How Tech Titans Are Turning to Print Magazines to Reinforce Their Brand

Marisa Steck
Oct 17, 2019 · 5 min read

If you think magazines are only coming from the media, think again. In the traditional communication landscape, it’s common knowledge that most magazines are produced and published by media companies. However, a group of tech companies are shaking things up and making a move that might seem wildly counterintuitive: producing their own print magazines in the digital age. Companies like Bumble, Airbnb, Dollar Shave Club, Tinder, and Away have all recently launched their own print outlets as a way of increasing brand awareness. But how did this all start, and why did they decide to turn back the page to a traditional medium?

Given that these companies are already well-known, it may seem unusual for them to take their marketing a step further and produce print products. Some immediate questions might arise around this phenomenon: do editorial layoffs play into it? Are the media not telling stories that brands want to hear about themselves? Or do brands want to organically create a platform that further engages their communities?

At Sutherlandgold, we’ve found that one of the best ways to establish brand identity is to share tailored content that is relevant to your target audiences. By creating content that delivers value to audiences and meets their wants and needs, companies can strengthen their brands. In the case of a branded magazine, if it is done well it could become mainstream coffee-table reading material.

Behind the glossy exterior

Despite expectations that these branded publications would act as an advertisement and only share promotional stories, what lies within is surprisingly consumer-centric content. In the Airbnb and Away magazines, you’ll find travel stories from solo and family travelers, or affordable ways to vacation like you don’t have a budget. Tinder and Bumble’s respective publications feature dating horror stories, profile setup advice, feminist first date tips, and fashion inspiration. Dollar Shave Club’s MEL Mag, on the other hand, reaches a male audience with less tips and more humorous stories.

Once produced, most of these companies’ publications are distributed in print and online. This means that they are able to reach their core audience through a unique distribution processes. When published, these Airbnb magazines are also sold in airports, bookstore newsstands, supermarkets, mass retail stores, and are distributed to “superhosts” for display in their homes. Other companies do it differently: Away includes their magazine in the company’s shipped suitcases and bags, while Dollar Shave Club includes theirs in their subscription boxes. Tinder’s Swipe Life is all online, reading like a Cosmo or Teen Vogue website.

Each distribution tactic shows that it’s about targeting a personality type. Airbnb and Away hope to reach wanderlusts in airports, while Bumble and Tinder target swiping millennials with retail store placements. Sure, these magazines can target certain countries with fewer Airbnbs that the brand wants to drive exposure in and expansion to, but what’s interesting is that the content isn’t all self-promotional like one would think it would be. This is where the major media companies’ come into the picture.

Those who know best

Airbnb. Bumble. Tinder. These companies are buzzwords to younger generations — companies people are interested in working for. Given their scale, you would think that these entities would have their own content team for such wide-reaching projects…right?

They don’t. But what they do have is capital, which allows them to tap the media outlets, content agencies, freelancers, and reporters that are the best of the best. Hearst Media, Meredith, and CondéNast come to mind.

A branded magazine is not always the company’s idea first. Hearst has both sold the idea to companies and has been sought out because of their editorial skills to create this cool brand extension in print form. Also, these aren’t cheap thin booklets we’re talking about. The pages are thick, the photographs are the highest resolution, and the content contains real, engaging stories from customers and consumers willing to share their story without reservation.

By pairing non-promotional content with the expertise of media powerhouses, content agencies, and creative professionals, brands are able to provide unique value to their audiences. And they are able to do it without a dedicated media wing in their organization. The experienced writers and editors essentially provide an outsourced content department, which Airbnb has successfully accomplished in their partnership with Hearst.

Are more magazines on the horizon?

These magazines have been quite successful, and with their growth comes subscription options, much like a traditional magazine. To date, Airbnb has published hundreds of magazine issues since 2016 and currently has a guaranteed circulation of more than 350,00 subscribers; which shows that this is a repeatable program that has a loyal audience and viewership. Most don’t turn around a monthly issue though, and are instead focused on a few high-quality issues a year with seasonal issues here and there. However, not everyone receiving these issues is subscribing, which helps companies find brand loyalists who genuinely enjoy being members and will give in to the low yearly cost. Then, once companies have these customer emails, these can be used for promotional purposes and notifications about new product launches down the road — kind of genius!

Given the success and high quality of these print publications, it’s likely that more brands will jump on the opportunity and create ones of their own. It’s also interesting to note that these publications call back to traditional airline reads or retail catalogs like those that came from ASOS, Pottery Barn, Anthropology, and Nordstrom. This is all to say that print isn’t dead, yet.

Making a magazine all boils down to companies wanting to see their brand in different iterations, and the print magazine creates that alternative venue to connect with their audience. These publications aren’t about selling a product, but instead give customers a fresh way to engage with their favorite brands. Every public-facing asset that comes from a brand helps to tell its story. Just like a travel magazine that makes remote destinations accessible, Airbnb’s magazine tells readers that it will help them feel like they belong anywhere they go. Magazines reinforce storytelling and remind readers why they like a brand in the first place.

SutherlandGold

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