If you missed Part 1 of this story then you can read it here
If you visit a store or check out their website, and because they are cool and edgy, then you would be forgiven in thinking that Mag Nation is a Gen Y focussed and run business. However, Sahil would be quick to correct you, “That is crap – we have more 30-40yo customers than 20–30yo customers because of the income difference” he said “but by the same token all the branding and marketing that gets done is largely through 20-30yo because they are much more likely to spread the love.”
What Mag Nation did to build their offering is about as pure a marketing concept approach as you can get. “We just had a dialogue with these people and asked them ‘what do you want?’ and what came back was fascinating. They told us ‘Ok, we love your magazines but we also love other stuff like designer stationary’. So we started offering designer stationary and it is now the fastest growing part of the business.”
That meant that Sahil had to do something a lot of businesses should do when they realise they maybe didn’t know everything – eat humble pie. “It was funny because I had gone out to the press and said we will never ever ever stock stationary. I had to eat my words. However, we don’t do cheap stuff, we do the designer stuff, imported from around the world. This is all high-end, gorgeous stuff, and this is what aligns with our customers.”
“We have also branched out into graphic design books and we even have a t-shirt exhibition on for niche one off t-shirts. Again, we are doing this because it aligns with the graphic design community. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, but we are testing the boundaries and we are even selling the one-off t-shirts.”
In typical Zac Martin style, he wanted to know about what they do that is ‘remarkable’. I asked Sahil what he thought about customers always expecting ‘remarkable’ from companies. “I believe in the sentiment but you have to be careful because it can be tempting to try and manufacturer a remarkable moment rather than it being part of your essence.”
Showing his down to earth attitude, Sahil noted that is “a bit of a wanky stance” but wanted to give me an example. “I believe it is a good approach to try and do 100 things better than your competitors such as Mag Nation allowing people to browse and read the magazines, and actually encouraging it. It is part of our philosophy and we believe that the more someone will touch and feel and read the product the more likely they are to buy it. Yes some people will spend 2 hours and not buy but that is fine.”
Sahil is unsure if that makes them remarkable but continued to offer me examples of things he believed might qualify. “We have free wifi licenses, coffee, 4000 mags, we are a mag store that looks good, a cool 3rd floor, a t-shirt exhibition, we go to conferences and share our experiences, we run fun viral campaigns for free coffee and we give people a code and encourage them to pass it on”. I asked him more about the free coffee code and he elaborated “We give them a code to use when they order their coffee and one time it was ‘excuse me I am a little bit itchy do you have any anti-fungal cream?’ and as a reward we gave them a free latte.” he explains. “None of these things by themselves is remarkable but we believe that with them added all together then maybe it does make us remarkable.”
The first two entries of their blog has comments that hint that the readers believe Mag Nation is remarkable but Sahil believes that this may just be because they bare their soul but he doesn’t believe they try and be remarkable.
Maybe that is where the simple genius of remarkable lies – in just trying to be themselves. Maybe, with so many companies trying to be remarkable, and often having to manufacture it, then it is just companies being themselves and being comfortable that makes them remarkable? We are so often used to companies being guarded, of the CEO wanting to control the message, the legal department polishing it to within an inch of anything even remotely engaging and of communiations being one way. Instead, Mag Nation just puts itself out there, not really caring what the world thinks. To me, that is an attractive quality and kind of like the girl at the party who doesn’t really care whether you like her or not.
“We are completely aware and comfortable that we can’t control everything. There is too much noise and communication. Instead of trying to control it we just embrace it and go with it. You know what? Fuck the idea of trying to get a message across, we just wanna be who we are. We could fake a lot of things if we wanted but we can’t fake who we are.”
I asked Sahil if he had an example where they had received some negative feedback and how they handled it and he recounted a blog post “There is a blog entry titled ‘What is the problem New Zealand?’ which I wrote because we get a lot of love in Australia but not so much in NZ. We got bagged a lot but we took it on board because it is just amazing feedback. We need that pure feedback. We want that feedback. However, some of it was unjustified, and we won’t just take that. We’ll stand our ground and defend ourselves against what we think is unfair criticism.”
Eventually I wanted to hear it from the horses mouth so I asked “Is print dying?” Of course I knew the answer but I wanted to hear it from someone who is obviously comfortable with their business and would give it to me straight. Sahil explained, “Yes print is in decline. We don’t put our head in the sand. Yes it is serious and whole bunch of magazines will die and so they should ... they are crap. That’s good. It will be those mags that just peddle information that will die because you can just get their info anywhere. Why would I get car info from a magazine? I can just get it online. It is those mags that create a community because the community is strong and the magazine is just a window to that brand.”
Having had a few interactions with them on Twitter, and having read a few blog posts, I was keen to find out what Mag Nation’s Social Media strategy was. “We just use it for engagement and the key is that when a brand talks directly with a consumer the consumer feels very special. The thing is, the conversations don’t take a long time. If I could have 10 000 conversations I would be happy.”
Mag Nation have been using SM tools since March this year and Sahil described the company as being “newbies”. Their Twitter account boasts 2500 followers but they are only following 500. I asked Sahil how they decide who to follow. “We will follow someone when they take part in an interesting conversation” he explained. Sahil prides himself on answering any Tweet, that asks a question, within 24 hours. Something that most owners would not do let alone set a target on.
“We even set up the Twitter alter ego to @mag_nation just to have fun and because we know how to laugh at ourselves. However, it was important that we disclosed that it was us as it was important that we weren’t seen as being deceitful. The alter-ego heckles us in the background.”
Sahil believes that SM is now an absolute vital tool. He believes it is a way to connect with customers and that if they are a company that is all about customers then SM is one of the best ways to connect with them. Sahil recounted a story that highlighted the importance of SM and the strong following they have built “We are looking to open a store in Sydney in October and I was looking at sites. But I cant be in Sydney every 2nd day and I don’t know Sydney as well as Sydneysiders do. So I asked the question ‘where should I be in Sydney?’ and I got a whole bunch of responses and people even started sending me photos of sites for lease!”
Finally, I asked Sahil which his his favourite magazine title. “I can’t tell you which is my favourite title, that is like asking which of my 3 kids I like the best.” I wanted to ask him which is the coolest title they stock but you all know he was going to say “Oyster”.
Mag Nation currently have 5 retail stores, 3 in Auckland and 2 in Melbourne, with a new Sydney store opening in Kin St Newtown mid-October. So get in and check them out. Maybe you should ask the barista “excuse me I am a little bit itchy do you have any anti-fungal cream?” (but only if you are itchy because this code is no longer valid).