Owned media: five successful customer magazines

Submitted by: Print Power 10/12/2014

What do you do when your marketing budget is getting squeezed and you suspect the magazines soaking up your advertising spend aren’t reaching the audience you want? Simple: you make your own magazine and call it a brandzine or customer magazine. Check also our story on Porter.

More and more brands are seeking to deliver a quality, style-magazine approach to their own print marketing, replacing the usual in-store brand marketing (brochures, catalogues, guides) with a more creative, innovative and editorialised offering. In the fashion retail sector, the ‘brandzine’ phenomenon has taken full hold. High-end boutiques such as Colette in Paris have long produced a seasonal magazine instead of a catalogue, reflecting their discerning clientele, while Sweden’s Acne Studios launched their fashion label with an accompanying newsprint journal, Acne Paper. This proved so successful that its unique style, photography and layout has been aped by the very fashion magazines it was designed to circumvent: the ultimate flattery.

Inspired by these examples, brands have started to hire the best in creative magazine talent to produce their own unique in-house publications. For example, the editorial team behind Netherlands-based title Fantastic Man were approached by high-street label Cos to produce a magazine which combines new product shoots with unique, esoteric magazine editorial and a distinctive minimalist design on varied paper stock.

Below, we detail five very different brands and how they’ve used bespoke, editorialised brandzines to spread their message…

One Book

Given to Nokia Devices and Services employees on the day of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, the One Book was conceived as a keepsake for employees that showed the shared vision for the two companies and their joint history of innovation.

“Clearly the acquisition was a big moment for all employees, regardless of whether you were coming over from Nokia or already working in Microsoft,” says Nokia/Microsoft Marketing Lead Carol Sorian. “We wanted to give people a lasting memento from a truly historic day. The book proudly looks back at our heritage, shares our current set of beliefs and leaves space for ideas for the future.”

“Everything in the book, from fonts to the colour palette, actually sits within Microsoft’s brand guidelines,” adds D’Arcy Doran, Special Projects Editor, TCOLondon Media, who produced the One Book. “But from the beginning, our goal was to do everything we could to make it not feel corporate. We wanted to create something that evoked an emotional response. So instead of products, we focused on how Nokia and Microsoft actually changed the world and then got artists around the world to reinterpret those milestones in playful ways. We reimagined the two companies’ values and achievements to bring them out in new ways.”

As for measurable goals; Sorian says she was most pleased not simply from the positive reaction of Nokia staff but “to see people put the book in a place of honor on their desks – and not in the trash bin!”


Published three times a year in an A3 newspaper format, Companion is produced by German publishers Freunde von Freunden for 25hours Hotels, and features insights on the arts, business, fashion, architecture, music, food and nightlife in Hamburg, Vienna, Frankfurt, Vienna and Zürich – the five cities 25hours Hotels are represented in.

“The aim is to provide hotel guests with an entry point into the city,” explains Editor Kati Krause. “That entry point is the people, the great creative enterprises they undertake and the recommendations they make.”

Offering value beyond the standard service has always been part of 25hours Hotels’ approach and the magazine is an extension and example of that.
“Like many of the partnerships 25hours Hotels set up in each city,” says Krause, “Companion connects them with creative scenes, which in turn generates more partnership opportunities.”

While the client might use ads to raise attention, Krause points out that they don’t engage the reader. Companion creates value for brand’s customers with an inventive format and original editorial, thus binding them in a way that an ad never could.
“Whether it’s more cost-effective depends on the publication’s set-up and on your business goals,” she says. “A brand publication doesn’t usually replace, say, digital marketing. But if your aim is to strengthen your company’s brand and customer loyalty by giving people something they seek and cherish, a custom publication is a very effective way of going about that.”


Find It, Paint It, Love It

Available as a clothbound, hardback book or in magazine format, Farrow & Ball’s ‘Find It, Paint It, Love It offers customers interior styling tips in the shape of an editorialised, upmarket guide: a practical and ingenious extension to their extensive colour chart products. Produced by an in-house team, it recognises an obvious client need that reaches beyond their remit as a brand.

“As a premium paint and wallpaper producer, we need to ensure that all of our marketing materials match the high quality of our products and what is at the heart of our company – our customers,” says Sarah Cole, Farrow & Ball Marketing Director. “This book is an extension of our products, adding to our customers’ luxury experience of Farrow & Ball.”

Although the book is subject to measurable objectives that can be tracked throughout the campaign, Cole is also keen to emphasise the value of first-hand feedback from customers in-store.

“Our customers are always looking to us to provide practical ideas in an inspirational way,” she explains. “‘Find It, Paint It, Love It’ has been a great resource to take away with them so that they have the tips, techniques, ideas and inspiration to refer back to at home.”

Utilised as part of an ongoing integrated marketing campaign encompassing print advertising, digital advertising, PR, e-commerce, trade marketing, sponsorship, social media, events and workshops, the book is, says Cole, just one element, which “combines to create a holistic approach with the underlying aim of inspiring our customers with colour.”

Topman magazine

Available at all Topman stores, including the brand’s newer markets in the US and Canada, Australia, South East Asia and Russia, Topman magazine is produced by Dan Jones of Jonestown, working in close association with Tania Adams, International Marketing Manager, and Drew Hughes, Senior International Marketing Co-ordinator, both at Topman.
“It’s a chance to show off a bit,” says Jones, “a way to manifest Topman’s personality in a much more powerful way than a catalogue could.”
While there are still product stories, the magazine is powered by real editorial content that’s not trying to sell anything.
“That’s a pretty rare stance for most of the brands I work with,” says Jones. “The magazine helps get across the brand’s authenticity and it gets to all sorts of places – Topman has a huge events programme internationally.”
With the magazine handed out at locally organised gigs, there’s plenty of scope for bespoke editorial, such as the stand-alone guide for US college freshmen.
“The response has been great, especially with international partners who love that there’s local content relevant to them. The customer response has been really strong.”


Huck magazine

A special edition of Huck magazine, produced in collaboration with Levi’s Skateboarding, this issue was conceived as a way to add a human dimension to their catalogue; to give it life and meaning beyond the actual products. The end result is a beautiful editorial product for consumers and shops alike, distributed at all Levi’s Skateboarding retailers worldwide.

With a long history of investing in ‘bespoke’ editorial, the Huck campaign was a way to give the brand an authentic, editorial voice through storytelling; seeking out characters who embodied the same values as the brand.

“It’s an opportunity for the brand to talk about things it cares about, to promote its values,” says Vince Medeiros, Publisher, TCOLondon Media, who conceived, designed and produced the campaign. “In this issue, Levi’s took a bunch of skateboarders to Bolivia to build the country’s first ever skate park. And we, as their editorial team, came along for the ride to document it.”

Medeiros stresses that there is a strong argument for the cost effectiveness of the brandzine approach over the traditional marketing route of taking out ads in targeted publications.

“It allows brands to connect with people on a much deeper level,” he says. “To talk to consumers and say, ‘Hey, we not only make great clothes, but we also have a vision, a point of view, a set of values – and these are the things we care about’. Only through compelling storytelling can you meaningfully do that.”

Mark Hooper  | First published in Print Power magazine Autumn 2014