Folio just reported on a recent Magazine Day where there was much conversation about the future of magazines (Magazines 3.0) and print in general. The drum beat of bad news for the traditional print business has been steady as consumer eyeballs and marketing dollars migrate to events (live and interactive) and online (e.g., Web sites, video, social networking, etc.)
I was really struck by the juxtaposition of quotes coming from the conference. John Griffin, Chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America (and group President of National Geographic) is trying to put a positive spin on it, but he seems to be fighting a losing battle. He is hoping to be able to deliver faster “audience metrics” to compete with online and TV. Huh? How is getting MRI and ad readership scores quicker going to help compete against the web? There will never be a real and tangible way to tie a print ad in a publication like National Geo (with close and materials deadlines a month ahead of publication) to any measurable return – that fact is driving the migration of advertisers away from print media.
However, that is only one issue responsible for the decline of print media. The other is also mentioned in the Folio article. There are still existing hard walls between edit and sales in American print media. Check these quotes out:
“Advertisers want to borrow—or steal—the credibility and authority we have with our readers,” Griffin said. “And we want to give it to them” without threatening the credibility and authority, he said. “[At National Geographic] we’re always asking ‘How far can we go with this?’ It’s a contestant internal struggle.”
“It’s the single biggest point of contention within our company,” said Deidre Depke, Newsweek.com’s assistant managing editor. “The only editorial asset our magazine has is its content—for us to abandon that, and let advertisers do what they want with it, would be a big mistake.”
In sum: there is a holier than thou streak that runs though these companies and publications that goes beyond what is really necessary and required by consumers. But read this quote – it is excellent, and I think sums up how many marketers/advertisers feel today.
“[The line] has been self-governed and self-policed—you’ve put the handcuffs on yourselves,” Steve Sturm, group VP of strategic research and planning at Toyota Motor North America said. “The federal government, the state government, they haven’t told you to do it. You put up all these roadblocks” that other media don’t have. And a younger generation of potential readers, he said, “don’t play by the same rules you play by.”
Dead on. One of the things that I learned in doing dozens of reader focus groups and readership studies is that the readers don’t care nearly as much about the actual brand name of the content as the editors would like to think they do. Consumers just want good honest, credible and accurate content that helps them in some way or to enjoy for entertainment. No one cares about all the editorial awards or devotion to “church and state”. It’s all about leads, ROI and moving product for the savvy marketer, not having their ad appear across from “pure” award winning editorial. Think about American Idol – it is essentially a commercial for Ford, Coke, AT&T and iTunes wrapped in a talent show. It is a brilliant marriage of content and sponsorship. Consumers get content they love, and marketers get a private media channel for their brands.
Today’s consumer, of all ages, is extremely media savvy and knowing. They can tell the difference between marketing messages and content. Editors need to give the consumer more credit for understanding the dynamic between marketing and content. The prevalence of corporate sponsorships, product placement, content relevant Web ads and custom media have made consumers come to expect marketing messages and content together in one package. In fact, I would argue they find it more valuable.
A magazine’s key asset is its database and the relationship with the people in that database. That is what they should be leveraging to compete. Marketers are tired of renting media channels in print publications when they can own their custom media channels using original content and targeted content delivery. Print can still be a valuable marketing tool when used as part of a private media solution that provides value for the reader and targeted messaging for the marketer.
As Steve Sturm mentions, younger consumers have a whole different perception of media and content. Magazine publishers are going to have to make some hard decisions and quickly. The old way of doing business is gone forever.
Last week I wrote about Starbuck’s attempt to reach out to customers and prospects for constructive feedback and new product ideas. In Tuesday’s Boston Globe they ran an insert (with attached card, see below) that made the following offer: Come in to Starbucks on Wednesday’s for the next six weeks, and receive a free tall Pike Place Roast coffee. Pike Place Roast is their new smoother blend that was requested by many of the suggestions on the site. It is a great tactic to use custom media to get new and lapsed customers into stores and try their new coffee. I have to believe this promotion was focused at people like me who prefer the taste of Dunkin Donuts and do not regularly shop at Starbucks. Six weeks of free coffee can get someone hooked and make a stop at Starbucks part of their regular routine. Most importantly, it gets the product into people’s hands. All the “branding” and expensive TV ads in the world can’t guarantee that.
In the interest of marketing science I went to my local Starbucks yesterday morning to test their offer and taste the new blend. It was the typical Starbucks experience with lots of earnest, serious people sitting around with no particular place to go at 8:30am on a week day. I strode up to the baristas and ordered my tall Pike Place Roast and flashed my card. I guess the card identified me a newbie since my barista felt compelled to thoughtfully point out that “tall” means “small”. It was probably the best coffee I ever had at Starbucks, not as good as Dunkin Donuts, but much improved.
