Custom Publishing Rises Again — How to Make It Work for Your Magazine

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If you’re a magazine publisher, chances are you’re looking for new ways to give your bottom line a lift. Maybe you’re thinking about approaches to help your advertisers speak more effectively to your readers or investing more time, effort and money in social media, video, podcasts, blogs and other online strategies and tactics.

But have you tried going back to something that began with magazines to help them use resources they already had to build revenue?

Whatever you call it, custom publishing (a.k.a. content marketing, custom media, customer publishing, branded content, etc.) is a big deal these days, In fact, according to Killing Marketing author Joe Pulizzi, nine out of 10 North American companies use it, even if they’re not sure what label fits best.

What is custom publishing?

The Custom Content Council defines custom publishing as an endeavor that “marries the marketing ambitions of a company with the information needs of its target audience. This occurs through the delivery of editorial content—via print, internet, and other media—so intrinsically valuable that it moves the recipient’s behavior in a desired direction.”

See, it’s nothing new. Custom publishing is a marketing tool that has been in use for well over a century. Joe Pulizzi writes that the first example of custom publishing was The Furrow, a magazine put out by John Deere, which gave farmers advice on how to make more money—and, incidentally, help John Deere sell more wagons, plows and tractors.

Little has changed in more than a century. Except, of course, the way information travels. And who turns information into “content.” And the cost of disseminating content. And, unfortunately too often, the quality of the content being disseminated. With the internet, anybody can be a content marketer and claim to be engaged in custom publishing. All that said, it doesn’t mean everybody does it well.

To work as a marketing tool, custom publishing has to maintain a high level of quality in the eyes of its consumers. It’s a different kind of quality than applies to straight advertising. Custom publishing produces branded content that comes closer to journalism than advertising.

Why custom publishing works

As a marketing effort, custom publishing depends on its authority and believability for its success. Consumers have to trust the information. Apparently, the farmers who flocked to read Deere’s The Furrow trusted its content to lead them in the right direction. After all, several generations of farmers have read it.

Here are a few of the reasons custom publishing works:

  • It’s not advertising. As a matter of fact, it takes pains not to seem like advertising. It doesn’t want to be seen as advertising because its strength is in its credibility and usefulness.
  • It helps keep existing customers loyal. AARP has its own magazine that highlights the lifestyles of aging celebrities, offers advice on many topics and generally presents a pretty good read. The information is often valuable and usually interesting, so it helps keep the association relevant to members. It also makes members feel cared for and important.
  • It’s carefully geared to its audience. To be effective, a custom-published magazine, book, pamphlet, eBook, blog or any other media choice must appeal to a specific audience. It must be relevant to that audience. Therefore, much care is given to understanding the audience’s values and lifestyle. You aren’t going to publish Vegans Today if you sell steak.

How to use custom publishing

It’s established: Custom publishing has a good pedigree, and it has stood the test of time, even becoming more popular over the years. How can you turn it to your advantage? Here are some suggestions:

  • Find out what your readers are most interested in. Hold some focus groups. Take some informal polls. Go to meetings and conventions your readers might attend. Use the data you gather to give your advertisers direction. In short, learn more about your readers so you can give the information to your advertisers.
  • Tell your advertisers you can help them target their audience more effectively because you have the data. Wow your advertisers with information they might not already have.
  • Offer your advertisers a value-added service—custom publishing—that addresses their audience’s specific interests and needs with editorial their customers will find useful and that increases the value of their advertising by backing it up with more objective information that isn’t as much about selling products and services as about helping their customers do more and better.
  • Create advertiser packages that include custom publishing. This isn’t a giveaway, but you can offer reduced rates for creating custom-published materials when your advertisers purchase a multi-placement package and/or premium positioning.
  • Give your advertisers space in your videos, podcasts, blogs and other digital media. This is the digital version of custom publishing. Because your readers trust you to provide accurate information, they’ll find your support of your advertisers more convincing than advertising alone. These days, you need to use every medium to its maximum advantage.

What’s old is new again

Everything, it seems, has a season. Just like hair styles go out of style and come back with a new twist, it’s our turn to embrace the new and improved version of custom publishing.  Our society’s love of the digital world has opened many new opportunities.

Print is far from dead. There’s something substantial about words on paper. You need to embrace the dynamics of digital but remember the power of print. You can use both to make custom publishing work for your magazine.

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