As the winner of the 2016 Content Marketing Award for Best Print Publication for Harley-Davidson’s HOG® magazine, GS has learned a thing or two about custom publishing, and how to put together a publication that works hard for your brand. Maybe even five things …
1. Balance Brand Pride With Humility
Customers are reading your publication because they love your brand, so don’t be afraid to show it off. Give them what they want in the form of high-quality beauty shots, in-depth articles, exclusive behind-the-scenes information. Your publication should reinforce a reader’s purchase decision and make them feel proud to be an owner/user.
That said, a little humility goes a long way toward building credibility. Whether it’s through social media channels or in a letters section of the publication, own up to mistakes and respond with positivity and humor, where appropriate. A little honest criticism of the brand has its place, as long as you have a good answer.
It’s about balance. Your readers know that you’re biased. But if they sense the publication lacks a certain “self awareness,” they’ll get turned off. Don’t give them reason to say, “All they want to do is sell me stuff.”
2. Make It Personal
People love reading stories about themselves – or, more to the point, people they can identify with. And they still love seeing pictures of themselves in a printed publication. Seek out great stories from users. It doesn’t have to be a story about somebody actually using your product; if someone has a great story to tell, and they just happen to be a fan of your product, you can find a way to work that in.
Reader interaction goes a long way, too. Including a letters page is a simple and effective form of customer engagement. Be prepared to give good, thoughtful answers to questions and complaints (see above). Ask readers to tell you how they’re using your product in new and interesting ways. Include a photo gallery page and invite readers to send in photos of themselves with your product. Getting your picture on a company website or social media page is one thing; having it appear in print still feels more real (especially if your users are over 30). It’s a great way to build customer loyalty, and it lasts a lot longer than a social post.
Profiling company employees can have a lot of value, as well. But don’t overdo it. Focus on more than just the “higher-ups,” and make sure you’re telling the reader something personally interesting about the subject. Don’t just cheerlead; tell the reader why this employee is really “one of you.”
3. Value Design
If you’re not a designer (and I’m not!), it’s not always easy to put your finger on what makes something look “premium” or even “professional.” But you know it when you see it.
One of the designers I work with here at GS has a sign on her wall that reads “Good enough sucks!” It’s a reminder to not be satisfied by minimum standards, by doing just enough to make it work. Because “good enough” doesn’t stand out.
If you want your publication to be premium, to reflect well on your premium brand (and that’s why you’re reading this, right?), work with good designers and trust them to do what they do best.
4. Take Great Photos
Better yet, let somebody else take them!
In this modern, high-tech age, it’s easier than ever to take high-quality pictures. Cameras built into phones are getting better all the time, and affordable digital SLRs are automated to the max. Apps like Instagram make it easy to add what looks like professional processing to otherwise ordinary images. As a result, nice-looking, “high-quality” photos are everywhere.
But that only means it’s that much harder to take pictures that stand out.
As with design, it’s not always easy for the untrained eye to pin down the difference between a good photo and a great one. To help your publication really pop, invest in great photos, whether it’s product photography (“beauty shots”) or photos to illustrate a story about a brand enthusiast.
5. Give them Something to Settle in and READ
As a writer, perhaps I’m biased in saying this, but people still want to read good stories, well told.
Hire good writers and give them room to craft a compelling story. In marketing these days, there’s a strong desire to make copy “skimmable.” The theory is that you usually have only a few seconds of a reader’s attention to get your point across. That’s generally true, as far as it goes. Attention spans are not what they used to be.
But a print publication is your opportunity to let your audience luxuriate in a longer story. The best non-branded print publications still value long-form storytelling, and so should your branded magazine. Make it worth their while to pick up your pub, get comfortable in a nice chair, and spend some quality time with your brand.