In a world where digital dominates, Keith Kawasaki, VP of client services at iostudio, which publishes the Army National Guard’s flagship magazine GX® The Guard Experience, remains a champion of print. He describes it as a magnetic experience, something that will bring people together in a meaningful way. Here, Kawasaki talks to Content King Juliet Stott about the longevity of print and why it’s still holding its own against social media.
Juliet Stott: In an increasingly digital world, what is the value of print magazines?
The magazines that still have value are the ones that have authentic, exclusive content that is worth people’s time. You see a lot of magazines come and go, but it’s the quality product—whether it’s the paper stock, the finishes, the design and, of course, the content—that leaves a lasting impression. A print product, in order to be successful, has to be a luxury product. You have to create an experience. If you make it a great experience, you’re then creating a magnetic experience—something that’s going to bring people back and bring people together in a meaningful way.
JS: Do you think this will/can continue with the emergence of digital and new channels?
If you create a high-quality product where the content is amazing, people are going to come back to it and seek it out. Print is something that has a lasting impression. It’s not something that’s there and gone in your Twitter feed—it’s something that you can go back to again and again. In that respect, print offers something unique from digital. If you don’t pay your hosting fee, then your website goes away; if you put something out on social media, it’s gone 30 seconds later. With print it’s there to stay.
JS: How can you justify the cost of producing a magazine when digital is so much cheaper?
Print is not cheap, but it can be done cost-efficiently. It’s all about making smart choices with your stock, your trim size and your mailing. It’s those sorts of details that make it an affordable venture. Magazines suit a brand willing to invest in a long-term gain, as it’s not an immediate win. It’s not like posting something on social and getting lots of likes and shares. You’ve got to be willing to invest in your brand and make a commitment to having a long-term engagement with your audience. So it’s not for everyone. But if you want to have a lasting relationship with your audience, it makes perfect sense.
JS: What’s the relationship between print and social?
Social media is important and it’s a great place to get your audience’s feedback and ideas and bring them into the printed publication. But at the end of the day, the print edition is still the lasting impression—it legitimizes everything. We use social media to engage with our audience, like asking them if they have a question about a topic or whether they have a photo that we can use in our publication or to get comments about the GX brand. We bring social media experiences into the publication that way.
JS: You produce the Army National Guard’s successful magazine, GX The Guard Experience. Why do you think the print edition is such an effective way of engaging with this community?
The Army National Guard is spread out over 3,500 communities across the United States. In some states, like Montana, people could be hundreds of miles from their drill location that they go to one weekend a month. By delivering GX directly to their homes, you bring these communicates together and keep them engaged with the Army National Guard experience. The soldiers then share the magazine with their families and their employers, which is very important, and all of a sudden these people have an understanding about what the Guard experience is, too. The other side of it is, GX—which has been around for 12 years and has reported on two wars and countless national disasters—has been there with the National Guard soldiers throughout their service. It’s been able to deliver first-hand, authentic coverage, telling the personal stories of the soldiers that have been serving their country. We’ve documented legacies. Just recently, a daughter of a Colonel told me that she’s grown up with GX magazine on her coffee table, and that it’s helped her to understand her father’s service. That’s important and not something we take lightly. That’s what makes GX so strong and that’s why it’s lasted.
JS: What is the magazine’s core purpose and how do you measure its success?
Its core purpose is retention. The Army National Guard has a couple hundred thousand soldiers and they want to ensure that those soldiers understand and appreciate the benefits of service. So they target key ranks to ensure they stay engaged. But we’ve also found it to be a very effective recruiting tool. If someone is on the fence about whether or not they understand or want to be part of the Guard experience, recruiters will often share GX magazine with them, as it gives them a really authentic look. To measure the success [of the magazine] we do surveys, focus groups and conduct more than 100 field interviews per year. The field interviews are really the best way to capture the audience engagement with the publication.
JS: How do you keep the content within the magazine fresh? How do you use it to connect and engage with your audience?
We use a mix of our civilian editorial staff in Nashville and work with freelancers and subject experts, as well as invite work from soldiers and their family members. We use a lot of photos that the soldiers have taken; the ones from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were particularly amazing. We also like to get out there with the soldiers as much as possible so we give our readers an authentic experience. But a key part of what we do is produce “functional content”—like breaking down new regulations or giving them information that’s going to help them or empower them in their daily lives.
JS: What’s the future for GX The Guard Experience?
The future is about adapting and keeping pace with the way the organization is changing. Our content needs to reflect this change in order to engage with the new type of audience. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the Army National Guard experienced a very patriotic enlisting driven by people wanting to serve their country. A decade later, and with fewer active combat situations, the military and the new recruits are increasingly interested in science, technology and engineering, and we’ve adapted our content to cater for this new type of soldier.
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