How Martha Stewart Living Has Continued to Thrive for the Past 26 Years

It provides a level of 'attainable aspiration' to readers

Martha Stewart has always been on top of trends, often setting them herself. Before she became a social media star (and landed a show with Snoop Dogg) she was known as a pioneer in the print magazine business.

Her publication, Martha Stewart Living, has been on stands for 26 years and it's rarely wavered in its core message or its relationship to readers.

"We were profitable after two-and-a-half years, which was unheard of at that time," Stewart said. "We've since tried very hard to maintain our excellent content, the workability of our recipes, the quality of our photography, and our ability to innovate."

"Innovate" may not be the first word you think of when you picture a legacy brand like Martha Stewart Living, or her many entertainment and retail properties. But the necessity of the magazine industry, according to Stewart, is to keep moving forward.

"You have to be constantly new and have that feeling of newness, but without being too quirky or off-putting or silly," she said. 

Elizabeth Graves, the current editor in chief for Martha Stewart Living, has been learning from Stewart since the magazine launched in 1990. It's the magazine that made Graves want to work in the business in the first place.

Previously, Graves was the editor in chief of Stewart's Weddings magazine and was also the editorial director of beauty, health, and fitness for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc., now a subsidiary of Sequential Brands Group.

"When we look forward, we're also looking at what really makes the brand great, while sticking to our core values," said Graves.

Martha Stewart and Elizabeth Graves at Meredith's Brandfront presentation in Chicago last year.

Those "core values" keep popping up in conversations with folks at Martha Stewart Living. Essentially, it means listen to Stewart and follow your gut.

"She's the real-deal, and never ceases to amaze me," said Graves. "We all learn from her on a daily basis, which keeps the bar pretty high for us."

"We work with a lot of like-minded people who are so enthusiastic about our subjects," said Stewart. "These lovely, thoughtful people are constantly having discussions about good, new recipes or techniques."

"Sometimes, there are still new techniques for making pasta sauce," she said with excitement.

There are also new techniques for baking, as Stewart is set to release her 88th(!) book this spring, titled "A New Way to Bake." This cookbook will focus on "alternative grains and flours that will completely change your cooking and baking," Stewart said.

"Being able to work on projects like this keeps our kitchen alive," she said.

Keeping the kitchen alive keeps the magazine alive which, in turn, helps keep Stewart's many digital properties alive as well.

She has a blog in addition to her website, which is separate from her personal social media accounts.

"The lifestyle field she created 26 years ago is definitely very crowded now," said Marci Greenfield, the director of content marketing for Martha Stewart Digital. "But we know what's best for our brand, and that's how we'll win."

Stewart's digital properties are described by employees as a way to bring the print magazine to life, in addition to creating original content and videos for her social platforms.

"We were one of the first pages to experiment with Facebook Live videos," said Greenfield, "because we want to take full advantage of the technology at our disposal."

"I've always been curious in how to deliver good information and wonderful content to as large an audience as possible," said Stewart.

But that's the trick, isn't it? There has to be great content and a wide platform to reach audiences in order to stay afloat as a publisher. That's what everyone is after, but executing that strategy isn't always easy, especially if the technology world keeps changing algorithms on you.

"You don't have to get discouraged by the world of media as long as you can keep up with it," said Stewart, the sage.

Keeping up with technology is one thing, but so is keeping in touch with your audience and making sure you're staying true to your brand. After 26 years, Martha Stewart Living's fans have come to expect and respect certain qualities in the publication and from Stewart herself.

There's always a new way to make Valentine's Day cookies.

"Our readers are constantly looking for tips and tricks and techniques," said Daren Mazzucca, the vp and publisher of Martha Stewart Living. "Therefore, those are the ads that perform best with us, too."

According to Mazzucca, print advertising in magazines is a way for brands to start engaging consumers before launching deeper into those stories online. An added bonus is how involved Stewart is with the advertising side of things; she once documented a trip to Maine on her personal Instagram Stories while using a GM vehicle, which was all part of the deal.

"People both young and old love this magazine and the woman behind it," he said.

"We featured quinoa five or six years ago, and it didn't perform very well with our audience. People didn't even know how to pronounce it," he said. "We featured avocado toast four years ago, and now you have to pay a huge premium to eat it in cities like New York."

"She plays a huge role in creating lifestyle trends," Mazzucca said.

"Magazines, like medical journals, are a lot of the same, same, same," said Stewart. "'Living' is always changing. We just come back to offering sensible, good advice."

"Even if you've made a risotto before, just watch her walk around a kitchen, and you'll learn something new," said Graves. "The joy is in the doing, in following the whole process."

"Our readers have gotten incredibly younger online, and now they also expect a lot more from us," said Deanne Kaczerski, the digital executive editor of MarthaStewart.com.

With the rise of other DIY instructional sites or fashion blogs or networks dedicated to decorating your homes, Martha Stewart Living has been able to sustain itself for the last 26 years by providing a level of "attainable aspiration" for readers.

"At the end of the day, Martha is still the 'Martha' of being Martha, and people really want that," Kaczerski said.

With a constant influx of creativity and editors ready to find inspiration anywhere and everywhere, readers can still rely on Martha Stewart Living to show them what their lives would be like if they had only been the ones to come up with a genius upcycle idea.

"The trick is just having the idea," said Greenfield.

"We've certainly been innovative, we're certainly modern, and we've certainly lasted very nicely in a crowded space," said Stewart.

"'Living' presents a limitless subject to explore. There will always be the next 'good thing.' And 'good things' are still 'good things.'"

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