By Jahanzaib Haque
(Published in the Nov-Dec 2009 issue of Aurora)
While the print media struggle globally to stay competitive against the onslaught of free information on the internet, a number of business models have emerged which take a different approach to the problem.
In Pakistan, one such local venture is Homexpress – a 100% ad based free monthly magazine delivered direct to households (in fact, similar to a shopping catalogue); the ads being mainly local retailer (shops, restaurants) driven.
Since its Karachi launch in September 2004, Homexpress has grown from a four-page issue circulating to 10,500 homes in DHA and Clifton, to six different monthly issues (up to 32 pages in size) circulating to 63,000 homes in neighbourhoods across Karachi and Lahore.
To explain the growth and appeal of Homexpress even through bad economic times, Shahjahan Chaudhry, Proprietor, Homexpress turns to the original conceptualisation of the magazine:
“I was a copywriter in Spectrum in 2004, and we were working on the Citibank account, creating direct mail and fliers to accompany credit card bills. Citibank was among the first banks to successfully use direct mail in this way, so we (Homexpress) took that concept of direct mail and free distribution, formatted ourselves on Aurora because of its large size and paper quality, and drew upon Value Mail, which was a small coupon booklet distributed in Lahore to create Homexpress.”
To elicit advertiser interest, the Homexpress team made cold calls to businesses and explained the value for money incentive, not in terms of lower ad placement rates compared to those of other magazines and newspapers (in fact, Chaudhry says the overall cost of advertising in Homexpress is generally higher), but compared to the cost of designing, printing and distributing personalised fliers or advertisements.
“We design a majority of the ads, as most of our business comes from small size clients,” explains Chaudhry.
“We tell them that we will make their ad, place it and ensure distribution for a single fixed price; and even if they are a small company, we will make them look like a brand by placing it in Homexpress.”
To this end Homexpress has a team of copywriters and designers working on developing ads much like any advertising agency; a comparison Chaudhry willingly accepts:
“You could see Homexpress as an advertising agency which publishes a free magazine. However, if our clients ask us about launching campaigns we refer them to others.”
According to Chaudhry, another major appeal for smaller businesses was that unlike conventional ad campaigns where the advertiser is unsure which part of the media mix is working, the vast majority of their clients advertise exclusively with Homexpress with a focus on a single call-to-action, thus allowing for effective measuring/monitoring of results.
A case in point is Maxcom, a Karachi-based broadband service which has advertised in Homexpress over the last four years.
According to Ali Maskatiya, CEO, Maxcom, “We advertised exclusively in Homexpress for the first two years, and it remains our only consistent form of advertising. As we cater to a niche market, the advertising helped get the word out.”
Living Floors, (a local tile/board flooring company) too has advertised exclusively with Homexpress ever since its first issue and reports that 50-60% of its sales come in as a result of that advertising.
According to Moeen Zakaria, Director, Living Floors Al-Noor Group, “The fact that Homexpress is distributed directly to the consumer gets the message out there first hand. Furthermore, as a shopping catalogue, it acts as a much used source of reference by customers.”
Another important factor in assuring success has been distribution to the right target segments based on the audience’s locality, buying power and lifestyle. In Karachi, Homexpress has focussed on relatively ‘posh’ localities including Clifton, Defence and KDA, while similarly in Lahore, focus has been laid on the upscale Cantt and Model Town districts.
Citing an example from Karachi, Chaudhry explains that “a person living in Defence will have a greater propensity to buy, more so than a person in Bahadurabad, even if the person in Bahadurabad has more money.”
Every copy of Homexpress is delivered at home by an internal team dedicated to the task. This ensures that the cited distribution numbers are authentic, which Chaudhry says is part of the magazine’s appeal to advertisers.
Additionally, having well defined distribution areas enables advertisers to fine tune their target audience; for example an offer created for residents in DHA would not feature in the KDA issue.
In Karachi a number of others publications did emerge in a bid to compete with Homexpress, including Easy Way, Shop Smart and Shop-a-holic, but according to Shahrukh Chaudhry, Partner, Homexpress, none of these magazines managed to survive a full year, yet. However, other publications such as Home Promo and Marketing Express are still active with identical business models aimed at taking a slice of the pie.
The Homexpress team recently launched Homexpress Social Media, an online extension of the magazine which aims to develop their clients’ business through Facebook.
For Chaudhry going online was necessary; “We can maintain our print model for another two to three years after which it will no longer be viable, meanwhile, there are a million Pakistanis signed up on Facebook right now. Eventually it will gain a bigger audience than any local newspaper out there.”
Launched in July this year, Homexpress Social Media has 27 clients (many of whom advertise in the print publication) with 22 Facebook pages maintained by the Homexpress team.
Clients are charged a monthly fee ranging from 10,000-50,000 rupees, depending on services offered which include page building, community building, development of social strategy and communication, Facebook advertising and monitoring social interactions.
“We are shifting our clients from Homexpress (the magazine) to Facebook,” says Chaudhry, adding that “currently there is no clash as the Facebook audience is generally younger (under 35) than the Homexpress print audience (over 35). At the moment, housewives buy the most, so it is only once these women come online that things will change significantly.”
A quick browse through Homexpress Social Media’s Facebook pages highlights how powerful this medium already is. By a simple ‘fan’ count, brands such as Ego (over 14,000 fans), Habitt (over 3,500 fans) and One Potato Two Potato (over 13,000 fans) have instant access to, “targeted people who will definitely get your message every time you do an update,” says Chaudhry.
Based on this, Chaudhry estimates that revenues generated from Homexpress Social Media are likely to surpass Homexpress (the magazine) in the next few years.
“Our magazine’s business model has helped us understand how to build communities online. Due to the small clients we have dealt with so intimately, we can create a brand out of nothing and form an online community around it. Just like the magazine, there is no comparative online venture like this in Pakistan.”