Five ways to find out if your magazine is worth doing

27 September 2012

It sometimes feels that although we work in a time of digital data overload, when every little thing we do can be tracked, measured and evaluated, print publications are very much the poor relations when it comes to measurement.

After all, if we don’t have dwell time statistics, click-through data or real-time sales funnels, how can possibly know if our print content is effective?

The answer is that the principles of good measurement can always be applied, regardless of channel, and there are plenty of ways to use these to show whether your content is successful or not. Here are 5 essential ways to find out if your magazine is worth doing:

1. Be clear about what your content is aiming to do

As a starter, make sure that your magazine has some kind of objective against which it can be measured, such as an increase in the sales of widgets, a revenue target for ad sales or perhaps reader perception of certain brand values. Only by being able to measure yourself against set objectives will you ultimately know if your magazine is successful.

2. Choose the right tools

Once you know what objectives you’re dealing with you can select the most appropriate methodology. Generally the methodology you choose will either be a survey or some kind of behavioural data.

Quantitative reader surveys are the traditional tool of the publisher, and in the last few years online surveys in particular have made it quick and simple to gather a lot of data. Of course, it’s not just about which tools you use but how you use them. Questionnaires still need to be written well and data samples need to be the right size and composition.

3. Use a control

For brands, though, knowing what your readers think of your content usually isn’t enough. The key insight is whether the reader is a better customer (e.g. buys more from you, loves you more etc) than any other kind of customer. This kind of comparison is valuable but requires some form of control group, which tends to make surveys of this kind more complex and expensive to set up.

Although many clients prefer quantitative reader surveys, as they deliver the numbers that are easy to track against targets, don’t forget that qualitative surveys – focus groups or depth interviews for example – are just as useful, especially when exploring customers’ perceptions of brands or their emotional response to content.

4. Link your content to customer behaviour

Sometimes it is more important to learn about what your readers actually do (ie behavioural data) rather than what they say they do (or think). Response data or sales data are the most useful for this, ranging from competition responses to scans of coupon barcodes. Sometimes it’s even possible to match reader databases against sales data, test drives, brochure requests or other actions, but it’s difficult to isolate the magazine effect from other noise surrounding the brand – and that’s when you need to call for your tame econometrician, but that is a probably a topic for a separate blog.

5. Start early, plan strategically

There’s no shortage of measures, or measurement techniques, or research agencies, with which to gauge the success of your magazine. And it’s cheaper, easier and quicker than ever to conduct research. By the same token, it is easier than ever before to get things wrong (more cheaply, more easily and more quickly).

The most important part of measuring your magazine is done way in advance of the actual issue that is measured or the fieldwork: it’s the thinking. Be very clear about what you want to measure, why, and what you hope to do with the results – do that and you will be well on your way to having robust and meaningful measurement, and knowing if your magazine is a success.



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