The Evolution from Digital…to Print?


The idea that traditional print marketing is going the way of the milkman is taking a serious beating this week. That’s because Airbnb, a popular website for people looking to rent out lodging, is getting into the print magazine business.

Tomorrow, Airbnb will officially debut and distribute 18,000 copies of its quarterly mag Pineapple, a 128-page glossy travel publication. The winter 2014 issue features stories from London, San Francisco and Seoul in South Korea; Airbnb will send its first issue to hosts around the globe and will sell them at bookstores, newsstands, and boutiques in North America for $12, 11 Euros across the pond.

There’ll be no advertisements. All content.

The bold move has some digital marketers scratching their heads, but the trend is one that’s been catching headlines for more than a decade. Some of the more notable cyber-to-print moves include brands like Style.com, Net-a-Porter, CNET, WebMD, and now Airbnb.

“Nothing communicates premium and [that message of] ‘we value you’ like print,” says Kim Caviness, chief content officer at McMURRY/TMG, a marketing communications consulting firm that specializes in content marketing. “Basically, you’re taking a very powerful digital experience and then personalizing it and taking it to that next level of engagement.”

Caviness, whose firm dubs her as the mastermind behind WebMD magazine, says Airbnb’s move is pure brand play and allows the site to live offline with their hosts (those who rent out rooms) and guests (those who book rooms): “The more ways that you can find to amplify your brand’s story, the more you will be powerfully connected with your audience. Print is part of being omnichannel. Hit them where they are.”

The firm’s VP of content, Vanessa Jo Roberts, is the main architect behind CNET’s print publication. Roberts says that although a number of marketers default to digital channels to reach new audiences, print helps them capture markets that, for several dotcom brands, remain untapped.

“It really helps to answer a few questions,” Roberts says. “How do you extend your brand in different ways? Who’s not receiving your message? Nowadays, people don’t expect print to be the answer. But if you’re [a brand that’s] completely digital, you may be excluding an audience that still really wants to have a connection with you, but they’re just [offline].”

Caviness and Roberts say not only do print magazines help extend and personalize brands, but they can also reignite consumer passion, boost customer loyalty, and instill a real-world culture. Certainly in the wake of its current rebranding, Airbnb is looking to make all of these marketing moves.

“It’s not for everybody,” Caviness says while mulling over which brands should dive into the print world—and which should not. “Look at what’s the goal of the content, and look at the desires of the audience who you want to reach. Don’t just do it in order to say that your brand has leaped into print. Have specific goals in mind.”

She cites CNET, which Caviness says has more than 120 million visits on its site each month. Despite the massive following, the chief content marketer says a print magazine enables the tech news and product reviews brand to affirm—to a new audience—that it’s a thought leader in the technology space: “The magazine really showcases the knowledge that they have and positions them at the top of more than one channel.”

Bottom line: Print is part of an effective, 360-degree marketing strategy, Caviness says: “This is a trend that will continue. Anything that can help brands standout in the cluttered, online space, creates connection, and provides a sense of membership, belonging, community and experience for your audience is a powerful content marketing strategy.”

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