5 Content Marketing Lessons from British Vogue's Stephen Quinn

If you  checked out our Thought Leadership Video Interview with British Vogue's Publishing Director, Stephen Quinn, you'll know that he isn't short of opinions. While he claims to know little about native advertising and content marketing per se, Stephen Quinn knows the value of content in building a superbrand like Vogue.

As more and more brands seek to become publishers in their own right here are five lessons about content marketing from Stephen Quinn.

Content Lesson 1:

You can build a brand on content – just be definitively good at one thing.

“In Vogue we have to be definitively good on fashion, on style, on beauty. Those are the bedrock elements of Vogue, and if they’re not done supremely well and if Vogue is not perceived to be the fashion leader, you’ve got a hell of a problem. Otherwise you’re a general interest magazine with a bit of fashion and that’s simply not good enough. Once you’ve established that point -  that you are the leading fashion magazine against all rivals - then you have a very, very big business indeed.”

Key Learning: Brands who want to engage with their customers through content marketing should focus on being incredibly good at one thing. In the same way that readers come to Vogue for fashion inspiration, draw your readers to you by being truly excellent at whatever subject aligns best with your brand. If you are a home insurance company, for example, you're content could excel on all matters to do with the home.

Content Lesson 2.

Focus on the reader and not on the sales pitch

“I think great magazines, and there are many - The Spectator is a wonderful publication, so is Vanity Fair - the publishers there are not pre-occupied with the advertising content. They’re pre-occupied with producing a very intelligent and lively journalistic and photographic mix as is Vogue itself.

Key Learning: The reader/browser is the most important person. Give them what they want. If it's information about your product create it specifically for them and resist the temptation towards over-zealous sales pitches in your copy. Always put yourselves in the readers shoes. They are more interested in solving their own problems than reading about how wonderful your company is.

Content Lesson 3.

Invest in quality content that excites your readers

Vogue editors… want to capture the mood or the zeitgeist or whatever. They want to have the personalities of the moment in the pages of Vogue as they should.  But if they don’t  have people saying, 'oh my god, aren’t those fashion photographs awesome, aren’t those fashion editors brilliant, the way they work with the photographers like Mario Testino, or Craig Mc Dean, or Nick Timwalker, or Nick Knight to name four of the leading fashion photographers during the years that I have been publishing the magazine - that’s a pretty fundamental directive for a Vogue editor to have.

Key Learning: Don’t cut corners when it comes to your content. Keep it on-brand and aim to really excite and surprise your readers. Remember that carefully crafted content will have a much longer shelf life that your average advertising campaign. When the campaign is long forgotten your optimised content will still be working hard for you online.

Content Lesson 4.

Don't turn your back on print

The death of print was being predicted nearly 40 years ago when Stephen Quinn started his career in publishing in Thompson Regional Newspapers. But in 2014 90% of British Vogue’s advertising revenues still comes from print. “(In 1947) They were talking about the impact that television would have on weekly magazines and monthly magazines and that the fashion and beauty companies would fall madly in love. Today they’re trying to say that vis a via the websites. But actually the circulation of Vogue when I was asked to take it on in 1992 was 193,000 and a higher proportion of that 193,000 was free. Today the circulation is 200,000 and very little of it is free, So strictly speaking I can hold my head high and say that all 200,000 copies of British Vogue are paid for.

Key Learning: When it comes to your content marketing strategy don’t turn your back on print. Print can be a really useful part of the content marketing mix, especially when it is  aligned with your digital plans. Content that appears first in print can be re-purposed for online, being careful to play to the strengths of SEO in helping your content be found. Social channels can be used to crowd-source materials for your print publications and vice versa while social can be used to amplify your print efforts so your content becomes truly cross platform.

Content Lesson 5.

Embrace Social but don’t build your house on it

Stephen Quinn reportedly described Twitter and Facebook as a ‘mass narrative of inarticulate people’, although British Vogue is really active on both . “If you want to be trendy you have to say we have 1.6million followers on Facebook and another lot from Twitter.   Vogue has… the print magazine with over 1million readers, it has the website, …with over 2million unique users. It’s got the tablet with close to 9,000. That’s a lot to offer the advertiser. That’s sufficiently substantive as a marketing or brand reach in its own right not to be embellishing with Facebook and Twitter or frankly anyone else. They don’t own us; they don’t have shares in us. Why should we go around constantly elevating those companies?

Key Learning: Social Media is useful to amplify content but it’s not everything. Build your brand first on a platform you control - your website.. And remember, social media channels are useful but you don’t own them. The rules can change overnight, for example unless you are spending money on sponsorship, just a small percentage of your company’s Facebook followers now get to see your posts.


Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is Founder and CEO of 256, a multi global, award-winning digital strategy agency based in Dublin, Ireland. With over 25 years’ experience helping B2B and B2C brands make informed business and marketing decisions, Karen specialises in using storytelling to grow brand love and guide digital transformation. 
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