A brand in the hand

Customer magazines do affect consumer behaviour, according to a study measuring their success as a marketing tool. They lift sales, boost brand perception and engage readers. By Ian Whiteling

Too many marketing messages assault the senses without giving anything back, and consumers simply ignore them. Customer publishing, Smeeton says, is one of the most effective means of engaging with customers, from a consumer and business perspective. The customer publishing sector expanded by five per cent last year and is worth &£344m (Mintel).

Recent research by customer publishing body the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA) backs him up. It worked with its members and Millward Brown to develop a recognised industry approach for measuring the effectiveness of customer magazines as a marketing tool. The initiative is the first of its kind across all marketing media.

APA director Julia Hutchison says: “A key finding was that the average sales uplift that can be stimulated by a customer title is eight per cent – shattering the myth that customer magazines do not affect consumer behaviour. The research also found that customer magazines increase brand loyalty by a third and that strategic brand image positioning can be influenced by customer magazines.”

At Debenham’s, perceptions of style, design and modernity were affected by its Desire magazine. Readers were 24 per cent more likely to think of the department store as contemporary and up to the minute with fashion than non-readers. Readers of an automotive magazine were 11 per cent more likely to believe the brand to be a sought-after marque growing in popularity than non-readers.

The research also found that magazines engage customers – they would spend 25 minutes reading a magazine; they enhance brand loyalty – 32 per cent more customers are committed to a brand after reading a customer magazine; they provoke response – 44 per cent of readers interact with the brand in some way as a direct result of reading a magazine; they improve brand image, which was enhanced by nine per cent through engagement with editorial content.

Companies that have launched such titles agree. “A customer magazine was the communications tool to deliver a lifestyle title to our customers that they would enjoy and that would encapsulate our brand,” says Conran’s Lucy Brown, editor-in-chief of Live It, which is produced by Axon Publishing.

a pivotal publication Cooperative Financial Services (CFS)’ Change magazine, another title published by Redwood, seems to be a resounding success. “Three waves of research tell us readers love Change,” says marketing management director David Newman. “They find it informative, well designed, in keeping with the brands and a nicer way to read about financial services. In fact, 46 per cent of recipients read half or more of Change and 39 per cent have taken action as a result of reading it. We also know readers are likely to have a stronger affinity with the CFS brand as 85 per cent of customers who receive Change agree with the statement: ‘CFS is an organisation I can trust.'”

Creating a customer magazine that generates those levels of success takes thorough research and first-class journalism and design. Smeeton says: “The customer magazines that fail are the ones that lose sight of the reader. The magazines have to compete with all types of media, so they have to be as good or better to ensure they get a share of voice.”

Smeeton believes that a successful customer magazine must have clear objectives, a defined audience, imaginative design, original and well-written content, a measurement programme at the outset and long-term client commitment.

focus on focus An added benefit of these smaller publications is flexibility. “They can be sent to a customer database as a magazine, inserted into a relevant trade title or used as part of a presentation by sales staff,” Collings explains.

Square One Publishing director and partner Simon Chappell says: “Customer magazines are most effective when integrated into the relationship marketing mix – when they work in conjunction with and support other communication channels such as direct mail, telemarketing and the internet.”

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