According to the publisher, people spent a total of 50m hours on the site in 2016, while its newsletter is said to generate a 63% click-to-open rate on average.

So, in today’s increasingly competitive market, what makes Refinery29 such a success? Here’s a bit of a back-story of Refinery29 as well as what makes it stand out from the digital crowd. 

1. A distinct and diverse brand 

When Refinery29 first began in 2005, women’s media was mainly dedicated to fashion, beauty and celebrity, with other areas of interest – such as news, politics and careers – only being found in niche or mainstream media titles. 

Even though Refinery29 was set up with fashion in mind, specifically to become an ecommerce platform for local and independent designers, it started to see real success thanks its unique approach to women’s content.

Recognising the fact that women care about much more than clothing or skincare, it aims to cater for a wide and diverse range of interests. Now with a global audience, it also places a huge focus on diversity in terms of people, their lifestyle, and opinions. 

As well as more specific content verticals, like money and health, this diversity is also reflected in its use of imagery. Last year, Refinery29 launched the ‘67% project’, which is based on the fact that 67% of women are above a US size 14, but have less than 2% of media representation. In order to combat this, Refinery29 partnered with Getty Images to create a new selection of stock images to better represent its audience. 

Refinery29 now uses this imagery throughout its websites, which in turn, has helped it to establish a unique and highly recognisable brand image. 

2. Localised and personalised content

In 2015, Refinery29 expanded overseas, setting up offices in both the UK and Germany. Instead of treating these as separate entities of the overall business, however, the brand works hard to maintain a global mindset.

So, while a large portion of the content is created by local teams, there is a crossover whereby US content appears on the UK site and vice versa – and it is only mildly edited for country-specific terminology or relevance. 

Alongside this, Refinery29 draws on data to discover what topics might resonate in certain markets. For example, ‘The Money Diaries’, which was a series originally launched for the US market, is now consistently one of the top-five performing stories by page-views in the UK.

Refinery29’s strategy isn’t only to create content that resonates with markets, of course. It is also focused on personalising content to individuals where possible. This means personalising emails, which means highlighting articles of interest based on past user behaviour. But also, it means creating content that is highly personal in nature – and again this part of the publisher’s inclusive approach.

So instead of writing an article about finding a certain item of clothing, for instance, it will write multiple articles about finding the same item for different body types, then leaving it up to readers to naturally find the content that is most relevant to them.

3. Taking social seriously

One way Refinery29 delivers this kind of relevant content is on social media, with the brand implementing a segmented strategy to engage users on all platforms.

This means that instead of rolling out similar content across the board, it uses a channel-by-channel approach (along with channel-specific teams) to create and distribute content. It it is now said to have an entire team dedicated to Facebook Live, with the brand increasing focus in this area in the past year. Similarly, it has a special team for Snapchat Discover, where it creates custom-content that is typically geared towards a younger audience.

Another part of its social strategy is to focus on specific verticals, with the brand creating multiple Facebook pages in order to tap into specific audience interest, such as ‘wellness’.

Its not an uncommon strategy – Buzzfeed and Huffington Post also do the same. And while there can be downsides, such as being able to maintain a steady stream of original content, it appears to have worked for Refinery29.

This is mainly because it taps into the idea of the curated News Feed. In other words, with the Facebook algorithm favouring a certain type of content, brands are no longer able to pin-point or ascertain what people are seeing overall. So, by embracing specific segments and creating ‘micro-communities’, Refinery29 is able to foster mini pools of real engagement and loyalty.

4. Credible branded content

While Refinery29 has moved away from its original ecommerce set-up, it still makes money via branded partnerships – mainly in the form of sponsored content and affiliates.

However, with a dedication to delivering content that is highly valuable to its audience, it treats branded content in much the same way. 

Interestingly, data suggests that two out of three readers will purchase a product after seeing Refinery29 content related to it. Not only does this suggest that its wider strategy (in terms of voice, style and personalisation) is working, but it also means that brands will show even greater interest in the publication.

Meanwhile, Refinery29 has also ventured into events and experiential marketing – which is another way for brands to get their products in front of a highly engaged audience. It recently held its annual immersive exhibition, 29Rooms, whereby seven out of 29 rooms were sponsored by brands ranging from Clarins to Cadillac.

For the audience, this also means getting the chance to experience Refinery29 offline, meaning that their connection to the brand will increase.


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