics.
Deep customer data analytics can translate customer data into well-defined profiles. Without robust reporting and intelligence, the average journey still falls short.
The trick here is to reach for new ground, but to stay on one journey at a time, until you’ve got it mastered. Most analytics failures happen from over-reach – too much too soon. One profile and one journey may be just right to start with if you’re a small outfit.
Many foolhardy magazines have simply given up on analytics because of limited bandwidth. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
No incomplete customer journey is ever permanently failed. They can be turned around via sticky, intelligent marketing and CRM tactics. And such tactics are fueled by analytics intelligence data.
Solid reporting includes intelligence reports (using some degree of artificial intelligence automation) that make sense of incomplete business goals against constraints like time and resources. Good reporting must also account for seasonal fluctuations in the market. This is impossible without some cross-industry benchmark data to guide you.
When intelligent reporting is fully working, the snag in the customer journey becomes easy to spot. This is true especially when dealing with hundreds or thousands of individual customer journeys happening on your magazine website every month.
Actually, even a single customer journey can be singled out in Google Marketing Platform tools like Google Data Studio. And this is what perfected automation tends to do. Big data solutions are providing this kind of tracking potential to increasingly smaller businesses.
Marketing is a game, so gamify it.
By now you can probably see magazine marketing is indeed a game. Avatars traverse a journey and meet goals (for both avatar and business). Analytics are used to track their online and offline experiences (generally via online means). And hopefully, everybody wins.
But research, marketing strategy, tactical implementation and analytics are not enough. Without robust reporting and intelligence, all of this could still fall short. Solid reporting includes intelligence reports that make sense of business goals against constraints like time and resources, as well as seasonal fluctuations in the market.
Competitive Intelligence (CI) can make sense of competition. CI can help spot and identify any innate competitor advantages that you’d have to overcome to compete against that particular magazine. Thinking of taking on the The New Yorker? Or maybe The Atlantic? Those niches are quite sewn up, so better do your research first! Failure to do so will most likely result in wasting tons of advertising money on a hopeless market share scramble – and with no payoff.
It’s probably not possible to compete on their terms. But what are they failing at for that very same audience that you could provide? You should be designing and marketing a magazine to provide what the others in your niche lack.
CI is ultimately also a big part of brand positioning. For those new to the term, brand positioning is the difference between The Atlantic and the The New Yorker. It’s why the prospect chooses one of two very similar, quality, niche-branded items when either might easily fulfill the same basic need reasonably well.
The devil is in the details, but so is the brand position. Making the brand positioning clear and well-defined against a competing brand is key. If your magazine brand is distinguished from your competitors in the mind of prospects, this provides a choice and manufactures a new desire each time you rbranding message is consumed. This is the primary goal in all brand advertising and brand messaging.
It should be a positive selling point, of course, rather than a negative one. And mentioning your competitor isn’t necessary (or advisable). Just mention the position you occupy.
The Atlantic has an East Coast perspective on current events, but The New Yorker has a specifically Manhattan point of view. And this difference is both a selling point for both. This dichotomy represents brand positioning for magazines in a nice little nutshell.
So what’s to distinguish your magazine from competitors? It had better not be “an east coast perspective” or “a Manhattan perspective” if you want to truly compete with those undisputed niche leaders! That’s too identical, and also too broad for a new magazine. You’d do far better to try something like “a west coast perspective” or even “a mid-western perspective”.
But let’s say you’re New York based and want to tap into the vast NYC market. You could aim for a more specific audience within east coast or Manhattan/NYC. For example, you could aim at a Brooklyn borough audience and aspire to the same level of articulation, informed nuance and seriousness, but with a more local focus with an emphasis on influence upon the American culture at large. This is more or less what Booklyn Magazine is doing.
But what if you want to capture all of NYC’s market, not just one borough outside Manhattan? Well, you could select a cultural aspect of the Big Apple, like food! What might seem on the surface like a small cross-section of a single city’s culture is actually quite an enormous category to cover.
Think of all the great restaurants and foodie genres, wine bars, and renowned pizza parlors and delicatessens in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Harlem, or the Bronx. Food would be an endless category to do, so much so that you could easily focus on a sub-category like up-scale dining and wine bars and probably intersect with both The Atlantic and The New Yorker audiences with just a slim issue each month.
Feature articles on dishes, chefs and owners, as well as restaurant reviews and interviews would keep this large audience well-engaged and easily snag all the subscriptions required to anchor the mag’s revenue model.
Understand your resources with business intelligence
Business intelligence (BI) is about internal business optimization. Bi focuses on better understanding and optimizing internal resources against internal and external limitations. The internal resources include things like actual cash-flow and access to credit, available manpower, customer data and market data insights).
