The Enduring Impact of Custom Publishing

At Mamu Media we focus on helping our clients use custom publishing to distinguish themselves from their competition and to communicate their messages more effectively. Through custom publishing, companies can create and distribute content that targets customers and prospective customers. Because most marketing today takes places in certain established, mainstream channels, we often posit custom publishing as something “new” and “innovative.”

Custom publishing certainly is both of those things when examined in the context of other marketing efforts. But it’s time for us to face the facts and admit that in the big picture, custom publishing isn’t really very “new” and “innovative” at all. The truth is that although many people consider custom publishing to be the new kid on the block in the marketing world, it’s actually been around for a while and has a long and distinguished history!

Custom publishing got its start in 1895, when an agricultural equipment company produced the first issue of a magazine marketed toward a specific consumer group. In The Furrow, John Deere sought to provide education to help its customers become better farmers—and better business owners, too.

Even if you’re not a farmer, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of The Furrow, which is still in print and now reaches nearly 3 million subscribers in 12 languages and over 40 countries. (And even if you haven’t heard of The Furrow, you’re surely familiar with the John Deere logo and the company’s products.) With such reach and longevity, it’s clear that custom publishing has been a smashing success for this company!

Although The Furrow is the earliest known example of custom publishing, a few others also make their mark long before the current boom in this marketing technique. For example, in 1916 Harley-Davidson launched The Enthusiast, a magazine for fans of the company’s motorcycles. (It remained in print until 2009, when it was combined with another publication and renamed HOG Magazine.) And although General Motors’ GM Folks (published from 1938 to 1956) was distributed primarily to GM employees, because its purpose was to strengthen brand loyalty and broaden the GM customer base, it does qualify as an example of custom publishing.

In an earlier post I described print custom magazines as “An Old Friend in a New Marketplace.” A few years later, that still holds true: this “old school” form of communication continues to broaden its appeal among marketers seeking to make new inroads among their customers—and among customers who have become numb to the cacophony of tweets, e-mails, and status updates they encounter each day.

Custom publishing has proven its effectiveness over the past century or so. It was pushed into a corner and neglected for a good chunk of the past couple of decades, as the shininess of new media (particularly digital media) grabbed everyone’s attention. But even though digital media remain effective in some ways, their initial luster has faded a bit, and companies are now looking around for something new to try. If your organization is one of those that’s looking for “the next best thing” in marketing communication, consider exploring what an old veteran—custom publishing—can do for you.