“Media leads, merchandise follows”
The Martha Stewart brand, now 25 years old, encompasses not only magazines and books, but product development licensed through major retailers. As Feldman reiterated, the brand has been built on Martha Stewart’s own wisdom: namely, that the role of the media is to reach consumers, and merchandise is what solidifies the experience.
“Martha wanted to ‘elevate the everyday’,” Feldman added. Her first book was swiftly followed by TV shows, magazines, a website, radio, events, video, digital magazines, apps, global retail, and more – now boasting a digital reach of more than 37 million, with nine million social media followers.
Feldman emphasised that while the social channels at Martha Stewart do not make money, they do build an audience – and they’re always trying to find ways to make money as well by appealing to this audience.
At Martha Stewart, they have always been open to new forms of media, explained Feldman. And it pays off – due to the beautiful way they created digital magazines, for instance, they were approached by Adobe and asked to create a 20th anniversary “Boundless Beauty” special edition magazine using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. They were only the second brand, after WIRED, to do this.
The Martha Stewart brand has therefore always tried to come in at the start when new technologies emerge. Feldman stressed that while this does involve some risk-taking, it leads to the brand successfully expanding its reach every time. “We try to find ways to reach and monetise our audience,” she said.
She went on to give another example of the brand’s innovation. “American Made” is a programme they currently run in China and Indonesia, designed to help small businesses build an audience and sell products to US audience. Thus far they’ve successfully helped people by creating an eBay store, intertwining the homemade, handmade vibe that so resonates with the Martha Stewart audience.
The success of Facebook Live
Next, Feldman talked about their relationship with Facebook. In late 2015, Martha Stewart Living was approached by Facebook and asked to be part of the beta testing stage for Facebook Live; they were thrilled to be asked, she said.
They decided to do a longform video during a lunchtime slot to show people how to decorate their homes for Christmas, using ornaments they’d made with Home Depot. In this way, they could promote the brand and also the product. They set up the video so that it would look like a TV show, with studio lights and enhanced audio. Then they advertised the video on their social channels and, not knowing what to expect, they were shocked at how many people started tuning in once the video started rolling.
The success of that first collaboration with Facebook Live “was something revolutionary for us”, Feldman enthused. They started doing approximately one show per week from that point onwards, and began to see results: they were reaching an international audience like never before, with comments and viewers coming in from all across the globe.
Their most successful videos were the ones which included guests, such as celebrity chefs who could come on and do special shows, for example for Valentine’s Day. They also made use of realtime Q&As, enabled by the live-streaming format of Facebook Live, in which Martha would talk directly to questioners through the iPad. This kind of viewer engagement was really new and exciting for them.
Among the many other positive things about Facebook Live, Feldman went on, is the fact that this kind of video is very inexpensive to produce – it requires no editing, and gives immediate one-on-one gratification for both the viewer and for the brand.
Most importantly, people are being reached, Feldman added. “We’ve reached six million people with these videos, over the course of just five months,” she said. “We reach 100 million people every month in other ways, but this is one of the quickest ways to see results and to build our business.”
“When you’re through changing, you’re through”
Feldman ended by stressing again that embracing change is at the heart of the brand. She said that Martha’s business philosophy is “when you’re through changing, you’re through”, so they are always trying to be open to the newest thing, eager to learn and find new ways to reach people – even if that doesn’t make money in the short-term.
“Monetisation is important, but we want to find the good in every experiment,” Feldman concluded. “Our aim is always to lead people to our brand, our partners. We want our tentacles everywhere! And very honestly, Facebook Live has been a very easy platform for us – we haven’t had many challenges.”
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