Vertical brands: why (and how) they continue to dazzle

Ian Levy is a veteran of the magazine media industry – someone who has led the magazine media division of Media Capital in Portugal, and worked, amongst others for Editora Abril in Brazil. In 2009, Ian started TailorMade Media, a niche, multiplatform content company focused on the customisation of content and services to special interest, vertical communities.

Burda International acquired TailorMade Media in 2012, and today Ian is the CEO of Burda Brazil and Burda Iberia. Ian will be on stage with Frances Evans (director of international licensing and advertising at Burda International) at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada from 13-15 October 2015 (if you haven’t registered yet, do so here).

Ian and Frances will discuss the power of multiplatform magazine media brands targeting vertical communities in virtually any type of market – in particular using burdastyle as a case study.

In this Q&A ahead of the Congress, Ian talks (via email) to FIPP’s Cobus Heyl about the resilience of vertical brands, shares thoughts on how publishers should think about these brands and gives deeper insight into the very successful – albeit early days – launch of burdastyle in Brazil.

He speaks about how, when they approached advertisers about the launch of burdastyle, they were stonewalled with words to the effect of “we don’t work with magazines.” And he shares how all of that changed. He reveals how the company first built up a community of enthusiasts via social media and launched their other platforms only once they had 50,000 followers across these channels. 

And he tells us why jumping of a cliff is not that bad!

Please tell us about yourself?

I was born and raised in Brazil, but left when I was 29 to do an International MBA in Helsinki and Barcelona, after which I stayed in Portugal for 24 years. 

I have always been in media. I have started at the newspaper “Folha de São Paulo” and afterwards I joined Editora Abril, first in Brazil and afterwards in Portugal. Later, still in Portugal, I joined Media Capital, a Portuguese multimedia group, where I was responsible for their magazine division.

I have always loved the magazine media industry and I refuse to be part of the “crying chorus.” In spite of the decline of our traditional revenues, I see business opportunities everywhere. In fact, my motto has always been: if a lot of people are crying, let’s start selling handkerchiefs!

In 2009 I launched TailorMade media – a Portuguese and Spanish multiplatform startup. Its DNA was customization of content and services, distributed via multi- but integrated platforms to communities of enthusiasts.

The Portuguese experience was possibly my best learning experience: If you want to survive as a publisher in a small market, where you have had traditional revenues in decline since 2004, you need to diversify, be creative, be open to new forms of business and learn how to manage it with very limited resources. 

TailorMade media’s model was proven to be “anti-crisis” and anti-cyclical – it broke even in its second year and reached double digit EBITDA margin in its 3rd year.

In 2012, I entered into a partnership with Burda International to expand our business activities across Portugal and Spain and to push ahead with expansion into South American markets particularly in Brazil.

I currently manage the Iberian and Brazilian operations.

Today, burdastyle is one of the key brands within your portfolio, but tell us about other activities in your portfolio?

In Iberia I manage burdastyle in a crafts division that includes several related brands and activities – patchwork, knitting, and other more specific crafts segments. In addition we have a youth titles division – a partnership with Blue Ocean – where we publish several titles such as Playmobil, Ice Age, Dino, and Klinjaro. We recently launched an entertainment division – painting bookazines and crosswords. And we are testing two other verticals: decorating and vegetarian gastronomy. We further have a VC strategy, scouting several digital ventures in several segments to become part of a future Digital Division of our operation.

Our operation in Brazil has only recently started, so we are managing burdastyle and it’s platforms. We are also in the process of launching a “Blue Ocean Division,” working on several new verticals. And like in Iberia, we have a VC strategy scouting for investment opportunities in several digital ventures.

One of the trends in the “new” magazine media world is that brands targeting verticals are at least very resilient, if not actually showing strong growth. Why is that, and what are the top insights you can give other FIPP members for maximising the opportunity?

It is true that magazine media targeting verticals are very resilient and growing where, by their very nature, the more “special interest” they are and the more engaged and loyal their readers are. 

Key is of course that your audience expect to get the content they love across a multitude of platforms and formats. Think about it in this way: if you are a wine enthusiast and read a wine magazine your relationship with the topic does not end at the last page of the magazine. You probably want to:

  • Taste the wines you read about;
  • See how it harmonizes with different dishes;
  • Learn as much as possible about the wines;
  • Purchase wines in a convenient, practical way; and
  • Travel to specific wine regions to further pursue your love of wines

All of these things present several business opportunities for a publisher of wine content. Why should you limit your role to print content? 

