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By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

Vogue International explains how, 127 years after Vogue was first founded, it is revolutionising the brand’s digital content and making strides in engaging its global audience in innovative ways.

Vogue is undeniably one of the most iconic brands in the world. The fashion and lifestyle magazine was originally founded in the US in 1892, and began publishing in Britain in 1916. Today, Vogue is published across 26 different markets, and boasts a global monthly print readership of 13.4 million.

In recent years, Vogue has also progressed alongside the emergence of the new digital age to provide hugely popular online and social media content for its readers. Each month, Vogue’s online content receives 56 million monthly unique digital users worldwide, and has 141 million followers across its social platforms.

The Vogue sites had been quite separate until Vogue International was formed in 2017. It was created to provide digital stories – including text, photography, video and social stories – to the Vogues and also support with strategy. Sarah Marshall, Head of Audience Growth at Vogue International, introduces the company: “It makes sense to have this central team for both sending out content that all the different Vogues can publish, whether online or on social, or to support them in strategy.”

She continues: “When we’re covering a fashion show, or when we’re speaking to a big A-list celebrity such as Rihanna, we will talk to them on behalf of all the Vogues in the world for digital.” This means that if Vogue get an exclusive, all Vogues have access to the content for publication. “It just makes sense to negotiate centrally.”

Another purpose of Vogue International is to align the way Vogue is presented on its many social platforms. Marshall gives the example of Instagram: “We wanted to make sure that Vogue looked like a family of accounts across Instagram, so we hired someone from Instagram to achieve that. We wanted to be a central function for strategy as well as content.”

“As a new team, we had this brilliant way that we could grow. We went out and started shooting footage for Instagram, writing features, taking street-style photography, and sending those out to different Vogues around the world.”

Today, Vogue International is comprised of around 40 editors, but as a young organisation that started small, the team were able to build its culture as they went, taking a more progressive, forward-thinking approach. Marshall says: “I was the fourth member of the team at Vogue International, so we could write our own rules, which was brilliant to be part of.”

“We all came from different organisations and we recognised that we could set some cultures and create a very positive place to work, and that would therefore ensure that what we produced was very positive as well.”

She describes the result of this approach: “We publish in many, many different languages so we ensure that the majority of people that work here are fluent in at least two languages. We decided to set a culture where we close laptops in meetings and turn our phones down – it doesn’t always work, we also have children and demands outside, but that’s how we aspire to work.”

“We have meeting-free Wednesdays. Again, it doesn’t always transpire, but when it does it can allow you to get so much done. We have a buddy scheme to welcome new joiners, and we have ‘lunch and learn’ where every couple of weeks we get together and invite a speaker in and we get inspired by what somebody is doing from the outside.”

“When you launch or start something, whether it’s within a start-up culture or within a bigger organisation, it’s really good to set a culture. You can create your own culture and it’s really important to do that in a conscious way.”

Furthermore, Marshall explains why audience development is such a vital part of Vogue International’s growth strategy. “Editors are brilliant at thinking of ideas and writing, and journalists are great at following their gut instinct, but you need audience development editors to understand how you get that journalism, that story, in front of the right people.”

“You might want to talk to Gen Zers, or you might want to talk to people in a particular geographical area, and audience development editors can help you achieve that. It might be how you position a story; it might be helping you think through headlines or the different social platforms we tell that on depending on who you want to engage.”

She highlights that both Vogue and GQ under parent company Condé Nast are focused on doubling the size of their audiences so that they can do more with the people they engage. One of the ways Vogue International works to grow its audience is through SEO and ensuring that they are present in ‘search’ results where relevant.

In addition, Vogue International recently conducted a study that has the potential to grow its audience in a new way for the brand. “We looked at the needs the Vogue audience had by doing a piece of research across 11 different markets. We surveyed about 5,000 people, 3,000 of whom are loyal Vogue readers, and 2,000 who aren’t reading Vogue, but love fashion so should be reading Vogue, and we found that there are six different needs that the Vogue reader has.” These are: ‘inspire me’, ‘educate me’, ‘divert me’, ‘update me’, ‘connect me’, and ‘make me responsible’.

“My thinking then was, if we can better write for these needs, we can grow our audience.” Marshall talks through ‘make me responsible’ as an example: “We know that 53% of people say they have a need to be made more responsible, whether that’s learning about sustainable fashion, or making people a better version of themselves. However, what we found when we studied our content was only 2% of our stories responded to this need. That difference is the white space.”

“If we write more stories that can help people in their lives be more responsible, the concept is that we will grow because we’re creating stories that are more useful to people. It’s early days, but I’m excited to really see if we can move the needle on audience growth by giving people what they want.”

She also discusses the ‘divert me’ need further: “What we found in many of the markets was that people wanted diverting. Vogue has always been entertaining and fun, but we need to remember to stay entertaining and fun because that’s what people want when we think about the diverted need. Or something beautiful, or content that they wouldn’t normally read or view.”

The insight provided by this research has the potential to enable Vogue International to align content with audience needs on a geographical basis as well. In most countries, ‘divert me’ came out as the most significant audience need, but some countries had different priorities. Marshall highlights Russia, where the top result was ‘inspire me’, and the UK, where the most significant need was ‘make me responsible’, as examples.

“In Russia, people really wanted inspiration over diverting, and practical content such as shopping edits. In the UK, we want to be made better versions of ourselves; we want to learn how to be better people and think about sustainability, particularly our younger audiences as we conducted the survey by age as well. We realised the Greta Thunbergs and the whole environmental movement has really entered The Vogue readers’ consciousness.”

She describes how this could benefit Vogue International’s audience strategy moving forward. “Vogue has always helped people make shopping decisions and inspired people. Now that we’ve worked with the audience research team, I think that by combining audience research with our editorial knowledge we can really think about how we help people shop in a different or better way. That’s something that really interests me, and our audience research team can do amazing things.”

Marshall finishes by explaining another key research source that Vogue International uses; this is its ‘reader community’, which consists of 3,000 people in each of Vogue’s different markets. She says: “Our community aren’t paid; they are just people who love telling us what Vogue readers like.” She states that a beauty study has recently been conducted using the reader community’s feedback to discover what beauty products or routines were important to people in different countries. “It was fascinating, and people recorded themselves on their own phones and sent us little videos, and they were all people who had previously told us they love beauty.”

“Things like that, where we’re really talking to people and finding out what Vogue readers want, what they care about, what they wake up thinking about, what they go to bed thinking about – when we listen to our customers a little more it’s just going to make for better journalism overall.”