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How Meredith built Allrecipes into a digital-to-print, multichannel success

When it comes to digital-to-print developments, commentators often refer to internet pureplays entering the world of print – Net-a-Porter with Porter, Airbnb with Pineapple, and so on.

However, arguably one of the biggest successes worldwide with this reverse model is Meredith Corporation (a FIPP member) with Allrecipes, the .com brand it acquired from the Reader’s Digest Association.

In 2012, Adweek said of the acquisition: “Meredith Corp. agreed to buy Allrecipes.com, paying Reader's Digest Association $175m in a deal that more than doubles the size of its digital footprint.”

Since then, Allrecipes launched a print extension of the brand in December 2013/January 2014, starting with a base rate of 500,000 and raising it to 1.1 million within a year, this while 'home cooks' (as it describes its target audience) visited the website 1.4 billion times in 2014 and the mobile app downloaded 23 million times.

Described as a digital-to-print, multichannel phenomenon, it is therefore probably an understatement (never mind a cliché!) to say the brand is cooking up a storm. FIPP’s Cobus Heyl asked Stan Pavlovsky (pictured left), president at Allrecipes, and Esmee Williams (pictured right), vice president of consumer and brand strategy, via email to share the thinking and some lessons behind the print and overall multi-channel development of the brand.

Allrecipes ()

Here is what they had to say.

Why did you decide to evolve to print, too, especially given the pressures – in general terms – on the print market? 

[SP] The reverse-engineered business model reflects the strength of the digital brand with consumers. Meredith tested a print extension for Allrecipes before launching December 2013/January 2014. The tests included focus groups, online testing with Allrecipes.com users, live newsstand tests and more. All responses from consumers were positive. The core Allrecipes consumer wants content in every format and through all media channels. The magazine resonated with readers by providing visually appealing information, curated content around special holidays and the time of year, and additional food-related editorial beyond just recipes. And, from a business standpoint, we are able to generate consumer revenue with the magazine through our paid subscriptions. Allrecipes.com is the core subscription driver for the magazine, in essence converting consumers who have experienced the brand digitally and are now willing to pay to get quality content in print format on an ongoing basis.

[EM] Our decision to introduce an Allrecipes magazine was based on our goal of providing the most cohesive, comprehensive brand experience to our passionate audience of home cooks and advertisers. Our web and app-based digital properties are outstanding in providing home cooks access to content and shared experience at their immediate point of need. Allrecipes’ community of 40 million home cooks is comprised of busy, family-focused home cooks. We know how much they value their time so we provide an experience that is highly optimised for internal and external search, which is critical to our success. As busy as our home cooks are, we also realise they crave lean-back, immersive experiences. One that inspires with them with new ideas, guides them through new cooking skills and expands the conversation of food beyond recipes to also include cookware, entertaining ideas and menus. The introduction of Allrecipes magazine gave us the opportunity to connect with our community in new and interesting ways.

How did (or did it?) taking an online brand, then evolving it to print, influence your approach to print?

Yes, when we started imagining what an Allrecipes magazine should look and feel like, we were fortunate to already have very clear idea of how our brand fits into lives of home cooks.  We put a tremendous amount of thought into how print could be an extension of the digital experience (and vice versa). Within the pages of the magazine, you’ll see the shared experiences of the community seamlessly coincide with the magazine’s editors. You will also find tips and tricks throughout that direct readers back to the website to take advantage of digital videos, shopping lists and recipe boxes. 

How do you play to the strengths of each channel, and what are the keys to engagement in each?

Each channel delivery for Allrecipes maximises the strength of consumer engagement from an editorial standpoint. The magazine reflects the core brand essence of the web site, but enhances the experience in print with professional photography, recipe testing, curated content, and additional features that can’t be found online. We realise that a consumer goes to the website for very specific needs and expects results. The magazine has the ability to offer a longer term view on upcoming occasions, stimulating ideas through engaging editorial and visuals, and highlighting recipes that you might never find as a consumer on the site (we call those “hidden gems”).

When designing each experience, we look to the unique strength of each medium. 

1. Web provides a high degree of interactivity and utility: A keyboard and mouse allow the consumer to actively share their experiences through text. The large screen allows them to engage and to interact with the content through drag and drop functionality, and allows many items to be present on the page at the same time. 

2. Mobile is all about mobility and constant connectivity: We take advantage of the likelihood that the home cook is most likely on-the-go or in-store when using their phone, so we are very much focused on helping them quickly find and share dinner solutions. The phone’s geolocation technology pinpoints the cook’s location so we can deliver hyper-local grocery offers that match their location and preferred retail outlet. We also take advantage of touch, voice and motion to allow them to enhance the brand experience. Mobile devices are also more likely to be a personal vs. shared device, so we can pay attention to their past behaviours to deliver a more personalized experience uniquely tailored to their interests and needs.

