Readers spend 5 minutes on The Financial Times’ luxury title

How To Spend It, The Financial Times’ luxury and lifestyle supplement, has mastered how to entice wealthy shoppers in to browse and purchase, spending nearly five minutes per visit on site.  

How To Spend It covers travel, fashion and food and drink. Recent articles include “Lab-grown diamonds: are they forever?” and “The Hope Classic Rally swings back around for its fifth edition.” These sit beside lavish gift guides touting a Cartier clock for £7,500 ($9,600) and an Asprey vase for £14,400 ($18,500).

These price tags are befitting the FT’s affluent readers, which make up 70% of the How To Spend It’s traffic. Readers from the spend on average 4 minutes and 40 seconds per visit on site, according to the publisher. For non-FT readers, this drops to 52 seconds. Industry dwell-time benchmarks vary across sector, but above two minutes is usually a success.

“Initially when we were researching how to approach homepage design, we saw two distinct readers: those who came to research something and those who came for inspiration or window shopping,” said Gillian de Bono, who is seeing out her final month as editor of How To Spend It, a position she took in 1998. “We’ve been careful to include search for both types of readers.”

How To Spend It is on track for a record year in terms of digital ad revenue, which comes from display ads and branded content, according to the publisher. The FT doesn’t split out the revenue from its supplements. However, all signs point to the title as a profitable asset for the FT, due to its access to high-net-worth audiences in their leisure time. The title was reportedly profitable from its first print issue in 1994, the same report stated FT management described How To Spend It as “mission-critical.”

There are several reasons for this growth in ad revenue. As well as branded content through text articles and video, How To Spend It began offering clients co-branded microsites last year, designed in the client’s style and housing rich media-like, wide-screen video and image carousels. Branded content accounts for 7% of total traffic — 250,000 unique monthly users who visit on average 3.9 pages per session, according to the publisher — and has an average dwell time of 62 seconds.

“Our challenge is that demand outstrips supply at certain times of the year. We’re able to offer branded content at these particularly busy times,” she added. So far this year, it’s booked nearly twice as many branded content campaigns as it ran last year.

The pool of luxury publishers is small, and as such advertisers will continue to spend where it works, in some cases regardless of in-depth analytical data. “Clients have said to me that regardless of the metrics, they know that what they advertise in How To Spend It sells, regardless of editorial coverage or influencer pick up,” said Livia Stefanini, head of Havas LuxHub UK. “It’s a must-have for luxury brand advertisers, particularly ultra-luxury and jewelry.”

In ways, this is at odds with trends in fashion advertising becoming more performance-driven, where the results are instantaneous and measurable. But with big-ticket items sold less frequently, linking the attribution between an ad in How To Spend It and a sale is easy, said Stefanini.

For this reason, How To Spend It doesn’t need to sell affiliate links, and nor would it: It has a clear church-and-state line.

“The FT has been known for its transparency; retaining that trust is crucial,” said Alice Pickthall, research analyst at Enders Analysis, pointing to the title’s travel articles, which declare the elements of the trip that have been paid for. “There would be short wins through monetizing in affiliate links, but that doesn’t suit the brand. They are able to maintain a level of trust.”

Monthly users are up 40% for 2019, according to the publisher. Comscore doesn’t measure How To Spend It but SimilarWeb stats show traffic has hovered around 300,000 monthly visits since last November. Not large by any means, but big numbers haven’t been the goal.

“It’s not about chasing scale; it’s about quality engagement,” said de Bono. “Reaching people at the right time in the right frame of mind, the right people engaging with content.”

Travel is the most popular subject vertical on the site accounting for 11% of total traffic, followed by Men’s style and Women’s style with 9% and 7% of traffic, respectively. Recent successful articles include “The Aesthete: Adrian Cheng talks more personal taste.” Of its 193,000 pageviews, 93% came from Google search. This post, “A new Overfinch Range Rover that goes the extra mile,” had 53,000 pageviews.

Refining its newsletter strategy last year also led to audience growth. The How To Spend It email had a respectable open rate of 42% and a click-through rate of 12%. MailChimp email marketing benchmarks for media and publishing are 21.9% and 4.5%, respectively.

The team replaced the general newsletter with five subject-specific ones and made newsletter signups much more prominent. According to the publisher, there was no negative impact from people unsubscribing. Monthly sign-ups grew by 76%, and monthly newsletter referral pageviews increased by 150%, although it was unwilling to share absolute numbers.

Ultimately, even if this increase is from a small base, advertisers are unperturbed.

“With high-net-worth audiences, we are pushing for a smaller reach. When one lead is worth thousands of pounds, like in ultra lux, then that’s fine,” said Stefanini. “While Vogue has often been dubbed the bible of fashion, How To Spend It is the bible of affluence.”

Image: Courtesy of How To Spend It.

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