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June 14, 2016


Best Practices for Powerful Newsstand Covers

Why do consumers buy magazines at retail?

Though it might strike some as surprising, emotional connections are the most important driver, according to “path to purchase” consumer research conducted by Time Inc. Retail in last year’s second half.

Shoppers’ emotional drivers dictate what they’re looking for in a magazine when they’re in the store, reported Nancy Kunz VP of advanced analytics for Time Inc. Retail, during the 2016 Magazines at Retail Conference.

In addition to the emotional drivers, the research confirmed the traditional wisdom that compelling headlines and eye-catching cover photos are the factors that consistently draw consumers to magazines when they’re shopping.
Price and brand have a lesser influence, and secondary cover photos and headlines are the least important factors driving a purchase, she said.

Pre-shopping factors that inspire in-store magazine purchases include a request for a magazine from a friend or family member (cited by 51% of those surveyed); a recommendation from a friend (49%); seeing something online (49%); taking a trip (46%); or seeing a coupon (44%).

In-store/during-shopping inspirations to buy magazines include “cover interests me” (85%); “interested in contents” (77%); seeking a “relaxed moment” (56%); habit (buying my “usual publication, 53%); and “surprised by something new” (51%).

People’s Multi-Faceted Consumer Research
Holly Oakes, brand director for People and Entertainment Weekly, explained that People’s research spans four major types.

Multiple segmentation studies have been done to understand who the brand’s consumers are, their lifestyles and the genres that appeal to them. About 10 times per year, Time Inc. Consumer Marketing Research (CMR) conducts Issue engagement studies, which are in-depth single-issue studies tracking what articles and cover attributes influenced purchases of the issue. CMR also conducts brand tracker research, which tracks what’s trending in cultural influences including TV shows, movies, celebrities and personalities. (That rolling list is updated as concepts are tested in panel field surveys.)

Finally, there’s in-market testing by Time Inc. Retail, which is performed before, during and after on-sale to probe what topics will drive the largest sales and what layout features impact performance. Pre-cover testing is done via panels, to help decide cover topics and cover lines and overall issue design. In-market testing is done in real time on a portion of the title’s national newsstand draw. That helps validate the cover options first gleaned in pre-testing. Oakes said she believes that in-market testing is the most informative type of research.

7 Key Cover Best Practices
A “portfolio of learning” from the research is updated every six months, she said, offering the seven most critical cover execution best practices that have been gleaned from the studies:

1. Get to the point. Skip the “clever wordplay.”
2.Clearly and overtly articulate the benefit to the consumer.
3. Use high-contrast colors.
4. Clear out the clutter.
5. Main headlines should be right text-justified
6. Generally, one “roofline” panel (top of magazine, above logo) performs better than two or no rooflines.
7. Consider reusing past headlines that have worked.

Kunz acknowledged that many magazine pros are skeptical when they hear point #5, advising right-justifying the main cover line. In fact, in the keynote panel following this cover session, TAM Communications chief Buzz Kanter expressed surprise, citing the traditional wisdom that only the upper left-hand corner of a magazine cover will be seen on the mainline, and that the upper left “golden triangle” is therefore the area that must be optimized for interest purposes.)

However, Kunz said that Time Inc. has tested the right-justified main headline concept repeatedly on both mainlines and checkouts, and that it yields sales lifts of anywhere between 3% and 7%. “This is one of the true gems from our research, and we think it’s crazy not to use it,” she said.

Regarding reusing headlines or using similar headlines or designs, she pointed out that given that 80% of consumers buy just one or two magazines per year, publishers really aren’t speaking to the same consumers all of the time, so it makes sense to reuse what works.

Michael Lafavore, editorial director for Rodale Inc., showed two Better Homes and Gardens Christmas covers that illustrate the importance of simplicity, clear images and headlines, and a lack of clutter (see covers at top of this page). The cover with the wreath image far outperformed the one at left, because the wreath says it all,” he noted, while the cover at left is overwhelming and confusing.

Similarly, a Country Home cover showing a simple, high-contrast image of pumpkins far outperformed a visually busy, lower-contrast one showing an outdoor meal setting:

Kunz pointed out that a Money cover with a very clear benefit or promise (“Turn $25 a Week into $100,000) easily beat one with a vague promise (“How to Build Wealth). However, she added that it’s also been shown that when the editorial content inside fails to deliver the promise made on the cover, consumer satisfaction drops, as do the numbers of returns of subscription blow-in cards in the issue.

Other insights offered:

*Kunz emphasized the importance of making sure that any cover test is carefully designed to test just one factor. Basically, the covers being compared must differ only on one factor, or it’s impossible to isolate what factor made one cover more compelling than the other. One example of this was People’s 2015 testing of using a larger logo—which indeed showed that the larger logo increased sales, she reported.

*Oakes stressed that it’s also important to test any factor multiple times, to ensure that the results are not reflecting a geographic or other bias.

*Lafavore said that, in working with Rodale’s editors, he stresses that the cover is really the only variable that gives editors some control in newsstand performance; and that they should plan their cover lines six months in advance and then assign their articles accordingly. He also said that he requires editors to test some element of the cover at least five times per year, and then put the learnings into practice. --  K. Lukovitz


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