Forward: If you emulate success, be mindful of context

An integrated approach is required if brands are to follow in the footsteps of the luxury sector's long-proven content strategies, writes Lucy Naylor.

Lucy Naylor: editor-in-chief of the luxury division at The Forward Group
Lucy Naylor: editor-in-chief of the luxury division at The Forward Group

Content! Content! Anyone for a bit of content? Get your lovely content here. Pound a yard for your strategies, ladies and gents. iPad apps: two a penny.

You wouldn't (or shouldn't) catch the marketing director of a luxury retailer shopping at this stall. They know that the quality of their content can make or break their brand. They would rather not have a strategy than buy one that will break before they've even got it out of the bag.

But the luxury sector is canny – they are experienced shoppers. Luxury brands have been producing content long before it became the latest marketing gold rush. Patek Philippe, the revered, family-owned Swiss company, decided to create a whole landscape of content around its watches some 17 years ago, in the form of a subscription-only magazine.

Its advertising is brilliant (who can forget that one never actually owns a Patek Philippe...) but it knows that this "push" message is not enough on its own. The company's watches also need to be placed in the context of the arts, collecting and science, so that customers are not just buying an incredible product, but being beckoned to join a whole community of taste.

Patek Philippe: its product is placed within the context of the arts, collecting and science

Of course, Patek Philippe is an innovator, so its print magazine is now joined by exquisite online films – extensions of the editorial features – and soon there will be an iPad app that brings the magazine to life (but I'm afraid you have to be a Patek Philippe owner to enjoy all of this).

Luxury brands never simply sell their products in a brochure-like environment. That would be like an exclusive club trying to open in a strip-lit supermarket – the customer expects more romance than that. There have been some attempts at piling high.

Net-a-Porter, the relatively recently born luxury brand, has been on an interesting content learning curve. It started with a transactional website, scantily clothed in some editorial tricks, and has blossomed into a whole publishing suite with online and print magazines to rival Vogue.

There are also brand magazines popping up all over the internet that don't even mention product. Mulberry, for instance, which has traded very well since 1971 on simply being English – "content" being the mere atmosphere of hunting, shooting and fishing that it conveyed. Now, with the launch of its Brilliantbritainguide.com online magazine, this atmosphere has been given flesh and blood. It's a great magazine and will probably do more for Mulberry in Britain than Alexa Chung ever did – but will the rest of the globe get it? (Also, whisper it, could it equally have come from Cath Kidston with its cutesy rosette logo?)

LVMH has a softer sell yet. Nowness.com – a celebration of all things cool and interesting in contemporary society – is sponsored by the luxury giant but has complete editorial independence. This is less branded content, more slightly embarrassed piggybacking. Will it sell handbags? No one will be able to tell.

Where the luxury sector leads, the wider market usually follows. So now every brand wants a content strategy. Some are brilliant (Johnson & Johnson's Babycentre undoing decades of reputational damage), some need work (NatWest's Pocket Money – it's hard to win emotional engagement from seven to 11-year-olds with money-saving tips).

But how do marketing directors choose who devises their strategy and produces ongoing content? Should they turn to their ad agency, the people who understand their brand and translate it into various versions of a show-stopping billboard? Should they ask their PR agency, which knows how to keep on the right side of customers and can organise a really good party? Or should they turn to their publishing agency, the people who understand the brand and how to communicate its stories, and who currently create high-quality engaging content?

Content-marketing agencies, as we are now known, have all the right tools and people to come up with long-term strategies and create regularly refreshed, commercially focused content. However, brands are so used to giving these kinds of meaty briefs to their advertising and/or PR agencies that they feel nervous about keeping them out of the loop. And said agencies are supremely nervous about being kept out of that lucrative loop – they are busy hiring journalists to throw at the problem, but this is not the answer.

The answer, we think, is that there should be advertising, PR, digital, media and content-marketing agencies at one integrated table, with a marketing director who thinks like an editor or knows how to hire one. Luxury, retail, finance – it's the way forward.

Lucy Naylor, editor-in-chief, luxury

Lucy Naylor is editor-in-chief of the luxury division at The Forward Group. She started her career as a sub editor on monthly glossies at Hearst before going freelance as a sub editor and writer across a range of titles including Country Life, Esquire, Time Out, ES magazine, the Telegraph, the Express, the Independent and The Guardian.

She joined Forward in 2000 to edit the ground-breaking Naked Body magazine for The Body Shop and has since worked on content strategy and creation for a wide range of clients, from Tesco, Ford, British Telecom and British Airways Holidays to Patek Philippe, Fabric Property and American Express.

Patek Philippe magazinePatek Philippe magazine

Patek Philippe watches are so finely crafted, and so treasured by their owners, the magazine had to be too. Contributors are not just writers and photographers, they are novelists, poets, artists, Nobel-prizewinners, internationally exhibited.

The in-depth watch articles are by the most esteemed horological experts in the world. And these articles are placed in the context of lavish, in-depth lifestyle features, which are chosen to reflect the company's brand values – including heritage, innovation, craftsmanship, tradition and excellence.

Everything about the magazine is finished to the highest standards. It is a thing of beauty, to be read and passed on, or collected (in volumes of 12).

Forward has now added a collection of videos to the magazine experience.

At Patek.com, Patek Philippe owners can enjoy exquisite films with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive visual material, adding another dimension to the magazine.

The magazine and videos are published twice a year in multiple languages – English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and Japanese.

Only those who register their Patek Philippe watches can subscribe to the print magazine and online content. There are currently 150,000 subscribers worldwide, who say that they are delighted with their exclusive magazine and use it as their first port of call when making watch-purchasing decisions.

Indeed, this publishing programme has become Patek Philippe's primary marketing vehicle.

Research has shown:

  • Customer keep-rates are more than 80%
  • One single feature delivered an 11.1 ROI
  • 12% of respondents to a reader survey bought a watch after reading the magazine


Read more: Content Marketing Case Studies