Positioning begins with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, & threats)
Strengths are simply the internal resources your business can wield.
Weaknesses include things such as lacking the experience or customer database your more established competitor may have, or having fewer employees or patents.
Opportunities are the ways you can exploit your strengths against the relative weaknesses of your competitor.
Threats are the ways your competitor can exploit your weaknesses with comparative strengths in a particular area or market.
Together, these concepts relate the crucial ways that intelligence can empower your magazine business and guide your marketing.
Doing a SWOT is often a first step in BI.
SWOT is the classic marketing device to frame the brand discussion with BI and CI tools.
Doing a basic SWOT comparison with one competitor indicative of that market will yield some rather basic truths. These truths can then be used to compete intelligently with that competitor. They can also be used to compete with brands following in their wake. As a small magazine, why bother with research on every competitor if 9 of them are modeled on your SWOT focus? That can come at a later phase, or at least take up a larger footprint on your publishing agenda.
So, for a magazine focusing on the earlier-mentioned yachting niche, ads with Groupons would quickly be shown by customer data avatars to be irrelevant and even harmful to brand positioning. On the other side of the coin, perhaps Polo cologne and Sebago boat shoes may be right up the yachting crowd’s alley.
Moreover, on-site luxury item display sponsorship ads may be the best possible way to monetize, since sponsored luxury ads and content provide more control over image perception than say Google’s own wide-open, sometimes unwieldy Adsense model.
These more filtered luxury-only ads are also more likely to garner clicks on a yachting magazine. Why? 1) Because it’s the same larger audience, and 2) because they are already in “luxury consumption mode”, if you will.
BI speaks to the advisability of advertising certain product categories over others and the risks of advertising (or writing on) the wrong things. This is made possible by deep, highly-segmented customer data. This data is represented in your customer avatars.
BI also speaks to the need to market to the audience on their preferred mediums. Consider whether a yachting crowd is more or less likely to enjoy flipping through a print edition of the magazine. If leisure time is a predominant trait of the average yachting enthusiast, it’s likely the data will show a preference for print edition. After all, even if mobile makes the magazine more accessible, when you’re at home or on vacation, the print edition is more luxurious and pleasingly tactile a reading experience – no eyestrain, relaxed, and somehow soothing.
Moreover, if you’re thinking of doing search ads…is that too much work and too off-putting for our yachting example audience? Or how about this question: can we afford to position as the GQ for the “everyman” if that means maintaining a GQ-sized ad budget?
Also, there is this sensible reflection: does GQ really have to advertise as hard as we will for the same audience?
These are worthwhile questions that both BI and CI research could each help to answer.
Warren Buffet probably doesn’t yacht. He probably clips coupons and has reportedly never purchased a new, undamaged car. But for our yachting enthusiast magazine example, we’d be focused a well-defined audience demographic set that doesn’t concern themselves on researching and saving money. So the yachting audience isn’t identical to the Forbes general business leadership audience.
The yachting magazine prospect may be a way more likely rely on inner circle word-of-mouth and brand-recognition than on research. You know, the type: the ultimate consumer who doesn’t care about cost and relies strictly on brand recognition. This individual (at least in their playtime) might be on the hunt for the ultimate adventure rather than the hunt for the ultimate deal.
Marketing always returns to benchmark data when in doubt
If you really want to know how to market an online magazine to a niche media consumer, you’ll need to research his lifestyle and trademarks purchases. That is obtained via customer and industry benchmark data.
You’ll need access to big data to ensure continued growth. It means that you’ll need to get access to benchmark data (industry-wide anonymous data) on such buyers and purchases from whatever sorts of data provider solution and market/industry benchmarks out there can provide it.
Benchmark data is available as part of CI research tools. But the BI data of an already-established brand will be far better, more deep and highly-segmented for them to wield compared to your somewhat more iffy CI on the same prospects.
Analytics solutions today allow the tracking of a lead from the first moment of contact with your web property to the most recent brand message interaction.
If you want to really master marketing your magazine, you’ll need to make sure all the elements contained here are in place and become utilized more and more until they are at full capacity for your business model.
That means trial and error in the fine details, leaving off the things you’re not ready for with a little note to come back when it’s time. It also means tackling the “it’s time” items with weekly marketing meetings until these elements are up and running.
Bring in all key relevant stakeholders and team leaders and marketing foot soldiers to be sure management understands what marketing can do and marketing understands what stakeholders are needing.
In this way, you can meet your magazine publishing business goals with marketing solutions that perform and optimize over time. Learning how to market an online magazine for your niche will become part of the company culture, empowered and informed by each marketing meeting and each company face-to-face.