Understanding audiences through data could be the main strength for legacy magazine brands as they strive to adapt in the digital age.

Troy Young, Hearst Magazines’ president, discussed this subject at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) 2019 NexGen Marketing Summit in New York.

And he reported that in the print age, magazines were protected by a significant “moat” that has all but disappeared in the digital era.

“If you wanted to buy or build that distribution, and the brand around it that gave it meaning and resonance, it would take you a long time and cost you a lot of money,” he said.

In turn, the shift to digital poses an “existential” question to publishers that are turning old magazine brands into new-media properties.

“We know what a magazine is … It’s a format, it’s an understanding of who makes it, and it’s certainly an ad product – a very understandable ad product.

“How will we ever, collectively, get to a shared idea of what ‘magazine media’ is when it is detached from the [print] format?”

One prospective answer? “I would say that data is the new moat,” Young said. “Because I think our understanding of our audiences, and how to serve them – which is essentially data – is something that we’re uniquely positioned to get.

“It is our ability to earn it, to trap it, to respectfully leverage it, and analyze it, and use it to get closer to a consumer that becomes the moat in the long term.” (For more, read WARC’s report: Hearst puts data at the heart of digital transformation.)

While certain principles will remain “sacrosanct” for magazine brands, increased audience understanding – rather than “telling them what to think” – could be a viable solution.

“I think that there’s something we all need to share in a media company, which is the continual pursuit of what makes people feel [something],” Young said. “And then, over top of that, you have [the] brand. And brand is your lens on the world.

“The brand is an incredibly useful construct to put ideas and writers against. But I think what we need to do is have a collection of voices,” Young said.

“If you’re going to create 15 different types of content, you need a lot of people to do it. And you need a lot of people to interpret the brand.”

Sourced from WARC