Aspirational brands: Is magazine content the future for online retailers?

September 29, 2014

Aspirational brands: Is magazine content the future for online retailers?

We’ve known for some time now that the hard-sell doesn’t really work online. So what strategies are brands in 2014 using to urge browsers to buy online?

They’re using magazine content.

What is magazine content?

Well you can call it visual content marketing, editorial content, lookbook content or whatever you like.

Essentially, it’s content that has an editorial look, and that presents features, information, advice and inspiration alongside products on-sale in an integrated fashion.

The likes of Liberty, Harrods and other luxury brands and retailers have been embracing this kind of content to drive their eCommerce sales for a while, and it’s a strategy that looks like it’s here to stay. Let’s look at a brand that was early to the magazine content party…

The Net-A-Porter Example was a relatively early adopter of this kind of content, re-launching their weekly on-site magazine, The Edit, in early 2013. Described as 30 pages of fashion shoots that allow readers to buy directly from the pages, as well as news, features and interviews with women from around the world.

NAP’s editor-in-chief, Lucy Yeomans, said ahead of the re-launch:

“We have an extraordinary customer base and we have to make sure we are looking after their needs, and that means bringing in the best of everything out there.”

The ambition of this new content focus, according to Tess Macleod Smith at Net A Porter, was to create a more in-depth customer experience:

“The aim is to inspire the consumer from the very beginning of her journey — and follow her all the way to the end.”

The approach appears to have worked brilliantly well for the brand in the last eighteen months, with the company seeing 18% growth in the year to February 2014. This success also means that the company has taken the decision recently to produce its own glossy magazine, to link the offline and online browsing experience.

It has been a commerce/content hybrid from the beginning. The website opens with a magazine-like “Edit”. Readers can become shoppers by clicking on images in both articles and adverts. The new paper magazine extends that idea into print.” says Schumpeter in The Economist. “There is no disguising that Porter [the new print magazine] will help blur boundaries between writing about goods and services…and selling them”

They key term here for me is ‘blurring boundaries’. Magazine content, when executed well, can have a startling effect on our willingness to purchase. What’s more, the ‘shopability’ of products featured in magazine content is made more natural. You can read more on Net-a-Porter’s next venture, its own social shopping app, The Net Set, in this blog post.

So for fashion forward brands, magazine style content is working supremely well and is therefore, presumably, here to stay.

But what about more traditional brands? Are they embracing this new marketing approach?

I’m taking a look at some traditional British retailers, known for their quality and brand, but not necessarily their forward-thinking attitude to marketing, and discovering how they are approaching magazine-style selling to consumers  online.

Marks and Spencer

The launch of Marks & Spencer’s sleek new magine-style website in February (below) was followed swiftly in July this year with news that the retailer had suffered an 8% fall in online sales. So what was the problem? Was the move too revolutionary for a brand that targets such a wide age-range and demographic? Going shopping on websites means “reading a magazine”, says M&S’s online chief, Laura Wade-Gery. Was the fact that a large percentage of their target audience are more likely to be reading Gardeners’ World or Home and Garden than Vogue the big problem?

According to The Economist, they wanted to ‘weave stories around their products’; let’s take a look at how they achieved that…

The Key Elements of the magazine-style page

Weaving a story means creating looks, inspiration, ideas and desire for a product.

a.  Authorship and editorial authority

Adding simple elements such as an author bi-line or image help to reinforce the concept of editorial authority and objectivity. Net-A-Porter said it is “enhancing its online experience to its customers and providing compelling content and an authoritative editorial voice on its websites.” (Drapers)

b.  Social sharing buttons

Integrating share buttons reduces the burden of sharing content socially and encourages multiple shares across platforms

c.  Product link buttons – start the purchasing cycle

Facilitating a move to a product purchase with ease by using ‘Shop the look’ or ‘get the product’ buttons – this may be a good element to A/B test – your customers may not respond to your language in the way you think.

d. Upselling – lower cost products as add-ons

Ecommerce sites have been offering us ‘add-on’ products during the checkout process for years. Lower price point items work well as they are ‘impulse buy products’ Here, tempting add-ons or complimentary accessories are integrated within the content.

e. Encouraging further exploration of magazine-style content

Browsing online is no different to flicking through a traditional glossy magazine. Sometimes you want to read more, sometimes you’re selective in the articles you read. Giving online browsers the options to continue their browsing journey on your website is key – keeping them on your site is better than letting them leave without a purchase.


