Loyalty magazines are now so heavily entrenched in certain business sectors – notably retail, cars, travel and financial services – that a marketer who does not have one is immediately handing competitive advantage to the opposition.
But their counterparts within fmcg manufacturers have been slow to adopt customer magazines and make them an integral part of their marketing strategies.
This could all be changing, with the launch of Dulux’s Colour Magazine, published by Redwood on its behalf.
The spring issue of Colour has 100 pages, and takes its design ideas very much from the pages of newsstand DIY, decorating and home interest titles. Its pages are filled with pictures of perfectly painted rooms, furnished with sofas, armchairs, curtains and other bric-a-brac from the likes of Ikea, Habitat, Heals and The Conran Shop.
It also provides useful hints and tips, and advice on such matters as “using a ladder safely”, “which paint tool?”, and “painting a room”. Priced at 2.99, Colour is on sale in DIY stores and other retail outlets where consumers can buy Dulux paints.
However, Kristi Thorne, marketing manager for Dulux Emulsion, is adamant that Colour should not be classified as a loyalty magazine.
She says: “I resist calling it a loyalty magazine. It’s not a loyalty magazine in the way that Ford and Rover have loyalty magazines. It’s a paid-for magazine. We know about colour, and the magazine has lots of ideas on how to use our products to transform rooms. You buy it because you want those ideas. It’s not a case of ‘we’ll give you this free’ to buy loyalty – although there are vouchers inside for our products.”
Her dislike of the term “loyalty magazine” is echoed by Julian Treasure, chairman of contract publishers TPD and also of the Association of Publishing Agencies, the contract publishing industry’s trade body.
Treasure says: “I’ve never liked hearing customer magazines called ‘loyalty magazines’. That’s like saying all advertising is designed to sell things. Advertising can have a lot of different objectives, and so can magazines.”
He believes that fmcg manufacturers will prove to be a growth market for contract publishers but accepts that not all manufacturers will necessarily have a wide enough range to justify a magazine, pointing out: “I wouldn’t expect to see Bryant & May publish a magazine about matches. They’ve only got one product.”
But it makes perfect sense to Treasure for Heinz to have launched its own magazine, which it did back in 1994. At that time, Heinz shocked the marketing services industry by switching a large proportion of its spend from above to below-the-line, with a direct marketing campaign built around a quarterly magazine, Heinz at Home.
And even before Heinz at Home, NestlÃ© used a quarterly magazine to support its Casa Buitoni loyalty club, aimed at introducing its eponymous continental pasta brand to the UK.
However, there are differences between the titles produced on behalf of Heinz, NestlÃ© and Dulux. For one thing, the Dulux title is not free. For another, while it is very obviously a vehicle to market Dulux products, it does provide considerable coverage for other companies.
But many in the contract publishing industry say that the real difference between Heinz’ and NestlÃ©’s magazines and the Dulux title is much more fundamental. Some question whether the Heinz and NestlÃ© titles are magazines at all, rather extended pieces of direct mail.
Jim Addison, managing director of Omnicom-owned contract publisher Specialist Publications, is blunt in his opinion of Heinz at Home.
He says: “I don’t think Heinz at Home qualifies as a magazine. It’s a piece of direct marketing.
If you saw it on the shelves at WH Smith, you’d think it was in the wrong place.”
That’s not to say that Addison thinks there is anything wrong with Heinz at Home (which is produced by another Omnicom subsidiary, WWAV Rapp Collins, the UK’s biggest direct marketing consultancy). He believes it does a good job, but it is simply not a magazine.
Addison, and many others in the contract publishing industry, argue that to be truly called a magazine, customer magazines have to be able to hold their own against “real” newsstand rivals. They say that such publications have to offer credible editorial which consumers actually want to read – as opposed to brand name-heavy advertorial masquerading as objective journalism.
“The contents of a magazine should reflect the interests and aspirations of the target audience,” says Addison. “Independent research shows that consumers readily respond to brand-sponsored titles which offer the same quality as the magazines that they would normally buy.”
He has an acid test to determine whether a contract title deserves to be called a magazine: how long will it take a rail traveller to read it? Comparing Heinz at Home with Rendevous with Raffles, which Specialist Publications produces on behalf of cigarette company Rothmans, he says: “If you were given Rendevous with Raffles when you got on a train in London, it would last you to Birmingham New Street. The Heinz magazine would get you to Burnt Oak.”
Julian Treasure agrees that there has to be more to a real customer magazine than a list of a companies’ products coupled with bald suggestions about how to use them. He says: “There’s no point just producing a catalogue of products, you have to add value.”
Theoretically, say many contract magazine publishers, a company like Heinz could support a “proper” customer magazine because of its breadth of brands, as could many other fmcg manufacturers. But few of them have yet been convinced that the benefits of a magazine outweigh the risks involved.
There are other reasons why certain fmcg manufacturers might not want to launch their own rival to Heinz. As one contract magazine publisher (who decided to remain anonymous rather than risk the ire of potential clients) said, there would be little reason for Lever Brothers or Procter & Gamble, for example, to produce magazines.
“Let’s face it,” he says, “neither of them really want the consumer to realise that half the washing detergents on the market are made by Lever Brothers and the other half are made by Procter & Gamble.”
Meanwhile, new business director of Redwood Publishing Jonathan Berry argues that no manufactured brand owner can afford to dismiss magazines without first giving them very careful consideration.
The branded-goods companies have already ceded too much ground to the major retailers, Berry says, and if they now reject their own brand magazines as a communications vehicle, they are ignoring a perfect tool for getting their messages across to consumers, and for bypassing the retailer.
Branded-goods companies, Berry says, “need to build their relationships with their consumers. They don’t see them on a regular basis. They don’t communicate with them every week or more, like the supermarkets do.”
The contract publishing industry believes an outbreak of brand magazines is likely over the next few years. Its advocates argue that new technology has already given manufacturers the ability to collect – and more importantly use – information about the end-consumer of their products.
Furthermore, the idea of a brand magazine dovetails with current marketing thinking and the growing acceptance of the idea of the “brand experience” or the “brand lifestyle” – the extension of the core brand to appear on as many items as possible which are relevant to the target market.
Some contract publishers suggest brand owners would have been far more sensible spending the tens of thousands of pounds they have poured into establishing Websites and home pages, which can only be accessed by a tiny fraction of the population, on publishing traditional, paper-based titles.
Redwood Publishing’s Berry suggests that, so far, fmcg companies have been incapable of realising the benefits magazines can offer them, leaving their rivals in the other industries to steal a march on them. “Fmcg companies are not forward-thinking,” he says. “They are terribly slow to adopt new ideas, always the last to do anything.”
But he believes that brands will follow retailers with more customer magazines, saying: “Retailers have always been early adopters of everything. Look at their enthusiastic endorsement of card-based loyalty schemes.” As he points out, however, publishing customer magazines for service-oriented companies like retailers and banks requires a different set of skills to publishing a magazine for a branded goods manufacturer. He says: “Producing a brand magazine is much more… involved is the wrong word, but there are a lot of very complex messages you have to get across.