The future of Sanoma’s Flow magazine

Flow magazine is described as the ‘magazine for paper lovers’, it is about doing things differently and making new changes. Flow is all about positive psychology, mindfulness, creativity and the beauty of imperfection.

Flow magazine launched in 2008. What has the response been so far?

Yes, It started eight years ago. We started with 6 issues of the magazine; we now have 39 products in more than 20 countries. We have expanded! We began with the print magazine, it was good to start with the magazine and not with a clear concept. By doing so, you can think and follow your consumer needs. You can surprise them again and again by developing the brand.

From the beginning, Flow was a success – and very fitting with the zeitgeist. Two months after starting with Flow, the economic crisis began so we were all panicked to say the least as Flow is an expensive magazine!

Nevertheless, Astrid van de Hulst and Irene Smit, creative directors of Flow had a good feeling, and we went ahead with it.

How did you market Flow magazine?

It is different to other magazines, so it was difficult to explain what the concept was. We invested a lot in word of mouth to show people what it was.We did not have a big marketing budget, but invested in marketing to our ambassadors. This meant that you could give Flow away, if you thought someone needed it. We did this on social media, which was a very different space in 2008 as it is today. We also emailed people, grew our lists into a database and spread again through word of mouth.

We started with the Dutch edition and received a lot of feedback from abroad. This was encouraged as Amsterdam Schiphol airport is a hub airport, therefore, many people saw Flow on the shelf and became interested in the magazine. The economic crisis brought us near the worldwide zeitgeist, and this shared zeitgeist helped with the growth of Flow. Many publishers were interested as magazine sales were declining, and Flow was increasing – they wanted to know the secret!

We asked all suppliers and freelancers to invest in producing an international edition. The first had a circulation of 5,000, published in mid-Atlantic English (because this has more potential). It was sold out immediately. We now have a frequency of 4 per year, plus special editions.

Why did you choose to launch in Germany in particular?

After the English edition, a German publisher came to us to ask for licensing. We have now been working with Gruner and Jahr for two years. It is larger than the Netherlands, and has proven to be a big success. After a year, the French also came by. Last year the French edition launched.

What is your content strategy?

We have a library of content. There is no actual content, but they can search in our library for the past 8 years. The freelancers are from all across the world. Most are from the Netherlands, but illustrators are much more international. We are always looking for young potential artists worldwide and we are now a platform for illustrators. This is a real benefit of working digitally, being able to work with people from all across the globe.

What have been some of the biggest developments you’ve seen in the business?

To be honest, the whole concept has been a big development. We continually learn by doing; the holiday box a and a book for paper lovers, our best selling product

In your opinion, what is the best way to connect with your readers? What type of content do they respond best to?

From the beginning, the Flow reader was really engaged with the products. One of the brand values is to be authentic and personal. From the beginning, we connected personally with our readers, with letters to engage with them. The feedback received on social media is a great medium to understand how people feel. With social media you can see feedback instantly– sometimes people are not positive and you can see many other readers defending the brand.

What do you make of new digital content delivery platforms? How has this impacted your business?

Digital is really helping us to grow worldwide; helping us spread our news about Flow. We are investing a lot in our digital approach. We are also focusing on our e-commerce, giving people the ability to buy any of our products from anywhere in the world.

How does the Flow brand utilise social media channels? What is your biggest platform?

What I am now seeing, from growing internationally, is that social media really does help. You can share your opinions of Flow, share videos etc. I think Facebook and Instagram are the biggest for us. Pinterest is also important and growing, however, Twitter not so much. Twitter is more for industry and news. Everyone in the team is responsible for every product and page views together.

Flow magazine spread ()

At the FIPP World Congress, you said: “There is an abundance of innovation and growth in print in the independent sector”. Do you see this as competition? How do you keep up with the innovation?

We are so different, we are a unique product and so the biggest competition is time people are spending reading on mobile and digital devices.

One of our USPs is to help women in their lives offline and so we are developing apps for people who are on mobile.

How are you keeping up with the digital environment?

We have developed a free digital daily quote app. Every day you get a new Flow quote. We are also developing an app to follow the reader through the whole day. 

Flow has editions in Dutch, German, English and French.

How closely do you work with editors of these other international editions of Flow magazine? Even though the audiences are different country-to-country, how are they also similar?

Good question. I think Flow is different so they need to adapt to what the concept is. We work close together; but they can adapt the Flow feeling. We work closer than many other licensed magazines. The German edition is becoming more independent, as the editor adapts increasingly. They also inspire us. We work step-by-step to surprise the reader.

In terms of your international licensing strategy. What are your plans are for 2016 and beyond? Which markets would you like to target next?

Our dream is to be big in the US for sure, but we are starting first in Europe to adapt our concept. The US is a big, diverse market, but after attending the FIPP congress, we are on our first steps to working with the US publishers.

In addition, the Korean and Chinese markets are huge. We are also looking into Spanish and Portuguese editions. We have big goals for 2016, to grow in the US and start in Asia.

What are the future plans for Flow magazine (other than licensing)?

To develop the concept in the Netherlands, we are still growing. The Netherlands is our development country and it’s not yet finished. There are many possibilities, especially in digital and ecommerce.

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