Meredith: Thanks to Good Marketing Information, Meredith Knows Women

Table of contents

You may not recognize the name Meredith Corporation but you have certainly heard of the magazines it publishes. Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Family Circle are some of its oldest and best-known titles. Meredith has been publishing magazines for more than 100 years and maintains many top-ten titles, both by category and overall. With a total of 21 subscription magazines, Meredith is also the creator of American Baby, Parents, Fitness, Midwest Living, and MORE. This powerhouse publisher also produces 150 special interest publications – the kind that are available only at retail outlets. Meredith’s magazines have a combined circulation of 30 million – Better Homes and Gardens alone reaches nearly 8 million paid readers each month.

If Meredith’s magazines sound like something your mom would read, that’s intentional. Meredith caters to women. In fact, Meredith has become the undisputed leading media and marketing company focused on women. It has earned this reputation by developing an expertise in managing deep relationships with female customers. With core categories of home, health, family, and personal development, Meredith’s goal is to touch every lifestage of women, from young adults and new parents to established families and empty nesters. Print media is hardly a growth industry—in fact, it’s been declining in recent years. But building an empire on magazines doesn’t mean that Meredith has painted itself into a corner. In fact, Meredith no longer describes itself as a magazine publisher. It claims to be a creator of “content,” delivered to women “whenever, wherever, and however it.” Long before print media began its decline, Meredith expanded into television stations, cable programming, and Web sites. Today, Meredith has a strong foundation on the Web, with more than 50 Web sites that reach an average of 20 million unique visitors each month. Its Web empire includes BHG.com, Parents.com, DivineCaroline.com, and FitnessMagazine.com, to name just a few. This network allows Meredith to do more than just distribute content; the company has also become proficient in social networking. With so many brands available through print, television, online, mobile, and video, Meredith plans to continue to touch women’s lives in meaningful ways for a long, long time.

 

How has Meredith been able to achieve success as the leading expert on women? In short, Meredith knows women. The company knows women through a continual strategic effort to manage marketing information about them. In fact, Meredith’s marketing information system is its core competency. That system produces customer insights that allow the company to understand women’s needs and desires and maintain strong relationships with them. It Starts with Data

Although there are lots of different ways that companies gather and manage marketing information, Meredith’s core strength lies in its massive database. Meredith’s database is the largest collection of customer information of any U.S. media company. With more than 85 million unduplicated names, it contains information on 80 percent of U.S. home-owning households as well as a good portion of non-home-owning households. Beyond its breadth, Meredith’s database also has unsurpassed depth. On average, each name in the database has more than 700 data points attached to it. If that doesn’t impress you, think about how many pieces of information you could write down about your family members, best friends, or even yourself. Those 700 data points allow Meredith to truly know each person on an intimate level. The basic information in Meredith’s database comes from typical internal company sources. Information gathered through sales transactions alone is huge. This includes not only descriptive and demographic information, but also information on which magazines customers buy, to which magazines they subscribe, what kinds of incentive offers they like, and how they have responded to particular creative executions.

The database also incorporates additional internal information from product shipments, customer satisfaction surveys, and Web site visits for each specific customer. Most companies have no idea how to process and handle all that information. But Meredith effectively puts it all into one place so that managers throughout the company can access it. Beyond gathering information from internal sources, Meredith also conducts marketing research. Online and traditional surveys allow Meredith to dig deeper into attitudinal information. One of the focal points is questions about customers’ life events. “Are you having a baby, are your kids about to go to school, are your oldest kids about to graduate, are you thinking about retiring?” explains Cheryl Dahlquist, director of database marketing services at Meredith. “As much as we can, we’d like to know that information because we feel like those are the things that influence really what’s happening with someone.” Knowing a single life event can tell a lot about a person’s needs and wants. But possessing updated information on dozens of life events for a given person becomes very powerful. All the information in the world means little unless you can make sense of it. Meredith is as skilled at analyzing and using database information as it is collecting it. Through complex statistical analysis, Meredith learns about each customer’s interests and how those interests evolve throughout the customer’s life. Through a concept Meredith calls “passion points,” the company computes scores for numerous different interest areas, such as cooking, fitness, and gardening.