The wine publisher is in the best position to fulfil these needs. Amongst other things, you can create opportunities for dinners where enthusiasts can meet taste wines alongside various dishes, you can organise wine tasting road shows and/or wine expos, you can create wine clubs and develop an e-commerce shop, you can have wine workshops (classroom and elearning), you can have wine awards and so on. If the wine publisher does not exploit these opportunities, guaranteed someone else will.

Moreover, technology today helps publishers to easily engage communities around special interests, using social media and other networks, transforming a passive audience into an active community. This community can be served across several platforms. As with the wine example, it creates an ecosystem of users and content, which in turn presents a major opportunity for wine marketers to communicate and market their products to this ecosystem. For the content provider, the key to monetisation of this ecosystem lies in creating and refining their platforms, creating several media solutions to address and satisfy their marketers’ needs.

Of course the use of data from these communities makes it possible to develop individual and emotional relationships with consumers. Understanding the needs of these consumers is crucial, as is the understanding that they are not only readers of articles on a specific topic but a consumer across different dimensions of the subject. Once you see it like this it opens up several opportunities to publishers.

Overall, however, our challenge remains the same: entertain and satisfy our users – the multiplatform model simply allows us to achieve a more comprehensive and sustainable relationship and, at the same time, create new revenue streams.

Your portfolio includes Portugal, Spain and more recently Brazil. Looking at Brazil specifically, how well does the vertical, multi-platform model work there?

If you take the results we have achieved applying this model in the sewing vertical in Brazil, I definitely do. Moreover, Brazil offers additional benefits thanks to the dynamics and size of the country – there are more opportunities here.

From a reader perspective the multi-platform approach works well. We just have to look at the penetration and use of social media to see that they are very digital and very connected. In my opinion they furthermore have respect for their favourite magazines as a “curator authority”, which in turn provides publishers with a lot of brand opportunities. And then there is an immense hunger for content and learning more, something special interest brands tap into well.

From an advertising perspective, marketers are very open to new media formats and initiatives. Creativity is not only welcomed, it is desired.

So in a nutshell, the combination of these elements makes Brazil a perfect market to apply the model.

Talking about burdastyle specifically, it is doing well in many markets, for example as we heard your USA partner David Nussbaum at F+W Media explain at the DIS in Berlin earlier this year. What are the keys underpinning this success?

The original idea of Mrs Anne Burda was to make fashion accessible to every woman. If they could not buy it, they should be able to do it themselves. And so she created a magazine with very practical, clear and easy-to-use advice and patterns to help them do so. In its heyday this simple idea worked so well, the magazine sold copies in German everywhere in the world – for example at a time more than 100,000 copies in German, in Argentina. Times have of course changed, and people do not sew as much as they did before. Yet there is clearly a community of enthusiasts willing to follow this subject.

So the question is then, why, in spite of this change, is burdastyle doing so well in several markets? My believe is that we truly understand that this community does not only want to read and use patterns to sew as they used to, but that they also have other needs we can address through a multiplatform approach. Take as an example what we are currently doing in Brazil, where our offer includes:

  • Community engagement through very active social media platforms;
  • E-commerce shops that sell not only downloadable patterns but also equipment and materials;
  • Academia burda – classroom and e-learning courses teaching beginners and vocational training for socially deprived groups;
  • Burda na TV – a weekly TV programme with a TV shop model associated with, selling sewing materials; and
  • BurdaExpo – a national-wide trade show, hosting events and activities targeting the domestic sewing community.

We believe the success of the project, in many markets, comes on the one hand from how we satisfy our consumers’ needs and on the other hand from how we diversified our original business proposition, creating more revenue streams contributing to overall results.

You’ve of course only fairly recently launched burdastyle in Brazil. But please give us some background to the launch?

We understood early on that the brand had a strong legacy but that that alone was not enough to have relevance for our Brazilian stakeholders: consumers and marketers. To be relevant we had to launch all our platforms in the shortest time possible.

True story: In many different situations, important clients, when we first approached them, would refuse to meet us – “we do not work with magazines.” When we explained that our project was much more than print alone, that we would have a e-commerce platform that could sell their material or equipment, Academia burda, BurdaExpo, Burda na TV – in other words our whole ecosystem – they all of a sudden they became very interested in meeting us!

Another thing: Our first step in Brazil was to build a community of enthusiasts online, using all social media. We only started launching our other platforms when we had around 50,000 followers. And then, within 9 months, we had all the above operations up and running.

Burda Brazil ()

Our efforts paid off. Today, we are perceived as a solid, modern operation that understands and meets the needs of all our stakeholders.

