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The Ultimate Guide to Launching a Print Custom Magazine

For the past three years, social media has taken center stage for corporate marketers. In talking with many senior marketers, there was a drop everything mentality, meaning that many strategies within the integrated marketing realm were left on the sidelines while companies scrambled to figure out social media tactics, assign resources and determine why anyone would use Twitter.

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to talk with marketers all over North America about their marketing plans and struggles. Of course, I heard the usual about social media, content creation, email and lead generation. To my surprise, though, there was talk about print.

Are you kidding me?

Yes, you heard me…print.

No, this is not your father’s print, where we are talking about six or 12-time ad schedules placed in the top two industry trade magazines. The print these marketers were addressing was in the form of a single-sponsored custom magazine.

I recently discussed 7 reasons why I believe print custom magazines will be all the rage in 2011. My friend Gordon Plutzky followed up on this and outlined six reasons why digital popularity brings print opportunity, citing recent magalog success from Zappos.

Put your money where your mouth is

I received an email last week from a colleague who stated:

“Joe, I agree with many of your points about print’s comeback (if it ever went away). You work with many CMO-types. Would you really recommend a print custom magazine strategy? Come on now.”

First, a print custom magazine is just a marketing tool, nothing more, nothing less. I’d say the same thing about blogging, email or events. As marketers, we have marketing objectives that we accomplish through a combination of marketing tactics to maintain or change a behavior. That said, depending on your marketing goals, a print custom magazine is not for everyone.

Second, yes, I really would (and have) recommended print custom magazines as part of the overall content marketing mix to many marketers. We (here at CMI) believe in this so strongly in fact that we are launching our own print custom magazine (Chief Content Officer) with the first issue release in January of 2011 (see a quick preview and subscribe here).

So, if you agree that there is an opportunity here for your marketing goals, what should you do? Below are the major issues you need to know about when it comes to developing your own print custom magazine. Let’s give this a try.

What is a custom magazine?

In general, a print custom magazine is sponsored, produced and issued by one company with the intent of building trust and relationships with its readers. According to a 2010 MarketingProfs/Junta42 study of over 1,000 business-to-business marketers, 42% have a print custom magazine.

The magazines we enjoy the most are those that match our interests most precisely. This applies in both our professional and our personal lives. The same is true of custom magazines that you create for your customers. In other words, you need to pay attention not just to your subject matter, but also to the style and length of the articles you write, as well as overall design and layout.

Key Custom Magazine Points (from Get Content Get Customers)

  • High-quality editorial content is consistently delivered to a targeted database in a magazine format.
  • Custom magazines are generally 24 pages or more.
  • The most effective frequency is quarterly or more (remember, consistent communication is key).
  • Some magazines contain partner advertising to help defray the investment.
  • Be prepared to spend at minimum $40,000 for even a small initial distribution.

Key custom magazine questions

How do you know if a print custom magazine is a good fit for your organization? Ask these questions:

  • Will this create and maintain key relationships?
  • Will it position my company as a thought leader?
  • Will it strengthen our database efforts? (use the direct mail list to update your customer database)
  • Can this be a key sales tool?
  • Is this an effective way to bypass gatekeepers?
  • How can we use this as an internal marketing tool?

How you answer these questions will define the marketing objectives for your custom magazine project. NOTE: In my experience, the majority of marketers use a custom magazine as a customer retention/communication tool.

Custom magazine return on objective (ROO)

Your measurement of the custom magazine will completely depend upon how you answer the above questions. But, in general, here are the basic measurement techniques:

  • Tracking sales lift (and/or cross sales) among those who receive the content program versus those who do not.
  • Tracking conversions for online subscriptions, white paper downloads or print subscriptions, and measuring new or increased sales.
  • Tracking customer turnover percentages between those who receive the magazine and those who don’t (some marketers are unwilling NOT to send it to a group of current customers)
  • Using online readership studies to determine the impact of the custom magazine, as well as the acquisition of customer informational needs and trends.
  • Measuring engagement (time spent) with the custom magazine. According to the Association of Publishing Agencies in the UK, the average custom magazine is read for 25 minutes.
  • Using a pre-/post-awareness study to measure the impact of the program. If possible, separate out a control group that does not receive your custom magazine. Without that, it’s challenging to tell whether it was the magazine that made the impact or if it was something else in your marketing arsenal.
  • If you sell online, Gordon Plutzky recommends that you compare all sales during a set time period (6-8 weeks optimal time) against the mailing file. To the matches you can append sales and product data to do a more thorough analysis.

How to make sure your print custom magazine fails

Yes, you read the headline right. Last year, I covered the 10 Commandments to Custom Magazine Failure, which focused on what many marketers do that spell doom for their magazine project. The major ones included:

  • Talk about your company’s products and services A LOT.
  • Don’t leverage social media as part of your magazine project.
  • Try to accomplish a number of objectives with your custom magazine.
  • Let the customer figure out the call to action.

Speaking of calls to action

There are a number of tactics you should be looking at in order to track the effectiveness of your print custom magazine. Some of these include:

  • Using a distinct 800 number for your print magazine.
  • Using a distinct URL or links so you can track behavior from your magazine.
  • Ensuring that every print page has some type of call to action (we call this the One Page Mantra).
  • Using a digital magazine version that IS NOT just a replica of your print magazine. Leverage the digital magazine for a more rich-media experience that includes different content, and most likely, different goals.

Supercharge your print custom magazine

A custom magazine today cannot just be a custom magazine. Here is what the custom magazine of the present and the future looks like.

  • Record interviews (video/audio) for later repurposing. Consider transcripts as well.
  • Develop a news release schedule pre- and post-issue release.
  • Discuss upcoming issues on your blog.
  • Post video interviews via YouTube or Vimeo. Embed in your blog post or website.
  • Send digital version to international audience or online subscribers.
  • Provide a “remarkable” download on magazine site (eBook, white paper, etc.). Here’s an example.
  • “Listen” to who’s talking about what online (more to come on this).
  • Upload articles to key vertical and social bookmarking sites.
  • Use other social media – Facebook group, LinkedIn group, etc.

And with all this, you need kick-ass content in order to make a print custom magazine work for you.

As 2011 rolls around, take a look and see if a print custom magazine should be part of your content marketing mix. If it already is, how can you take it to the next level for a truly engaging (for your customers) and profitable (for you) experience?