By Joe Pulizzi published September 3, 2009

Print Custom Magazines Still Work: Q&A with financial custom publisher T3 Publishing

Almost a year ago I came upon a custom magazine called thinkMoney from the company thinkorswim.  It’s just one of those custom magazines that I like to keep around and refer to on occasion.  Design, content, calls-to-action…they are all working in the same direction. (fyi, thinkMoney won “Best New Magazine” for the CPC Pearl Awards in 2008.)

Over the past few months, I’ve been able to work on a few projects with thinkMoney’s custom publisher, Kevin Lund from T3 Publishing. When he showed me some of the results from thinkMoney, I knew it was something we had to share on the blog.

Kevin’s background is in financial education as well as business development
and marketing for financial information services. Additionally, he’s
been an independent trader of equities and equity options for 12
years (so he knows the trading business).  Having made his living both trading the markets as well as
writing, speaking and analyzing them, he has a good sense of what
traders and investors need to know and want to hear.

Here’s some of the highlights from our Q&A. If you think that custom print magazines don’t work anymore because of the web, think again.

Joe: Kevin…before we get into your custom magazine project, let’s have your take on the content marketing industry?

Kevin: In a word – crucial. It’s also growing leaps and bounds, whereas traditional advertising firms continue to struggle to reinvent themselves while latching onto status quos. I really don’t know how today, any company, whether you’re a one-person operation or a juggernaut can effectively market themselves in a world of so many choices, without making a concerted effort to connect with and educate their target audience as to why they should be taken seriously.

Consumers have become so much smarter with the proliferation of Web, social media and mobile technology that the definition of branding has risen far above 30 second messages that shout at the audience. “Build it and they will come” no longer works. Now, it’s more like “Build a buzz, and they will come.”. Content marketing goes right to the heart of the target audience with relevant messaging and has the ability to shape their behavior, without being sneaky.

I wish I could remember where I heard this from, but there’s a great Chinese proverb that we live and die by as a custom content firm that goes something like, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” That’s content marketing. If you’re a marketing professional, and you don’t understand the value in that, then you simply don’t get it, and you probably won’t survive.

Joe: Your client thinkorswim, why was a custom magazine on the list of marketing initiatives?

Kevin: Initially, the idea of a magazine hadn’t even crossed their mind. But they had a very real problem when they were acquired by a large, publically traded company (INVESTools) in early 2007. Their trading software was already widely regarded as the best in the retail option space, and because of their almost legendary customer service and quirky personality, they had an extremely loyal, almost cult-like customer base of very active traders. Not a very easy bunch to please, let me tell you.

Anyway, they didn’t want to risk losing touch with their core audience as they built critical mass. They needed an effective medium to scale their legendary personal touch, without the customers sensing that anything had really changed. At the same time, they needed a way to introduce new product lines, promote trading activity and build brand equity without going through traditional marketing channels. We brought the idea of the magazine to the president and founder of thinkorswim and he loved it. He hired us on the spot and thinkMoney was born.

Joe: What types of results have you seen with the magazine, and how do you integrate it into their total marketing efforts?

Kevin: The results have truly exceeded even our highest expectations. According to readership surveys, over 90% of the audience has acted on the information in some meaningful way, a majority of which, has driven revenue directly to the firm. It’s really the best of both worlds for them. It’s not only become one of the firm’s most powerful marketing pieces, but it’s also the voice of thinkorswim as a firm.

The magazine has been so successful that it has become a brand within the brand that customers rely on, with anticipation. We get some of the funniest fan mail. We’ve been told by customers that they actually wait outside their mailbox just to get it. Another customer said he’d trade in his spouse for a lifetime subscription! That’s the extreme of course, but that gives you an idea of the type of buzz that we’ve created.

When we started conceptualizing thinkMoney, the company freely admitted that despite their success, they were terrible at marketing themselves, so they really didn’t put any limitations as to what we could do, which for a brokerage firm is rare.  Much of the design elements and art that we’ve introduced into the magazine has found its way into the branding campaigns for the firm, which is very flattering.

The creative license we’ve been given is just amazing, but because of it, we’ve been able to defy the conventional wisdom on Wall Street and produce a serious financial magazine that makes you laugh while learning how to trade a complex product like derivatives. It shows their audience that while they don’t take themselves too seriously, their message is serious and they are a voice to be heard.

Joe:  Why is expert custom content so important for traders?

Kevin: If you want to get through to traders, you need to speak the language of trading, which is not to be confused with financial reporting. We do both, but if you use financial reporters for a trading magazine, your audience will see right through you and lose interest. Traders typically aren’t interested in mutual funds or making 10% returns a year. The term “compounding interest” isn’t in their vocabulary. Rather, they thrive on the alternate reality they live in. The average person that loses $5,000 in a stock investment might think about cancelling the family vacation that year. But for the trader, it might be all in a day’s work, and there’s always tomorrow.

So the information you have to give traders needs to be relevant, useful and timely. They live for the moment, so the content needs to cater to that mentality. This is a magazine by traders for traders, which is a very different approach than most other financial magazines.

But this is the same for trading as it is any niche market, which is really what I think your question speaks more loudly to. No matter what your niche is, you want to balance the needs of your audience with your marketing objectives. The formula isn’t difficult: Give them information that is actually worth learning and is actionable right now. That’s it. No real secret.

Joe: What’s next for thinkMoney?

Kevin: We’re working carefully with thinkorswim right now through the next phase of their ongoing evolution. They recently merged with TD Ameritrade, so they’ve inherited a new set of challenges that are very positive, but challenges nonetheless. We’ve been here before though, and the magic that came from that is something we can repeat again, I’m sure.

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Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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