Customer magazines can deliver a direct message

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The latest avalanche of ABC stats documenting the relatively robust health of the UK’s magazine industry arrived last week but there is a deeper truth within the data that pays tribute to magazines as a direct marketing channel.

With notable exceptions, the circulation of paid-for titles is in decline, as is the actual number of paid-for titles. So how is the magazine market being shored up? By customer magazines, of course.

In another example of the “printed matter is not dead” battle cry that the DM industry knows so well, customer magazines are thriving. ABC data shows that there are 23 customer magazines in the Top 100 by circulation and distribution and 65% of those saw growth.

The power of customer magazines has again just been underlined, this time in the cosmetics and pharma sector. Superdrug is giving its magazine, Dare, a redesign and adding a choice new feature (see further down) and Lloydspharmacy is launching a quarterly in-store magazine next month with a 500,000 print run.

Customer magazines bring together two strong levers of engagement and connection – branded content and direct marketing.

It’s not enough just to be a ’free’ publication, the magazine has to be valued enough by the customer to be picked up and so needs strong editorial content that can compete for attention with consumer magazines. This can be achieved as the high profile supermarket titles have demonstrated- we’ve all heard people talk about great recipes they’ve found in an Asda/Morrisons/Tesco magazine.

As a piece of direct marketing customer magazines can prove invaluable. They can have a high retention rate and don’t necessarily head straight for the bin, while clients can use them in a variety of ways for different messages.

Magazines can include straightforward promotions, offers, discount coupons or more sophisticated “how to” features, from recipes to ’get-the-look’ articles, with the necessary goods or services for the final result being supplied by the client. They can also offer a good communication platform for brand ambassadors, for example health specialists, to help deliver messages via advice columns.

Products and services are presented in an attractive magazine setting but one where the brand owner has the ultimate sign off. Distribution can be highly targeted, especially by retailer brands using their store networks but also by brands working with retail partners or via media owners alongside their magazines. Or more traditionally through the letter-box.

There are those who take the long view that the printed magazine will eventually disappear and are putting their eggs in the digital basket. The Co-op axed its bi-annual customer magazine last year and turned to digital communication channels. This saves on print and distribution costs but Deloitte research out this week found that over half of the consumers surveyed (53%) found any type of internet ad to be more intrusive than ads in magazines or newspapers while email may deliver low open rates and can be easier to ignore.

As ever, using a mixture of channels is likely to give the best result and digital has its part to play alongside print as a DM channel. As mentioned earlier, Superdrug is boxing clever with Dare. Apparently it will be the UK’s first customer magazine to use digital watermarking technology ,which allows customers to scan images on smartphones that links them directly to the retailer’s e-commerce site where they can buy products. Sounds nifty and very direct.

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