Clarks has jumped on the magazine format bandwagon and produced some great content for its site this autumn, such as this Biker Boot page. This page comes just in time for the explosion of autumn/winter collections that explode every year around the time of London Fashion Week.

Clarks has clearly taken cues from the likes of Net-A-Porter and other high-end brands and the result is slick pages that look like they would fit nicely in Vogue.

Clarks has included classic magazine elements such as imagery around inspiration for the collection, images of well-known stars wearing a similar look, and ideas of how to wear the biker boots with different outfits. What’s great about this page, and others like it on the Clarks site, is that they have taken advantage of third party products to make the page seem more objective.

This page has also included a high-quality video, which backs up the look ideas and helps visitors imagine how the looks could be realised in real life. The page also features accessories that would go well with the biker boots.

Not only has Clarks done a great job in creating engaging and readable magazine content, these pages are great landing pages for web users searching Google for ‘Biker Boots’

I would love to know any results of this type of content for Clarks – is the AOV or conversion rate higher for visitors who viewed this type of page?

The Body Shop

Looking to another stalwart British high street brand we have The Body Shop. This brand always seemed to me to be a divisive one; you were either a Body Shop customer or you weren’t, and I always was.

Argan oil has been a buzzword in the fashion and beauty industry for the past few years, but The Body Shop has moved beyond this to expand its product offering to a range of skincare.

This product being such a growing trend over the past few years means all of the top beauty and women’s magazines have produced features and reviewed argan oil products, so how does The Body Shop compete and introduce itself to new customers in this space?

By answering their questions!

What is argan oil? Monthly Keyword volume: 590 (and growing)

Argan oil research informational query keyword universe: 3,150 (and growing)

The Body Shop’s What is Argan Oil? Page is targeting the web users who are seeking out information, ie, they are in research mode. The purpose of the page is to convert researchers into potential purchasers.

I would have included some trust factors on these pages, such as reviews from magazines or online publications. There’s no shortage of blogger reviews of this product range (for example: here and here, especially from their in-store showcase events.)

This content is split across two pages, though I think it would make more sense as one single, longer page. I think longer form is more appealing these days and visitors are likely to miss out if they are required to click through to a second page.

The Body Shop has created some visually engaging content about this topic, which means it is more likely to be seen as an authority by search engines and visitors. However, I think this landing page would benefit from a less sales-y approach, incorporating more objective content and trust factors such as quotes from magazines or bloggers.

Alex’s closing thoughts

From a psychology viewpoint, do we see this content as more objective?

It’s all about creating a story and inspiring browsers with ideas – giving magazine browsing a closer relationship to the purchase process.

Net-a-Porter was one of the first luxury retailers to elegantly integrate content and commerce — shortening the path between inspiration and transaction, and allowing them to more effectively engage and expand their audience’ Beauty of Fashion

  • Does viewing this type of content increase our willingness to buy or the amount we are willing to spend in once transaction?
  • Does it make us more likely to re-visit a site, either to browse or make a transaction?

Does ‘lookbook content’ evoke luxury and quality?

What do you think are the key elements of magazine content that create the desire to buy? Do you find this type of content more authoritative or objective (in spite of your marketing knowledge)?

Further reading:

Video: Inside Net-a-Porter’s Strategy for ‘Porter’ Magazine (here)

Main image credit: Kampoli

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