Integrating product and editorial in an award-winning content magazine

The Lens

Content Strategy, Integrated Marketing, Research & Data

The Lens is an award-winning quarterly content magazine available exclusively by mail and at Henry’s locations, with the single largest distribution of any photography publication in Canada.

The Lens helps emerging and established photography enthusiasts deepen their awareness of the techniques, people, technology, and trends driving lens-based arts in Canada, so they can feel inspired, improve their craft, and connect to a larger creative world.

The Challenge

Henry’s knew they wanted to publish a prestige content magazine to bring customers into stores more often and to connect with them on a deeper level, but they didn’t know where to start. Initial attempts tried to address the needs of every possible customer, from bird photographers to YouTube unboxers, and poorly integrated product marketing often felt like brussels sprouts hidden in a birthday cake.

Despite its high production value, qualitative research suggested customers were more likely to view the magazine as just another piece of marketing rather than something they’d want to collect and pore over.  An editorial lineup planned by non-photographers, an inconsistent expertise curve, and the expectation that the magazine should drive short-term sales further contributed to the feeling that The Lens was just not living up to its potential. And although the book attracted a great baseline of advertisers like Nikon, Sigma, and Subaru, the sales team struggled to convey the value of the project to companies who could get more targeted bang for their not-inconsiderable print buck elsewhere.

The Lens was a flagship piece of content but it was hard to justify its expense. I was brought in to redefine the project’s scope and purpose, explore the magazine’s audience, develop an effective creative and editorial strategy, and increase both readership size and engagement.

The Solution

I designed primary and secondary research studies to evaluate both the current readership and larger trends in consumer and content magazine publishing. A competitive analysis showed that The Lens was spread thin across a large range of segments and interests, and that at every point of competition it was going head-to-head with multiple consumer publications or digital channels that targeted a more narrow audience with more in-depth, quality content.

Successful magazines were increasingly coming to the realization that they couldn’t out-Internet the Internet, and instead, were leveraging the apparent drawback of being perpetually behind the curve by providing a richer, more curated experience. By contextualizing, rounding-up, and offering more comprehensive perspectives, good magazines were providing readers with benefits they struggled to find online.

What’s more, many of the consumer magazines that were killing it were heavily product focused. Gear lust is a big part of what enthusiasts love about many hobbies, and photography is no exception. Taking lessons from cycling, kiteboarding, and guitar magazines, I designed a product marketing integration strategy for The Lens that eschewed the “House & Home” approach of most content magazines and challenged the writers and designers to create beautiful layouts and product stories that would live at the back of every issue, out and proud.

Finally, I redesigned the ongoing content and editorial strategy of the magazine, building-in expert accountability, and working with research data and the editorial staff to explore the most compelling techniques, personalities, and product stories to readers.

The Results

The Lens 2.0 relaunched seamlessly with a new approach and a new mission, now focussed on building authority, permission, and equity with readers throughout the lifetime of their photography hobby. The Lens’s new content and product marketing strategy resulted in a pickup-rate lift of 18% by Fall 2019, and over 4 million organic product impressions in print and online.

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