It is interesting to see their private media channel come full circle from soliciting advice from their customers to putting a program in place to put their words into action. I will give it a shot the next few weeks and let them try and convert me. Maybe some day I will actually know what Venti means.
Starbucks has been getting beaten up this year and faces tough competition from Dunkin Donuts. Even McDonalds is taking a run at them. One of the ways they chose to respond is a great lesson in listening to your customer and embracing a private custom media channel. For many companies the knee jerk, old school reaction would have been to launch a “branding” campaign or hire a celebrity pitch person. Instead Starbucks did something very cool – they launched My Starbucks Idea web site. The purpose of the site is to ask their loyal customers what they could do to improve the product and service. I would encourage you to go to the site and read the both the volume and passion of the responses. The site is powered by salesforce.com and they did a similar site for Dell. Interesting, Dell and Starbucks have a lot in common – both were innovative companies who used to be the fresh up-and-comers, and once they got too big; they lost touch with what made them great.
I commend both companies for creating a private media channel to have a two way dialog with their customers. This kind of forum gives customers a place to vent, and make suggestion. Read through some of them – they are not only thoughtful, but smart. A lot of companies give lip service to listening to their customer, but how many actually do and act on it? More than ever, people in the executive suite are isolated from their customers, where they are a long way from their middle class American customers and prospects. Also, since they only talk to other execs, they get caught in an infinite loop of their own B.S. How many meetings have you been in where sales and marketing people sit around pitching each other and not taking in outside information? Happens all the time and the result: the ads we see on TV and in magazines are completely off target.
What I really like about the site is the “Ideas in Action” section where Starbuck employees respond in their own words and tell customers what action they will take based on customer suggestions. This is powerful because many times when you write to a web site, you get an automated response which is sometimes worse than getting none at all. I have to admit I have never been a big Starbucks fan – the coffee is too harsh and I can’t stand the ordering process. It was fun to see that many others feel the way I do. As a result, they are introducing a “smoother” coffee and talking about an express line for impatient people like me who just want a regular coffee; and don’t want to stand behind a line of people ordering complicated permutations of coffee beans, milk (cow or soy) and odd flavors.
Now, let’s see if they take this process one step further. They have collected scores of contact names and been given the “permission” to talk to them about Starbucks. I would suggest starting a real Starbucks private custom media channel to their customers using content marketing to further strengthen the bond between them and their customers. This approach could get Starbucks back on track and make the brand fresh again. Meanwhile, I can’t wait for the first express line open.
I love Whole Foods as does my “mom” posse - every time I go to the store, I run into lots of Moms I know. And, we all have at least five grocery stores to choose from that are closer than Whole Foods (WF). We are not driving out of our way because we are going to save money. Whole Foods definitely skews to the expensive side of the super market spectrum, even for the “healthy” category. So why are we all so loyal to WF during these challenging economic times?
I was curious enough that I posed this question to my friends: “What makes you drive an extra 20 minutes to a market that clearly charges a premium?” Across the board the first response was perceived quality of the products but it was the next strongest responses that I found interesting as a custom media marketer.
As a community, moms pride themselves on making smart choices for their families. The responsibility for making healthy food choices falls squarely on our shoulders. We want our children to learn good eating habits and help them to make good decisions even when we aren’t there. Whole Foods enables Moms to do their jobs better. The store is packed with information about the foods themselves as well as the brands. The content can include health benefits, cooking tips and serving suggestions. Most of my friends commented that they spend more time in WF compared to other stores because they are busy reading about each special item as well as health news and updates. They learn something every time they go shopping. This is a classic example of content-based marketing to attract and retain customers. The use of informative information we can use makes us more likely to shop at WF, and likely increases the amount we spend per shopping trip. In addition, customers are invited to sign up for fl@vors to receive special offers, recipes and food education. This is a great customer affinity newsletter that aims to get more business out of current customers.
However, the biggest differentiator vs. traditional markets for the moms is the live informational events. I am not talking “try the salsa and smoked sausage on at toothpick in the aisle” kind of event our moms experienced. We’re talking sushi making classes; kids cooking lessons; cooking demos and book signings; quick and healthy meal classes; you name it! There are events and classes at WF just about every week. Mom friends sign up together and it becomes a big girl play date. Some of them are in-store, some of them are via sponsorships of local community events which cannot be undervalued. (Giving back in these times is not only responsible, it is mandatory.) This is a very smart use of live events as custom media to strength the bond between store and customer. Whatever the venue, WF has carved as niche as a destination that plays a critical role in our lives.Positive and fun interactions with the brand reinforce why we are willing to drive farther and spend more. But overwhelmingly, my own little straw poll indicated that the informative content kept us coming back. It is a competitive world out there and creating a dialog and educating the customer can help move products off the shelves, even the most expensive products. I am guessing that there are other retailers out there that could take a page from the WF marketing book: educate the customer with content-based marketing, engage them with live event and watch the bottom line grow.