With brands using their own stories as a resource to communicate with consumers, the customer magazine industry is holding up well during the recession, according to the latest National Readership Survey (NRS) figures.
Slimming World, Xbox, Tesco and WeightWatchers magazines have all seen uplifts in readership between April 2010 and March 2011. Tesco magazine has an average readership of 6.6 million, which far outstrips What’s On TV the most-read consumer magazine which has 3.4 million readers.
NRS statistics also show that readers of own-brand titles are 17% more likely to be in the upper social grade AB.
Rather than being solely a branding vehicle, customer magazines also have a tactical purpose. In the May/June issue of Boots Health & Beauty there were eight offers and nine cut-out discount vouchers.
Andrew Hirsch, chief executive of John Brown, which publishes John Lewis Edition, says that products featured in magazines have a big impact on sales.
“If you go back five years, the question was what the magazines did for the brand,” he recalls. “Now it’s what does it do for sales? With a retailer such as John Lewis, if we feature a handbag in the magazine, then the sales of that product will shoot up 300% or 400%.”
Response rates are very important in this area. Sainsbury’s created its baby and toddler club Little Ones with publisher Seven. Rachel Leonard, direct marketing executive at Sainsbury’s, explains: “Little Ones members are very responsive and the success of the club is due to its integrated and targeted approach. We see significant responses when the website, magazines and emails work in tandem.”
Advertising revenue is also a significant measure of a customer magazine’s success. “I thought 2011 would be a difficult year for advertising but it hasn’t proved to be the case,” claims Hirsch.
Mark Jones, editorial director at Cedar, which produces Tesco magazine which is now expanding into China and its new offshoot Kids’ Book Club, agrees that things are looking rosy. “The recession is not affecting us. We had good growth last year and we are growing internationally so I don’t feel too bad about the recession any more.”
But elsewhere in the children’s market, customer publishers are less buoyant. Egmont publishes titles such as Dora the Explorer, Fireman Sam and Barbie on a licensed basis.
“I think we are right in the middle of the recession,” says customer publishing director Helen Stables. “Things are OK, not fantastic.” The books division is doing better, where Egmont produces titles to go with a particular promotion to act as a sales incentive, such as a deal between The Mirror newspaper and Mr Men books.
These days, rather than approaching a publisher and saying “we want to do a magazine”, many brands are saying they want to communicate better with customers and asking for the best way of doing so.
Keith Grainger, chief executive of Redwood which publishes magazines for La Redoute, Barclays and Land Rover, explains: “New clients are saying that they know their customers are online and mobile, and they need to provide a seamless experience. Those that create digital content as well as print are in a stronger place.”
The lines are blurring between advertising and bespoke content, Grainger claims: “Is an ad created as a viral branded content? Our editors are thinking about whether they should do a video or another type of communication, how we measure it and what is best for the brand.”
Jayne Caple, managing director of FuturePlus, which publishes BT Vision, O2 Blue and PC World magazines among others, says that brands need to be braver with their customer publishing content. They should not be afraid to produce content that doesn’t appear to be branded, even at the risk of customers going elsewhere to buy products not available from that company.
Such an approach is being taken by online fashion brand Asos, which often features products not sold on its website in the brand’s print magazine, in order to contribute to its independent high-fashion brand positioning.
Caple says: “Sometimes you might be looking at customer communications without knowing that you are actually doing so. The pinnacle of customer magazines is to get to a place where you don’t know you are being sold to. With the way that communications are shifting, that is exactly where we are going but it is a very subtle line.”
Other customer titles are more overt about the brand’s role. Grainger at Redwood says that its website for Boots not only sells products but also provides users with health and beauty information, giving the brand a role as an adviser or expert.
“For example, part of the website is about sun preparations. It allows people to put in their skin type and where they are going and the site will recommend products. The company does want you to see a product and that is part of the deal, but that is not a problem as long as you have provided something useful and relevant.”
Boots director of loyalty Ruth Spencer explains that the company often reviews how it delivers branded content. “Consumers’ consumption is evolving, so we continually review the way we deliver rich content. For example, we developed BootsWebMD.com in 2009 to provide health information to customers and the site now has more than 1.5 million visitors a month.”
Grainger also points to Procter & Gamble’s new ezine Beauty Recommended, which features make-up and beauty looks using P&G’s brands such as Olay, Max Factor and Wella. Users can flick the pages online and read it in a similar way to a printed product. Crucially, customers can click to buy from a partner retailer, which is as close as P&G gets to direct selling.
However, the website is “brought to you by supersavvyme”, a broader unbranded vehicle from P&G which features articles on planning school fetes, gardening and picnics. The latter is particularly interesting given that P&G recently sold its last food brand Pringles to Diamond Foods, owner of Kettle Chips, so in theory has no commercial interest in producing a website about food.
