1. Create Compelling Magazine Covers
Think about the covers of three well-known magazines: Time, Cosmopolitan and Men's Health. You probably know how they look, down to the typeface of their logos. That's one example of effective branding because those magazines will be among the easiest to see on a crowded rack.
But covers are more than glossy photos and bold fonts. They must communicate the magazine's point of view.
The April 2010 issue of Motor Trend featured a Buick on its cover for the first time since 1982. While the magazine had reviewed Buicks regularly, its covers usually showed cars like Corvettes, Mustangs and Porsches, which highlight the magazine's enthusiast perspective.
By putting a Buick on the cover, the magazine was able to visually back up its headline "Forget the Last 30 Years - Buick is Back!" and do something unexpected.
Come up with a cover layout that can draw the readers' eyes from six feet away. Once you have your design, be consistent so readers can find your magazine easily. But don't be afraid to occasionally break out of the mold if you have a good editorial reason.
2. Focus Your Content to Your Target Audience
While a good cover gets readers to pick up your magazine, what's inside must sell your brand. You expect different content from Architectural Digest compared to Better Homes & Gardens, even though both feature living spaces. These magazines know readers' expectations and there is space for them to successfully co-exist.
When content is not focused, the results can be disastrous. In 2001, Rosie O'Donnell helped launch Rosie, a renamed and revamped version of the 125-year-old McCall's. But less than two years later, the magazine folded in a dispute over creative control. Though O'Donnell was editorial director, The New York Times reported that she clashed with the magazine's owner over control, including her desire to feature unorthodox content like convicted rapist Mike Tyson in what was a women's magazine.
Your magazine needs a niche. If it strays too far from its purpose, readers are often confused, as are advertisers, and you can't build a foundation. Finding your spot is as simple as comparing your content with your competitors' and making a list of the topics, viewpoint and personality you want for your magazine. Then, when faced with a question about content, you can check your list to see if it meets the standards you've set.
3. Choose a Graphic Design That Reflects Your Magazine's Purpose
Eye-catching graphic design can tell a reader what your magazine is about in a way that words cannot. It communicates informality vs. tradition, hipness vs. conservatism and exclusivity vs. mass appeal. Stay abreast of changes in magazine design to make sure your look doesn't grow stale.
Such was the case with Harvard Business Review, which overhauled its look while keeping its principles. Through the redesign, the magazine became easier to navigate, more appealing for potential new readers and retained its academic approach.
Treat a graphic redesign carefully. Readers' first instincts are to be turned off if it's hard for them to find their favorite content. A new look needs a short "From the Editor's Desk" explanation about why it makes your magazine better.
4. Respond to Your Changing Audience
Even an iconic magazine needs a tweak to reflect changing times. An update of Newsweek included more than just graphics. In a candid explanation to readers, Newsweek said it was shifting from chasing news easily found in other media to re-focus on its core strengths of Washington and politics.
It's not easy to say you'll ignore what could be interesting content because of branding needs. Often, the choice comes when you've looked at fads, decided they're trends and realize you have to respond. At Newsweek, it meant tightening the focus, but in other cases broadening the brand is the answer.
Teen-oriented magazines have definitely suffered as more teenagers choose the Internet and cell phones to stay connected to their world. The casualties: Teen (published from 1954-2008), Elle Girl (2001-2006), Teen People (1998-2006) and Jane (1997-2007).
For a teen magazine, a wider reach could include articles on new apps for your cell phone, how to avoid online bullying, killer tweets and how to use Facebook or MySpace. That content wouldn't have existed 10 years ago.
Review how your magazine fits into today's world. You can have well-written articles with pretty photos, but if your target audience has shifted to a new direction, you have to move with them.
5. Brand Beyond the Pages
Build your brand in ways that extend beyond the pages of your magazine. Many publications create a branded event or cause to increase exposure while using the Web to draw people to their printed product.
Fortune generates free publicity with its annual "Fortune 500" companies. The same is true with the "Sexiest Man Alive" feature in People. You can find the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on thousands of consumer goods, which makes a tiny brand imprint on the brains of millions of shoppers.
Look at your own magazine to see if there's a similar opportunity to create buzz. If so, the next step would be a public relations campaign to attract attention.
Use your magazine's website and social media networking to build your brand online. Drive people from your magazine to your web content and vice versa. That way, you're interacting with readers in the time between your magazine's printed issues. Remember, people still have to have a reason to buy your magazine.
The shift to new forms of media doesn't mean the death of magazines. But it takes dedication to branding to make sure you don't get lost in the clutter.