Where do you see the strongest growth opportunities?

Burdastyle was the 4th sewing magazine to be launched in Brazil. As I said earlier, our main goal – and we have absolutely achieved this – was to be relevant to our stakeholder groups.

Our consumers have become very engaged, deeply connected followers. No other local magazine offers the content and services that we do. And because burdastyle Brazil has a local identity and we cater for their specific needs, they have adopted us as their own.

From marketers I have heard recognition that we truly and deeply understand the needs of the market. We have managed to become a true partner, a channel to sell more. 

I am very optimistic and see strong growth opportunities especially across the following areas:

  • BurdaExpo – in Sao Paulo where it started, but also elsewhere in the market and in other countries
  • Academia burda – the vocational training programme is very suited to several government agency programmes here as well as internationally
  • eCommerce – both elearning and sewing-related equipment sales shows strong potential for growth

I want to ask about events specifically. I am told your first event confounded even the wildest expectations. Tell us a little more about that?

I am a true believer that events offer a lot of synergistic opportunities for magazines, if you manage to customise it to meet visitors’ and exhibitors’ expectations.

Generally Craft Expos are very popular in Brazil; visitors want to learn more about products and craft techniques through workshops that are normally provided. Exhibitors in turn are mainly after sales, much more than promotion.

We designed the content of the burdaExpo to meet both aims, and we did it with:

  • Free Academia burda lectures on sewing-related topics: They were editorially independent, but related to categories of products at the exhibition (sewing machines, textiles, accessories and so on). We actively invited visitors to meet these exhibitors.
  • Free Academia burda workshops: “Classroom” courses with different brands of sewing machines in each workshop space. Participants could test different machines to decide what felt better to them.
  • Live Fashion University students contest: Students competed to see who could produce a burda project in a day, using the equipment and material from the exhibitors. The competition took place in an open space, so visitors could follow what was happening.
  • Several parallel exhibitions, but all of course focused on sewing-related topics.

We only promoted the expo within our own ecosystem and attracted 3,000+ visitors and 33 exhibitors. We received tremendous feedback from visitors afterwards, exhibitors reported higher than expected sales and the media coverage way beyond our expectations, more than we had across all of our activities in our first year in Brazil!

This overall result, albeit intangible is very important – the expo was perceived as a huge success – and as you will know it is one thing to say you have developed brand equity but another to actually prove it. The show cemented the burdastyle brand in Brazil.

Of course events are increasingly a key component in multi-platform strategies, but the field is also getting more competitive and success is not guaranteed. What lessons can you share with FIPP members when it comes to successful events within the verticals, B2C space?

I have a very practical approach to it: Customise and differentiate.

Yes you continuously see more and more events, but most of them are “me too” events. 

  • Knowing your audience well, developing an emotional relationship with your stakeholders will help you to offer them the right events at the right time;
  • Face uncertainty and dare to enter areas that are totally new to you. Do that by hiring experts and partnering with existing players. We do not need to own and control every aspect of our activities. A revenue share/success fee model with a credible partner will allow you to develop events formats that you would not dare to with your existing resources; and
  • Face competition as you do every month, every issue, every day, every minute by producing a better, more attractive content proposition for your events than your competitors can dream up.

You have been to the FIPP World Congress before. How many times, and can you tell is what, in your opinion, makes it a good event to attend for you?

I have attended five FIPP Congresses so far. FIPP events are always a source of information and inspiration. You have time to listen and learn, and I always feel the break from my dally routine is well worth the time. In addition the networking at the events cannot be better. I have met new people and always make time to re-connect with existing contacts. 

So, for me, it is about learning, getting inspired and networking … and the chance to visit and getting to know Toronto!

What would your message be to others still considering whether to attend?

In these times, with so many fundamental changes, I strongly suggest anyone in our industry to attend. It really is worth it.

Final question: who is Ian Levy, when not at work?

I generally like sports and try to regularly run a few miles to keep fit. 

But running the South America and Iberia business demands a lot of time and travelling, so when I am not at the office and/or in an airplane I like to dedicate my time to my three children and wife, which I must confess also keeps me fit! 

Just a short while ago we did a family trip that started with a jump from a 25meter high cliff into the sea! My wife called it an anti-stress trip. I admit: that did put a pleasant perspective on work!

Join Ian, near 80 other international speakers and delegates from around the world for the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, from 13-15 October 2015.

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• To register, click here

If you have questions regarding the FIPP World Congress, contact Claire Jones and/or Natalie Butcher.

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