Grainger comments that brands producing content that might be useful for consumers and then advertising their own products against this is where the industry might see more growth.
“FMCG brands, including P&G and Unilever, are starting to talk about the growing importance of content. I think these companies will see that customer publishers can help provide online content to build their brands,” he adds.
For Financial Management, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), the audience it talks to is also broader than those which interact directly with its brand. “The magazine is really of interest to most senior people in business,” says head of communications Victor Smart.
Publisher Seven has helped the magazine become more edgy and develop a bigger personality, claims Smart, who adds that this strategy has included recruiting FT journalist Gillian Tett as a columnist.
Caple at FuturePlus says that growth for customer publishing will soon come in the retail sector and technology arena. “It’s about localised content where someone might be able to go into a store and get an offer on their mobile phone. Customers now expect a seamless transfer from one channel into a local area to provide something that is branded and engaging.”
£900m… Value of the customer publishing market
51%…of iPad owners use the tablet to view magazine content
7/10…of the most widely read magazines in Great Britain are customer magazines
33.6m… Total readership of customer magazines
Customer magazines cover a wide range of sectors; some of the most popular being retail, automotive, financial and leisure. But other sectors are getting involved too. In April, Procter & Gamble launched digital magazine Beauty Recommended, which goes out to the 1 million people who registered on a microsite.
Membership magazines also fall under customer publishing. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, for example, sends its Financial Management title out to 183,000 members.
There are too many people dismissing print as if it is going to become obsolete, but that is just muddle-headed media thinking. Media don’t die, they just learn to co-exist.
We produce as much online magazine content as we do in print, such as Tesco’s Real Food title that has developed from having a small upmarket circulation to something that is much broader and would appear much more relevant to cooks. It has become what Tesco calls a “pillar brand” and it has been supporting it with a lot of above-the-line activity.
Tesco knows what its readers’ concerns are and from the word go we have been obsessed with relevance to readers. There is a lot of science that goes into it – segmentation and planning to make sure that the trade plan [in store] and the customer plan are integrated, but that is not
all. The big question is: is this relevant to the readers?
Customer publishers can get into the trap of producing something that looks like a newsstand magazine without thinking whether it is what the readers want.
I hate ’me-too’ customer magazines – there are too many. It is important to produce something of quality, but the point about customer publishing is that you don’t need to fight for attention in the same way as newsstand titles do.
Tesco was the first women’s magazine to put real people on the cover and that was followed by other titles. We innovated and then the newsstand followed, which happens more and more these days.
I recently heard a senior manager of a big hotel company saying that if a brand isn’t in publishing or seeing itself as a publisher, then it has lost it. Brands are increasingly seeing themselves as publishers with a whole inventory of owned media. But the question for brands is how they best use that.
top trends 2011 predictions
Internal magazines have become a bigger part of what we do, along with social and new media. We never used to get asked to pitch for
them and never wanted to because they were such rubbish – now they are not. Companies now are merging external and internal communications. For example, BA’s monthly magazine Up To Speed is like in-flight magazine Business Life, but for its employees.
Marketing is increasingly about experiences and getting people to give their time to something because they want to get value out of it. Like TV viewing and internet use, readership of customer magazines has gone up over the last five years. The reason for this is that people simply have an appetite for more stuff.
Head of corporate communications
Chartered Institute of Management
Whether magazines will go [entirely] digital is the next question for everybody. But I think the “thud” factor of a printed magazine is still
all-important. Our magazine Financial Management is the mainstay of all our communications.
The flurry of activity around developing apps might be less of a priority in future. I think the activity will shift to create [magazine and other] websites that are properly optimised for mobile. Apps are only as good as whatever a brand has to back them up and it is frustrating if you can’t look at a website because a company hasn’t got it to a place where the user can view it on a mobile.
Integrated content strategies is the big thing in customer publishing right now. So, for example, we created a magazine, website, targeted booklets, emails and social media for Sainsbury’s Little Ones sub-brand. Companies should have a single view of content and make sure they distribute it across as many platforms as possible.
Board account director
We publish Boots Health & Beauty magazine and the future for it is multichannel. There is an expectation from consumers that brands will provide content in all channels, as people are getting information from an increasingly wide array of sources.
- Invest in quality editorial content because nobody will read poor material.
- Have clear-cut brand objectives as with any other marketing channel.
- Don’t be afraid to feature products that your brand does not produce. This will appeal to a wider target audience.
- View customer publishing as a multichannel device, including print, digital, social and email and make sure the experience of these is seamless.