3. Print is an experience where cooks are most likely interested in having us curate the experience for them: The team pays close attention to the trends and behaviours we are seeing play out on the web to inform the editorial framework and focus of each issue. They are able to create features that marry our most popular recipes alongside hidden gems that might easily be missed through common search or browse behaviours. 

Linked to the above question, how do you build on channel synergies?

The web, app and print experiences are all similar in that they are geared towards connecting home cooks with timely and relevant information. The apps are identical in their content, but differ slightly in their behaviour due to the nature of the operating platforms. iOS, Android and Windows all allow for consumers to engage and drive the site experience through voice and motion, in addition to standard touch and type. Print and apps are similar in that both can provide an excellent experience even when the cook is not connected to the web. Across web, mobile web and apps, we have created experiences that work seamlessly across each platform—such as Recipe Boxes, recipe search and digital shopping lists—so that consumers can engage with the brand across multiple devices and still receive a consistent, personalized experience.

How do you bring it all back together to develop the overall brand?

1. Laser focused on brand mission: Everyone who is creating experiences centred on Allrecipes brand – no matter what device or medium – is focused on helping home cooks succeed in their everyday food goals. We do this by enabling home cooks to discover and share food experiences that are timely, relevant and highly actionable. 

2. Putting our community first: each experience is highly focused on celebrating the Allrecipes community and their interests, needs and successes. Each platform may deliver on this promise a bit differently, however this is a common vein that runs throughout. All of our teams also pay very close attention to consumer feedback – we involve our community in helping us understand what features and content are most valuable to them. 

3. Strong understanding of our brand values: We have a great set of brand guidelines that helps each team/team member understand Allrecipes’ brand values, tone and personality. Once you have collective buy-in by everyone on these guidelines, a consistent voice and brand experience happens very naturally.

How big is the Allrecipes community, and are there differences/similarities in audience demographics between channels?

The magazine currently has a rate base of 1.1 million, which began with the February/March 2015 issue. That is a 120 per cent increase from our launch issue rate base of 500,000, just eight issues ago. We are growing the print brand very quickly. There are some slight differences in demographics between the website visitor and magazine reader, but not much. We both reach a well-educated, employed, high household income consumer. The audience for both is primarily female: 75 per cent female and 25 per cent male. Magazine readers tend to be slightly older than their digital counterparts, which is reflected in our median age: 47 for the magazine and 42 for the website. We don’t know the full duplication of the audience between the magazine and website, since we are growing so quickly. We do know that Allrecipes.com is the core driver of new subscriptions, but it is not our only source.

1. In December 40 million home cooks visited our US website – the majority of them on a weekly basis.

2. In 2014, these home cooks visited Allrecipes 1.4 billion times, viewing four billion pages of recipes, reviews, videos and articles.

3. Our magazine just increased its rate base to more than 1.1 million readers.

4. Our phone and tablet apps have been downloaded more than 23 million times.

5. The demographic of the print and web audience is very similar.

What is the contribution of each channel to overall revenues, and are you profitable in each channel/overall?

We do not comment on revenues other than to say the business is profitable.

Tell us a little bit about your global footprint?

Allrecipes is already a global brand. In 2008 we introduced our UK and Australian sites. Since then, we have rolled our many more sites in Europe, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Today, we have 19 sites serving 24 countries in 13 languages. Our international business is our fastest growing market. Allrecipes is a leading digital food brand in Mexico, Canada, UK, Australia, Nederland and Poland. Most of our sites rank in the top 10 food sites in their respective markets.

Share some of the key lessons you have learnt in the past 12-18 with other worldwide FIPP members?

1. Always be innovating: Technology is changing how consumers connect with content and each other at an unprecedented pace. The growth of social, mobile and contact connectivity offer opportunities to rapidly evolve and enhance the consumer experience. The challenge is to evolve your brand experience at the same pace that consumers are shifting their behaviours. Five years ago, we primarily helped consumers as they planned their meals. Now, with our mobile and print platforms, we can be a key part of the cooking and sharing experience as well.

2. Give your consumer a voice: Consumers expect brands to anticipate and respond to their needs. The more you can allow your experience to be guided by their behaviours, the more success you will have building their loyalty.

3. Don’t be afraid to get out of the box: The days of one-size-fits-all content approaches are over. The web provides an environment where micro-niche interests are served and celebrated. By paying attention to these emerging trends, media brands can surprise and delight their audiences by staying ahead of the curve. Today, it’s more important for brands such as Allrecipes to be trend spotters instead of trendsetters. We celebrate their creativity and imagination by providing a platform that amplifies their experiences.

4. Strong brands must live in multiple channels: We have learned first-hand that the Allrecipes consumer desires content delivered on every channel. Many of the most engaged consumers desire the Allrecipes content in magazine form and are willing to pay to get it on an ongoing basis. Strong brands must live in multiple channels to succeed.

Get in touch

Do you have comments or similar stories to share? Get in touch with Cobus.

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