Together between the covers

When other communication channels are shouting for the attention of consumers, magazines offer brands the chance for quiet, intimate contact – and research shows it’s very effective. By Sonoo Singh

While newsstand magazines are failing to secure both readers and advertising, customer magazines appear to be going from strength to strength, with more advertisers reaping the benefits of communicating with their customers through this tried and tested marketing tool.

Consider these facts. The top three circulating consumer magazines are all customer magazines published for the brands Sky, Boots and Asda. The contract publishing industry is the fastest growing medium after the Internet and is currently valued at £385m, showing a 244% growth over the past ten years. And research reveals that customer magazines increase brand loyalty by 32% by building brand awareness and sales simultaneously, with 44% of the consumers more inspired to interact with that brand as a result of reading its publication.

According to the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA), marketers are increasingly being called upon by the contract publishing industry to provide an effective and sophisticated form of marketing communication.

APA chief operating officer Julia Hutchison says that not only is the sector in rude health, but it continues to grow. “Year on year we have seen a 16% rise in launches, business wins and relaunches, for organisations as diverse as Ronnie Scotts, the Design Council, HMV and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. More recently, the introduction of APA ASK – our new free business consultation service – has led to launches from Audi, Bang & Olufsen and Chestertons, adding another £30m in incremental spend to an industry now valued at £788m.”

With such amazing figures to boast of, it is no surprise that the industry has 700 titles, with most industry sectors utilising customer magazines as a marketing tool. Mintel predicts further growth to over £530m over the next five years. And as marketing budgets get squeezed with the growing proliferation of media channels, customer magazines seem to be offering brands a channel that has the ability to grab consumers’ attention for longer. Recent APA research adds that brand empathy and quality perceptions are consistently higher among those receiving customer titles and that consumers tend to spend, on average, 25 minutes reading these magazines. Not only do three in five readers see the content as being very or quite relevant to them, but 57% read at least half of the magazine, and for the top performer this figure rises to 78%.

Redwood chief executive Keith Grainger says that these magazines are about selling through story-telling and about bringing brands to life. “That can work for most brands. Therefore, where loyalty, repeat purchase, lifetime value and building ARPU (highest average per user), image and lifestyle dominate a brand’s success, customer magazines are core to the brand’s communication.” Not only Grainger, but the entire industry claims that marketers have finally realised there is a correlation between their customer mags and sales uplift, and that they also happen to engage with customers over an extended period. Hence the continued investment in the sector and its growing popularity as an advertising platform.

This is a model understood by online fashion retailer ASOS.com, which late last year launched a monthly title through Seven Squared – a fashion and style magazine to complement its digital business. “The ASOS magazine is the perfect example of how customer magazines are a key engagement tool and can fulfil a wide range of marketing objectives that other media, perhaps, can’t,” says Anna Simpson, head of insight at Rise Communications.

Real world
Director of Seven Squared and incoming APA chairman Sean King adds that, as an online retailer, ASOS realised it needed a customer magazine to bring the product to life in the “real world”. He adds: “When executed correctly, customer magazines can prove invaluable to just about any brand, be it retail, finance, luxury, travel or public service.”

King also gives the example of Coutts Bank magazine aimed at its high net worth customers, which is not “just another” luxury magazine full of fast cars and flash yachts. The magazine, he claims, instead captures the imagination of people that are bombarded with marketing messages on a daily basis but don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with those messages. “The title came to life with ‘A Journal of Interest’ and has had a huge impact across Coutts’ customer bases, far greater than we could have possibly hoped for,” he says. The financial services industry continues to be one of the most prolific customer publishing sectors. It currently accounts for almost a seventh of total market share, coming second only to the retail and distribution sector.

Major banks
There are 41 financial service customer titles, many of which are produced by major banks and building societies.

Hutchison adds that recent launches, such as Adrian Flux’s Influx, Sotheby’s International Reality’s Reside magazine and Virgin Media’s new titles, also demonstrate the diversity in the medium.

“If a magazine keeps what interests its target audience firmly in mind, it is likely to be much more effective at engaging and bonding with that audience. Magazines can even be more tightly targeted to appeal to sub-sections of the readership. If a supermarket knows certain customers often buy recycled goods, they may be interested in reading articles on organic foods, while details on premium food lines can be included in titles sent to more affluent shoppers,” says Hutchison.

For instance, she says, Waitrose is launching an addition to its Food Illustrated magazine, called Thirst. But the retailer must examine its motives for the magazine. Is it geared towards attracting new customers or building stronger relationships with those already on board?

August Media managing director Mark Lonergan says each one of its clients has been new to the customer publishing industry, including charity, property and education brands. “Any sector should recognise the unique power of the medium in developing an intimate and trusted relationship. We are now even working with a packaged goods brand to develop a product that will enable it to get closer to its customers,” he says.

“Marketers now know that magazines sit people down to have a deep, personal and long conversation with them,” adds Lonergan.

Equal partners
Andrew Hirsch, chief executive of John Brown Citrus Publishing, says: “There are times when a brand needs to shout at its customer – to be heard above the noise and to cut through the crash and hammer of the day. But, increasingly, that’s not how customers want to be talked to. It’s the relaxed conversation, the sort of conversation you have between partners, equal partners who share the same ideas and ideals. That’s the conversation a customer magazine has.”

Some experts say that all customer magazines are brand vehicles, but some more than others. Andrew Ingle, the editor of O2 magazine, explains: “Some put the product first and are driven by ROI. These magazines can show what they can do, thanks to the sales that they can help drive. Others put brand first and want to understand a customer and create a dialogue. These magazines want to give customers something in return for their loyalty and, in doing so, strengthen the relationship.” He compares the O2 magazine, which he says represents “openness and honesty which the brand stands for” and the Waitrose magazine, which is “much more about the product”. So when does a magazine become a brochure or a catalogue?

Lonergan warns that while a customer magazine can be a powerful marketing tool when used solely to push product, it could risk alienating the very customers with which it was seeking to build relationship “and have more in common with catalogues than magazines”. He cites the example of the Ikea magazine, published by August Media: “It has been very bold in that all the shoots in the magazine take place in real homes with furniture from any number of sources. Ikea understands that the competition is not a Homebase catalogue, it’s more like Ideal Home.”

Meanwhile, as the content of customer magazines becomes just as engaging as the newsstand titles, the medium is also no longer considered in a print-on-paper context, but as part of the branded content communication programme. “Customer magazines are increasingly becoming part of the advertiser’s wider CRM programme. For instance, Ikea does not only invest in a magazine, but also in store TV and in an online strategy to effectively communicate to its target market,” says Lonergan. August Media also produces the TV and online communications programme. The recent launch of a magazine for John Lewis’ direct services arm Greenbee is further proof of the perceived value of the magazine to the online business.

The fact that the medium can now measure its profitability as well is certainly proving to be a huge pull for the medium. The sector, says Simpson, is more than ever recognised as having a level of credibility unmatched by other forms of advertising or direct mail.

With a longer shelf-life than any other media, and the ability to create a long-term engagement with the consumer, the sector is undoubtedly set to burgeon further.

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