08 The Year Ahead – Customer publishing

Marketing directors are starting to realise that not only can customer magazines contribute to their companys bottom line, they can also raise brand awareness and customer loyalty. By Nicola Murphy, River Publishing

The rise and rise of the poor relation

Marketing directors are starting to realise that not only can customer magazines contribute to their company’s bottom line, they can also raise brand awareness and customer loyalty. By Nicola Murphy, River Publishing

There were over 120 customer magazine launches and pitches between January and June this year. Amazing. To put this in context, customer publishing is the second fastest growing marketing medium behind online – not bad for a channel deemed the poor relation of consumer newsstand titles (and other so-called heavyweights we wouldn’ want to mention just in case they got upset.)

The naked truth
To embellish the point, the customer magazine industry is worth £788m. Mintel predicts that it will reach £1bn by 2011 (if not sooner). The sector experienced a huge 16% growth in 2006, and if current trends continue this will be significantly exceeded in 2007 and 2008.

It’s a hard life
The job of a marketing director just gets harder and harder in our increasingly fragmenting media world. Desperately they search for ways to improve loyalty and drive brand equity, scrabbling around for an effective means of interacting with their customers on a much more personal level than in the past. Just imagine, if you can, a highly personalised tool that not only generates sales, but also raises brand awareness and increases customer loyalty?

Part of the reason for the growth of the customer magazine sector is that marketing directors have suddenly come to terms with the fact that a medium already exists that does all the above. Sorry to use stats again but these are so good it would be a travesty not to include them. Customer magazines have been proved to:

  • increase share of wallet by 8%
  • stimulate brand loyalty by an average of 32%
  • improve brand image by 9%
  • provoke response – 44% of readers were found to interact with a brand as a direct result of reading a customer magazine
  • engage readers for an average of 25 minutes – a time period other media can only dream of. That’s the same as 50 30-second TV slots or 187.5 poster views

The truly remarkable stat is that it took them so long to twig.

Genesis: the paid-for magazine title
2007 has also seen as explosion in the amount of paid for customer titles. So, not only do magazines now deliver success in-line with your marketing objectives, they are also adept at keeping the finance director happy. 

Here at River Publishing we have six paidfor titles all contributing considerably to our clients’ (WeightWatchers, Superdrug, Harrods, Holland & Barrett, GNC, Bonmarche) bottom line. This, of course, wasn’t new for 2007 (we have been successfully working with Holland & Barrett for over five years with healthy magazine) but more brands are waking up to the fact that a magazine doesn’t just cost you money.

In harmony: the search for integration
Another issue has always been the fear that online would consign print communication to the marketing dust-bin, but the sector has welcomed the digital world with open arms.

Magazines aim to stretch digital boundaries creatively, with Honda taking the lead with Honda Formula 1 (John Brown) and Dream online (River); two titles that must be seen to be believed. Another example is the IKEA customer magazine IKEA Family LIVE (August Media) – a magazine with a wonderful symbiotic relationship with the IKEA website. Both are designed in the same style but with slightly differing content, working together to produce tangible results; generate sales, increase customer loyalty and build brand awareness.

What more innovation could you want? Well, we now have publishers producing purely digital titles and a belief that if you own the content you can truly harness that beast: the social network.

The king is dead, long live the king?
Creativity and innovation within the industry is at an all time high, the sector is growing and commercial, as well as marketing, objectives are a prime consideration. The challenge is to maintain the flexibility while still harnessing the basic customer magazine premise: deliver what the customer wants, when they want it. 

Nicola Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, River Publishing

Moving beyond the page

Newmedia and demands for accountability are challenging customer magazines, but also providing the impetus for a burst of creativity. By Sonoo Singh

No longer just a passing fad, spending on customer publishing continues to rise as more marketers use it as a tool for meeting strategic business objectives. But the industry will need to evolve fast in the current climate where marketers are having to get to grips with multiple media and trimmed back marketing budgets as the turmoil in the financial market hits home.

Predictions for marketing next year appear to be far from rosy, with the most recent Bellwether Report (Q3 2007) sounding a definite note of caution. Cedar Communications managing director Clare Broadbent adds that it will take time for the full impact of the banking crisis to be felt, so it is likely that a knock-on effect will be evident at the beginning of 2008. “While this sounds pessimistic, it is a very real issue and as a result marketers will be looking even more than usual to secure the best return on investment for their marketing budget. It is for this reason that we believe 2008 will be the year of accountability and relevance.” 

Through a glass ball darkly
Though a gaze through a crystal ball might show a somewhat gloomy picture for marketing spend, it is easy to see the attraction of contract publishing. Recent research from the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA) shows customer magazines are increasing share of market by 8%, brand loyalty by an average of 32% and provoking a response rate of 44%. But the industry concedes it will have to “prove its worth” if marketers continue to find customer publishing both relevant and strategically effective. And Emily Travis, head of publishing at the Royal Mail adds that marketing directors are increasingly realising the multiple benefits of customer magazines because they increase “their share of wallet” by 8% and engage readers for an average of 25 minutes, “a period of time other media can only dream of.” Redwood commercial director Ian Sewell says that marketers are now thinking more about integrated content strategies across print and digital platforms, because “clients have invested to such a level in their digital presence that the next step is to differentiate the brand with informative, entertaining and inspiring content.”

This is something the customer magazine industry claims to be achieving, while the rest of the print medium tries to stem circulation declines while battling it out with freesheets.

Engaging content and helping to build loyal, long-term relationships with consumers is the obvious holy grail for customer publishing. The power of content, therefore, is being used to try to achieve brand management objectives for marketers, as recently demonstrated by the online fashion brand ASOS.com. The website launched its own glossy customer magazine to complement its online offering, which gives customers celebrity fashion tips and advice style. 

“There continues to be an increase in the number of magazines supported by other channels, such as e-zines, to reach wider audiences and encourage interaction. In fact, we do not have any clients that we only do magazines for,” says August Media managing director Mark Lonergan. 

Given the increasingly fragmented nature of media, finding content that will appeal to a relevant audience of reasonable size is becoming a huge challenge for marketers. And branded content in the form of customer magazines is therefore being seen as an opportunity by marketers, according to the industry. 

New engagement
The APA chief operating officer Julia Hutchison says that there has been a shift from preaching to engaging with customers, and therefore branded content is a huge part of this. “This is what customer publishers do best and it is this that sets them apart from the competition. Redwood, for instance, has coined the phrase Content 2.0 to illustrate the expertise in content generation held by customer publishers.” Hutchison says this illustrates that the medium is uniquely placed to communicate brand values in subtle, expansive and ongoing ways through any channel – be it print or new media.” 

For instance, Redwood has also produced two 20-minute films for Land Rover’s “Go Beyond” TV channel and BT Vision has appointed a publisher to provide a film synopses for its EPG.

For the year ahead, John Brown Citrus Publishing managing director Dean Fitzpatrick predicts that making content work across different platforms will remain key. “We now always consider how magazines, digital applications and other print material (catalogues, POS etc) might work together. It obviously makes sense from both a cost and customer perspective.”

Broadbent concludes that though customer publishing is not under threat, there is no room for complacency. “For customer publishing to continue its success next year, we have to be more adept at proving our worth than the traditional mainstream marketing disciplines. Any publisher that hasn’t the capability to integrate its branded content into multiple channels will fall behind, as will those that cannot demonstrate their editorial skills are seamlessly married to customer insight, relevance and accountability”


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