Magazine article Marketing

Customer Publishing: Worth the Reading

Magazine article Marketing

Customer Publishing: Worth the Reading

Article excerpt

Customer titles are a highly effective way to bolster both your brand's sales and consumer loyalty.

The customer publishing business has been expanding at a healthy rate for most of the past decade. In 2005, the sector increased in value by 10% to pounds 385m, making it the second-fastest growing medium after the internet.

A key reason for its popularity is that it captures the marketing zeitgeist.

At a time when interruptive communications such as 30-second TV ads are finding it increasingly hard to deliver value, customer magazines are a proven way of engaging your customers directly on their own terms.

The basic proposition is simple, according to Jason Frost, managing director of one of the UK's biggest customer magazine publishers, Publicis Blueprint.

'If you produce an editorial package that is entertaining or informative, research shows that your customers will read it for an average of 25 minutes. That represents a great environment to get your message across without clutter from rival brands,' he says.

That message will vary greatly by brand. If you are a retailer such as Asda, you might use it to promote product lines with discounts and promotions.

If you are the AA, the agenda might be cross-selling financial products to a captive membership.

'Across the industry, Millward Brown research shows customer magazines boost sales by an average of 8%,' says Frost. 'We know this because it is possible to map shifts in sales patterns against the content that has appeared in our clients' titles.'

The Millward Brown figure he quotes comes from Advantage, a tracking study operated by publishers under the auspices of industry trade body the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA). 'The study also shows that customer magazine readers are 32% more loyal to the brands that own them, while 44% respond in some way to the content in them, such as coupon redemption,' says APA director Julia Hutchison.

'Our basic line to clients is that customer titles make your communication more profitable and help you retain customers.'

The key to producing a successful customer magazine is striking a fair trade, believes Ian Sewell, commercial director of customer publisher Redwood. 'Consumers know they are being marketed to. But they'll go along with it if you give them something back,' he says.

This point is endorsed by Haymarket Network editorial director Simon Kanter. 'Customer magazines need to behave like magazines, not brochures,' he says. 'If you want to engage your audience, you have to find subject matter that is more than just a hard-sell.'

This may be easy enough work in a sector in which people are interested, such as cars or travel. But what if you sell financial services or supply water? 'You have to approach the audience in a different way,' says Kanter.

'People are interested in subjects such as pension planning or ways to use water more efficiently. If you can provide interesting, useful information, customer magazines can do an effective job in these sectors.'

Uniformly effective

Many high-profile customer magazines belong to blue-chip clients, but they do not just work for the top tier. Recent launches that have had a positive impact on sales include titles for hair-salon chain Toni&Guy and Tillington Group garden centres. They have proved useful in increasing customer value by incentivising more frequent visits and alerting readers to seasonal ranges respectively.

More evidence of the sector's diversity includes launches for clients such as the NSPCC, Luton University and accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward.

In the case of the NSPCC, which distributes 800,000 copies of Your Family through Early Learning Centre stores, Sewell says: 'The issue wasn't awareness, since everyone knows the charity. Instead, it was about highlighting the NSPCC's activities in the area of positive parenting, which tends to get less coverage than some of the more hard-hitting work it does combating child cruelty. …

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