It then segments each interest area into specifics, such that fitness becomes running, yoga, and hiking, to name just a few. Multiple data points feed into each score. In this manner, Meredith not only knows what your primary interests are, it also knows how your interest levels compare to those of everyone else in the database. “We’ve developed through our statistical group the ability to say when somebody reaches a certain score, that’s when they’re really hot to trot in cooking, and they’re ready to respond to just about all the offers that come their way around the cooking category.” Meredith employs 20 predictive analytical models, each designed to rank the order of a person’s interests. All 20 models are scored and ranked each week. That’s how Meredith gets to know women. Putting Customer Insights to Use

Based on the valuable insights that it extracts from its database, Meredith manages relationships with its customers through various means. For starters, customer insights not only drive the content of its media products, they drive the development of new products. For example, over the years, Better Homes and Gardens has spawned spin-offs such as Country Home and Traditional Home, not to mention BHG.com and the cable program Better. But the insights that come from Meredith’s marketing information system also tell the company which products are the most relevant to a given individual. And with its large and holistic portfolio of products, there is something for almost everyone. David Ball, vice president of consumer marketing for Meredith, explains how this works: “We had American Baby at the very early stages of a women going into the homeowning and child rearing years. We filled in with Parents and Family Circle. American Baby is prenatal, Parents is postnatal, Family Circle is teens and tweens. And so now we’re able to take someone who subscribes to American Baby and really graduate them into our other products.” The fruits of managing customer information don’t stop at matching the right product to the customer. Rich customer insights allow Meredith to meet customer needs when it comes to promotion and pricing as well. Because Meredith has so many media products, almost all of its promotional efforts are either through direct mail and e-mail or cross-promoting across titles.

Based on what it knows about specific customers, Meredith customizes the types of offers and messages contained in promotions, often in real time. This makes promotional efforts much more effective and must less costly. “I don’t want to be sending out a million pieces of direct mail if I could send out a hundred thousand pieces of direct mail only to the people who really want it,” says Ball. If you think about it, this is marketing at its finest. When customers and potential customers aren’t bothered by irrelevant messages and products, but are approached only with offers that actually interest them, everyone wins. Meredith’s ability to manage marketing information has opened other doors for the company. Given its vast database and its skill at managing information, Meredith can sell marketing research to other companies that need insights on women. Its strength in managing marketing information has also resulted in numerous partnerships with leading companies such as Home Depot, DirectTV, Chrysler, and Carnival Cruise Lines. And Meredith’s database and research efforts have resulted in something else that may be a first: The Meredith Engagement Dividend, a program that guarantees Meredith advertisers an increase in sales.

Meredith can make such a guarantee because it’s database has revealed that its advertisers are able to increase their product sales by an average of 10 percent over a one-year period. As a whole, magazine advertising has decreasing for years, and the decline is projected to continue in the coming years. Meredith’s flat revenues over the past 5 years suggest that, as a company, it is still heavily tied to print media for distributing its content. But with a consistent profit margin of 8 to 10 percent of sales, Meredith is holding its own. More importantly, Meredith’s core competency of managing customer information is not exclusive to print. It is something that will fuel the company’s expansion into other, faster growing media. As Meredith maintains its marketing information system strategy, it will continue to develop the right products, price, distribution methods, and promotions for each and every woman in its database.

Questions for Discussion:

1.Analyze Meredith’s marketing information system. What are its strengths and weaknesses?

2.Can impersonal data points really result in meaningful relationships? Explain.

3.Does Meredith’s marketing information expertise transfer into other media and products?

4.As a company still heavily rooted in print, what does Meredith’s future hold?

5.What recommendations would you make to Meredith’s executives?

Sources:

Officials at Meredith Corporation contributed to and supported the development of this case. Additional information comes from www.meredith.com, August 2011.

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