Insights - Brand & Marketing

Brands with Mags

In-house magazines are resource-intensive, so why are an increasing number of brands launching them? We asked Bigbasket, CRED, Plum, The Whole Truth and Urban Company to share their experiences.

In 2017, when Urban Ladder launched their first offline store in Bangalore, they released a print magazine. A slim volume that showcased home decor ideas, mini buying guides and a cover story featuring city cartoonist Paul Fernandes. I was the editor.

Until then, Urban Ladder’s communications had been wholly digital. With the offline stores, we had a whole new audience and the magazine worked well to introduce the brand to a walk-in crowd of couples in their 40s and non-nuclear families with senior parents who preferred a touch-and-feel experience.  

Brands have long used magazines as a positioning device and marketing medium. Some brand mags have been short-lived (like Airbnb’s Pineapple) while others have survived the test of time. The iconic IKEA catalogue had a 70-year legacy (1951-2021). Asian Paints’ Colour Quotient quarterly for architects and interior designers had 23 print editions. The Furrow, a quarterly magazine for farmers first published in 1895 by John Deere tractors, is still going strong—it’s digital now. 

The dictionary definition of magazine is ‘a periodical publication containing articles and images, often on a particular theme or  aimed at a particular readership’. Young brands today are taking the spirit of this definition and experimenting with different formats and themes to bring out their own mags. What do they hope to achieve? I spoke to the teams at five brands to find out.

1. “BB Cookbook” by Bigbasket

What is it?A weekly digital newsletter with a themed recipe contest (and prizes) delivered to inboxes every Thursday
PositioningCrowdsourced repository of tried & tested recipes
Launched in2015
How it’s doingSent to 3.5 Mn readers. Open rate of 28%.

Each week’s recipe contest gets ~200 entries, a number that doubles when the prizes are bigger (sponsored by brands or Bigbasket’s private labels).
Examples of topics coveredIngredient-focused cooking (millets, pasta, cheese, etc.)

Global cuisines

Seasonal & regional recipes from India
Interesting choicesEvery reader-submitted recipe is tried & tested by Bigbasket; select ones are featured on the BB Cookbook platform with the creator’s name & photo.

Recipe ingredients are linked to Bigbasket product pages, so readers can shop directly.

Says Praveen Posina, Head of Onsite Content at Bigbasket, “Early on, we discovered that a large segment of our audience are talented home chefs and recipe creators. But they’re not comfortable in front of the camera or with Youtube/Instagram. BB Cookbook was created to give these folks a platform to showcase their creations. Today, it is one of our longest-running organic marketing properties.” 

Keeping in mind their older, non-tech-savvy  reader base, the recipe submission is via a simple Google Form where participants can type in the recipe and attach pictures of their dish. 

Posina says every recipe is tested by a team and a select few are uploaded onto the BB Cookbook microsite along with links to the ingredients. “The thumbnails on this site have the recipe image along with the photograph of the creator. This is a matter of pride for the home chefs when they share the link within their social circle,” While the platform is a good acquisition channel, Posina says that its primary goal is engaging customers and giving them a sense of community.

2. Periscope by CRED

What is it?A daily lifestyle and culture mag with a striking visual interface hosted on the CRED app. New editions drop at 9AM and subscribers get a push notification.
PositioningLifestyle, pop culture & stories (“What you’ve been seeking on your feed is now here”).

Clearly, the mag aims to bring users to CRED more frequently, instead of only when they transact.
Launched inJuly 2023
Examples of topics coveredHow Vishwanathan Anand makes the right moves

Sci-fi smart mask from will.i.am

Micheal Jackson’s Mumbai gig
Interesting choicesReimagines the traditional magazine experience with a cover, long-form stories, and interactive features.

Unique collaborations to release exclusive content. For e.g. Soundchk through which bands such as Pineapple Express, Agnee, The Revisit Project, etc. have released new music first on Periscope.

When Harish Sivaramakrishnan, Head of Design at CRED, tweeted (posted?) about the launch of Periscope, someone commented that “no one would ask CRED to launch this”. To which CRED founder Kunal Shah replied, “Would be a sad life if we only built things that were asked for.”

That sums up CRED’s design philosophy and the reason for Periscope’s existence.

“Periscope is curated to build moments of delight for our members – discovering a new band, insights from people you admire, fresh takes on tech/finance, or finding the latest in fashion,” says Akshay Aedula, who leads Product at CRED.

Every page on the magazine has a different touch interaction (swipe, tap, slide, etc.) and some CTA buttons open audio players or pop-up pages. Sivaramakrishnan emphasises that while Periscope is crafted on a digital canvas, it is a tribute to the “cherished and time-honoured print magazine”. For instance, their use of serif typefaces and teasing surprises from upcoming issues. 

He says, “The cover page gives you a taste of what’s inside, kind of like the main story in a magazine. We’ve got articles that hit your nostalgic notes. We talk about celebrities. We’ve added interactive elements like polls, just like the puzzles and games you find in magazines.”

3.  Humanise by Plum Insurance

What is it?An independent website that features essays and podcasts about contemporary workplace culture and wellbeing. 20+ writers from various professional backgrounds have contributed ~40 stories so far.
PositioningWorkplace journalism focused on “humans at work”
Launched inJanuary 2022
Examples of topics coveredHow Millennials and GenZs are reshaping the workplace

Acknowledging and dealing with emotional labour at work

Modern dads, old-world biases
Interesting choices100% editorial content, not SEO-driven.

