D2C Summit: How Vogue is developing memberships to serve business and consumer audiences

Vogue is one of the most iconic, authoritative magazine brands in the world, with a global collective reach of 270 million people. Historically mainly funded by advertising, it is now in the midst of a global transformation, propelled by its parent company Condé Nast, that includes membership tiers and a range of highly successful e-commerce offerings

Kate Bird, Executive Director of Consumer Revenue, Condé Nast spoke at the FIPP D2C Summit today with James Hewes, President and CEO, FIPP about how that transformation got started, the importance of having a positive, streamlined workplace culture, and where the company has been most successful in D2C and B2C. 

Shift towards revenue diversification 

Bird began by talking about Vogue’s change of focus away from, or in addition to its traditional advertising-heavy funding model. “Condé Nast is in the midst of a global transformation,” explained Bird. “We used to be quite fragmented, with the US and international arms quite separate. Now we’re building capabilities and structures that make it easy for the brand to operate globally, bringing them together.”

This, said Bird, has opened up opportunities for consumer revenue. “For Vogue, for example, we’re solidifying what it means all over the world and deciding how to deliver for customers globally with one lens. We’ve really embraced diversifying revenue streams. Whether it’s shopping, cooking schools, membership, education or other options, we’ve been exploring a lot of new e-commerce spaces.”

Data-driven membership model

Membership is the key focus for Bird, and data is a vital foundation for building these customer relationships. They are also building a global CDP (central data platform) which makes it easier to identify and target audiences more appropriately.

“Data is everything,” said Bird. “At Vogue, we’ve spent a lot of time digging into the core needs of readers. We talk to people who are part of Vogue Voices regularly – loyal customers who give us their opinion.”

Condé Nast also shares insights, learnings and failures across its global team so that everyone can learn from them: “At Vogue in particular, sharing what we’re doing around membership strategy has been critical.”

Membership: much more than a transaction

Two clear groups of customers are central to Vogue. The first is industry professionals, who want to make better business decisions with Vogue’s advice. Then there are people who come to Vogue for inspiration and lifestyle ideas. 

“Vogue Business is for more professional audiences: focused on the fashion industry, and data-led. It was launched in 2020,” said Bird. “Then we have also been looking at memberships around Vogue Runway, and how we can showcase the designers and the shows in a curated way. And then we’re working on B2C because we just feel that there are so many opportunities there.”

She added: “The beauty of a membership model is that it’s so much more than being transactional.” 

Bird thinks this is a huge opportunity for Condé Nast more generally. “AD – Architectural Digest – is another great example of a brand that operates across both spaces. At its core, it’s a brand that offers inspirational design, but there’s also AD Pro, which is a resource for design industry professionals. If any business has the space to play in both arenas, it’s Condé – the brands have such authority, they’re hubs of inspiration and people are drawn to them.”

Membership offerings can work very well for luxury brands that represent an aspirational lifestyle like a lot of those at Condé Nast, said Bird. “On the other hand, some brands are very different across the portfolio, for example making commerce a focus,” she said. “What it comes down to is knowing your audience and using data to design something that works for them.”

E-commerce opportunities 

On the B2C side, Bird referenced a weekly newsletter they launched called The Get, in which readers learn about what’s hot to buy directly from the Vogue editors. “It’s really simple, but just a great piece of content that is part of building habitual relationships with audiences,” said Bird.

An example of success in commerce is Vogue Collections. This is the brand’s own range of curated products, born out of the Vogue Germany team. After it experienced astonishing 380 per cent year-on-year growth, they expanded the business model out across Spain, Italy, France, the UK and other markets, with one bestseller being an iconic Vogue sweatshirt.  

Role of print at Vogue today

A perennial question for all magazine brands is the role of print today. “Vogue is a fashion authority, and its print issue is the moment in the month that should be celebrated and cherished,” said Bird. 

“These days though, it’s clearly more about quality and engagement of our audience with a print product, and less about volume sold at newsstands.”

Workplace culture

Bird emphasised the significance of having a team that is on board with the changes to the company, from top to bottom. “‘If you don’t like change, don’t work at Condé Nast’ is something often said by Roger Lynch [CEO, Condé Nast],” said Bird. “You have to have that belief all the way through the company that this is going to work, that it’s going to keep the brands strong in the future.”

There can be a lot of noise, so Bird tells her team to keep their eyes on the prize. Keeping everyone in the company aligned and engaged is a key way of delivering on goals and is critical to success. 

“Wins are also so critical,” said Bird. “Success in one market can lead to success in other markets, so it’s important that we share those wins across the team.”

Making the membership transition 

Bird thinks that the reason why many magazine businesses are hesitant to broaden beyond their original channels into new opportunities in paid content and memberships is because transformation takes time, and it can be scary. “We have to appreciate the heritage of brands, while taking them into new spaces,” Bird explained. “At Condé Nast we’re not a start-up, so we’ve got a lot to work with already and we’re building out from that.”

In thinking about what advice she would give to others seeking to transition to a membership model or expanded commercial offering, Bird emphasised again the importance of having buy-in all the way through the company. “You need to include partners, editors, product teams, data teams, audience teams. Specifically in a content business, you need editors on board,” she explained. 

“And don’t be afraid to fail. Testing, learning, taking the audience with you – it’s the only way to do it. We’re in a world that is constantly evolving, whether it’s technology or people’s behaviour. You have to go with it and have fun along the way.”


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