How a Refinery29 Vet Is Reshaping Domino Into a Major Digital Player

The cult shelter brand is expanding

Mention the name Domino to any décor-savvy 30-something, and you're likely to get a squeal of excitement followed by a sigh of nostalgia. Launched by Condé Nast in 2005, Domino was a revolutionary brand within the shelter category, embracing a fun and eclectic design mix that was largely absent from its buttoned-up peers and attracting a younger set of readers who were just embarking on their own home-decorating journeys.

Unfortunately for them, Domino's heyday was a short one, and the title shuttered in 2009. But throughout the next few years, images from the magazine's pages frequently circulated in the blogosphere on Pinterest, while Domino: The Book of Decorating, published in 2008, continued to be a must-have. (Even today, it ranks No. 11 on Amazon's list of best-selling interior-decorating books.)

Domino's Nathan Coyle

In 2012, eager to capitalize on the brand's lasting appeal, Condé Nast revived Domino as a special newsstand-only magazine, recycling stories from old issues (and garnering the nickname "Zombie Domino" ). The following year, Domino was yet again relaunched as an independent print quarterly, website and ecommerce play produced by the newly formed Domino Media Group (Condé remained a shareholder).

Today, Domino is going through yet another revamp, this time under the guidance of digital native Nathan Coyle. Before joining Domino last month, Coyle spent three years as evp and gm of Refinery29, launching the company's influencer platform and helping shape its video business strategy, and prior to that, helped develop CAA's digital content practice. Now, he'll be in charge of shaping Domino's latest transformation into—hopefully­—a major digital player.

"What excited me [about joining Domino] is that when I talked to some of my closest confidantes about the opportunity, I immediately found that among those who were in the target audience for Domino, there is an incredible passion around the brand," explained Coyle. "Frankly, it reminded me of that engaged fan base that Refinery has had for many years and served as the bedrock of its wild success."

Coyle believes that Domino has the potential to become a much larger force in the online content space, akin to a more lifestyle-focused Refinery. "A lot of other verticals, like fashion, have started to get pretty crowded, but there's a huge white space in design and décor," he said. In order to facilitate audience expansion, Coyle is planning to revamp the brand's content strategy—which will involve "aggressively expanding" into areas like entertaining, food, health and wellness—bring data science into the fold and hiring a creative to help lead a complete website revamp.

While many of Domino's early readers have returned to the brand, Coyle is also actively looking to recruit a new generation of young design fans, making use of Domino's social platforms—"The majority of our followers on Instagram were probably in college or even high school when the original publication came out," he noted—and covering more of the influencers and tastemakers that millennials follow.

Speaking of influencers, Domino is building its own influencer network similar to the one Coyle launched at Refinery. "No one, at least from a publisher perspective, has really cracked the influencer space in the home design space," he said.

In the longer term, original video, a space in which Domino lags behind many of its digital peers, will be another key focus. The company recently signed a lease on a new Manhattan office that's double the size of its current digs and will include a dedicated video studio. (It'll also hold the new employees that Coyle is planning to hire—five new positions are being created immediately.)

As for print, "It's not going anywhere," said Coyle. "Readers still enjoy big, glossy pictures." And this November, the brand will double down in the space when it releases its second decorating book, Domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home, which, Coyle hopes, will become as much of a bookshelf staple as the original.

However, Domino's legacy will only go so far when it comes to attracting a new audience and advertisers, said Nathalie Huni, group creative director at digital agency Huge. "What's tough is the fact that the brand equity of Domino is really from a different era," she noted. "Digital content, new writers, influencers, and curation will all help, but without a strong and current equity, it's going to be hard for them to compete against more established lifestyle brands … In my opinion, the digital platform will certainly need an overhaul to deliver a user experience that supports a broader brand mission."

This story first appeared in the July 25, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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