Separate and different from the Plum website/blog.

No plugs to Plum’s products or offerings.

Nisha Ramchandani, General Manager – Plum and Editor of Humanise, says that Plum is an employee benefits brand that has both B2B and B2B2C aspects. “When HR decision makers or founders search for benefits-related keywords, they land on our website or blog. The content there is tuned to their search and our offerings. But once they get onboarded, thousands of employees indirectly become Plum customers. We want each of them to know Plum as a brand–Humanise is one of the ways we do that.”

According to Ramchandani, there is no workplace discourse platform in India that gives employees a voice (“without becoming a place to bitch about work”). When at work, employees are themselves referred to as ‘resources’. With Humanise, Plum’s effort is to bring the focus back to human experiences at the workplace and put forward thought-provoking perspectives.

Humanise has become an industry differentiator for Plum as it elevates sales conversations from just pricing to a more equal footing. “Because we’re not promoting insurance all the time but showcasing our expertise in culture and wellbeing, we get to own the entire gamut of the workplace,” Ramchandani says. “So when our benefits consultants talk to HR leaders, we are able to position ourselves as partners, not just vendors.”

4. “Truth Be Told” by The Whole Truth Foods

What is it?An in-depth, long-form newsletter on health and fitness, delivered to inboxes every Saturday
PositioningHealth & fitness journalism that aims to be “the most trusted source in India”
Launched inAugust 2022
How It’s Doing6000+ subscribers with an open rate of more than 50%.
Examples of topics coveredWhy you can’t eat just one chip

The ultimate guide to Parkour for beginners

A2 milk just a cash cow?
Interesting choicesThe magazine is not run by The Whole Truth’s brand team—its editor is an independent journalist.

No product plugs (not even subtle ones)

Upfront disclaimers when the topic covered is related to a TWT product (e.g. whey or dates)

“Truth Be Told is about good information, good writing, and helping our readers navigate the complicated world of health. It’s a newsletter but more letter than news,” says Samarth Bansal, independent journalist and editor of Truth Be Told (TBT). “The intent has never been to sell ten more protein bars by putting out some content. As a brand, The Whole Truth is built on trust. When people see that the brand cares about them and is consistently walking its talk, their trust grows. Those who trust the brand read TBT and share it with friends and family. Those who read and find TBT trustworthy come and check out the brand’s products.”

Its growth is mostly organic and not the sole objective of the team. Bansal himself has no KPI around increasing subscriber numbers. A success metric he prefers is reader engagement. He says, “After a few issues of TBT, I sent out an email asking readers for feedback. The Google Form got over 100 responses and another 150 readers emailed me with suggestions and ideas. It was incredible and a reflection of the connection that readers feel for TBT.”

5. “Elemental” by Urban Company

What is it?A themed short-reads mag hosted within the Urban Company app
PositioningInspirational, informative, seasonal content to assist the customer’s buying journey and drive conversions
Launched inJuly 2023
Examples of topics coveredNail art (Elemental has had only one edition so far)
Interesting choicesBuilt on the principle of content-to-commerce.

Each edition will have a different theme related to one of UC’s key categories.

No set frequency as of now.

Amit Das, Senior Vice President of Design at Urban Company, says that the idea for Elemental came after observing how Urban Company customers use services in real life. While services such as painting, cleaning or plumbing/electrical work are demand-driven (customers have a specific problem, they search for the service on the UC app, they book it), beauty and wellness services work differently. There was a need to creatively nudge demand for things like nail art or massages.  

Das says, “Magazines don’t feel transactional. They feel casual, good and low-commitment.  We picked nail art as the focal theme for Elemental’s first edition as it’s a service that needs some level of customer education. The mag works two ways: 

  • Awareness: on the UC homepage, it lets people know about the nail art category
  • Conversion: on the nail services page, it helps unsure customers with ideas and inspiration

The team measures the buying journey metrics of customers who browse Elemental versus those who don’t, to evaluate its role in driving orders. As the magazine is just one issue old, it’s a bit early to share metrics. But Das says future editions will focus on other push categories such as home painting.

Fun fact: No photo shoots were done for Elemental and all photographs featured were created using Midjourney. The magazine was created and produced over one week by the in-house team. 

THC Take

Whether it’s establishing trust/expertise, assisting purchases, entertaining readers, or giving them a platform, every brand’s approach to content should be driven by its own identity and a deep understanding of the target audience. 

That said, running a magazine is a lot of work (even with all the AI tools available). Most teams had at least one person dedicated to planning and managing the mag with 2-3 more people involved in every issue. The higher the frequency (Periscope is a daily), the higher the effort. 

Is the investment worth the payoff? BB Cookbook has been running for nearly 8 years now while the Urban Ladder magazine this author edited went on a hiatus after two issues. We believe it all boils down to what brands consider to be success criteria and how long they are prepared to wait to see results.

2 Comments

  1. Super interesting topic and great examples. I would add The Isprava Insider which is definitely more promotional but still has the feel and resources of a high end lifestyle magazine.

  2. Very interesting topic to explore. Thanks for bringing this up. As a heavy reader, I am glad that brands are investing in high quality content.
    Also as a father to 18 yo who reads only what’s taught in classrooms, but consumes huge quantities of video, will this magazine route work for the younger and not-so-young TG that does not read? Do these magazines exist as video blogs as well? Is that the more outside-in route to engaging content consumption, rather than millennial or pre-millennial entrepreneurs or managers publishing “reading” content because, well, we grew up reading?

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