Customer titles extend reach

Research reveals customer publishing in its traditional print format remains a key driver of sales for online and in-store shopping, despite the growth of retail websites. Camille Alarcon reports

MeadowhallThe vast array of customer publications in the market is proof of just how effective they can be as a tool to drive customer loyalty. But the growth of online leaves a question mark hanging over the future of customer publishing in its traditional print format. Whether it is online catalogues or ezines, the world of publishing is changing and brands are being forced to change with them.

Fadi Shuman, co-founder of digital advertising agency Pod1, says the impact of new portable electronic books suggests a bright future for ezines and other emedia. “Right now, print is essential. Going forward, our bet is on electronic publishing.”Fadi%20Shuman

Another channel

But for Ian Jackson, head of digital at Howse Jackson Marketing, online will never replace the printed form. “People will always want to curl up on a sofa and idly turn the pages of their favourite magazine while sipping coffee. That won’t change. For customer magazines, online is simply another channel that gives more choice for the readership.”

Marks & Spencer is one company that has demonstrated beyond doubt the longevity of a successful customer magazine. It launched Your M&S in 1987 and claims to be the first retail customer magazine on the market (see case study).

Jackson points out that today, the web is expanding the printed edition’s overseas distribution. This means costs can be cut by 90% because overseas postage is eliminated. He says that this can increase and widen a customer magazine’s readership internationally.

Many in the industry agree that with any communication, brands need to strike a balance between online and offline content based on its appropriateness. Sam Jordan, Baber Smith managing director, which publishes customer titles for The Trafford Centre and Meadowhall, warns that simply switching all activity to ezines can create confused messages or alienate sections of a brand’s customer base.

“Instead there should be a seamless link between the online and offline outlets with content that engages the customer intuitively with each media.”

Jordan adds that in the current market where budgets are tight, a relatively expensive and time consuming project like a customer magazine is easy prey to cost cutting. But what it is actually witnessing is clients looking to invest even more “in both creation and generating reach as magazines are seen as such a valuable tool in retaining customers”.

The issue of the appropriateness of ezines is also highly dependent on the brand’s target market.

Web designers

Chris Mailliard, editorial director of publishing at tmw – the publishing arm of Tullo Marshall Warren – says in many cases offline is still the best or only way to get to your consumers. “If they’re 23-year-old web designers, why do a print mag? But your granny is unlikely to love an ezine. The levels of engagement are also different for both. A magazine is more absorbing and does a better job of immersing the reader, an ezine more instant and customisable,” he says.

The growth of online also raises another issue for marketers – what to do with their catalogues. With pulp prices reportedly increasing by 24% since 2006 and starch increasing by 40% in the past 12 months, the cost implications mean stores ranging from Dorothy Perkins to Harrods are putting their catalogues online.

Market analyst Plimsoll estimates that one in four UK mail order companies are now operating at a loss. And with catalogue industry pretax margins of just 2%, online catalogues can make a serious difference to the bottom line.

US retailer Bloomingdales has already announced that it sees no future in postal mail-order and is doing away with postal catalogues next year.

Nick%20GrayBut Nick Gray, managing director of integrated agency Live & Breathe, which works for retail clients including Peacocks, Sainsbury’s and WH Smith, says printed catalogues have a physical convenience to them that an online version simply does not have.

Hard copy

“Asking consumers to log on to a website can be a big ask and can be a hassle, whereas presenting them with a catalogue in store or in the post is much more immediate. As well as asking less of them, the hard copy can also represent a sensory, enjoyable experience.”

Gray adds that once the consumer is in store they have taken the first step to making a purchase and the trusted old catalogue becomes a sales conversion tool. He adds: “The role of the online catalogue is very relevant as a research tool and driving footfall in store.”

New research from Royal Mail reveals that 54% of all adults use printed catalogues, either for buying directly or helping them with online or in-store purchases.

And for the 16- to 34-year-old age group this figure is even greater at 62%. The study also revealed that the 37% of shoppers who consulted a catalogue before making purchases online in the past year spent 13% more than those who did not. Online shoppers spent £1,502 on average but the figure rose to £1,694 for those who used catalogues first.

Val Walker, head of multichannel retail at Royal Mail, says: “Almost two-thirds of adults are now shopping from home. The biggest growth in home shopping has been witnessed online, but it is interesting to see just how popular catalogues remain, especially among younger, tech savvy consumers.

Evolving role

“The evolving role of the catalogue as a sales driver for online and in-store shopping is stronger than ever with many consumers holding on to copies of catalogues for up to four months.”

When working out just how marketers can make the most of online catalogues Mailliard says simplicity is vital. “Don’t make them into half-mag half-catalogue. Magalogue? Horrid word, horrid product,” he says.

Ian Sewell, commercial director at Redwood, which publishes customer titles for Marks & Spencer and Virgin Media, says with online catalogues the foundation for success lies in “routes to purchase”.

He says content and web architecture needs to focus on making it easy for customers to select and buy. Within this structure, adding elements that enhance the experience and inspiration of shopping will help increase sales.

“ is an example of an online direct catalogue with elements that enhance the experience with videos and fashion tips,” Sewell says.

Jackson adds as a company it would not necessarily advise clients to replace their existing printed publication with a digital version. But he sees digital as a way of reducing the numbers of copies that need to be printed and posted; as well as offering customers with more choice by sitting the online version alongside the printed one.

But Shuman warns: “Don’t think of digital magazines as online catalogues. Instead, integrate them into your website for a single, seamless user journey.”

Whichever side of the fence you sit, the reliance on digital is only set to proliferate further. And while the printed magazine may continue to exist for a long time to come, increasing trials of portable electronic books is ensuring that the publishing game will continue to get even more interesting.†

Best practice for ezines and online customer magazines†

When it comes to putting customer magazines online, it is not just a case of making an offline magazine available online, but instead is all about providing quality content that is tailored specifically for the web. Online and offline magazines should be used to supplement each other, with online versions reserved for short snappy articles and offline used for longer articles.

When it comes to online content, it is crucial that brands:

  • Use clear and simple language†
  • Limit each paragraph to one idea†
  • Front-load content†
  • Use descriptive sub-headings†
  • Put important words in bold
  • Use descriptive link text†
  • Use lists
  • Align text to the left

However, before looking at content, brands must carry out dedicated user research to ensure they know the requirements of their users before they even begin. Knowing these requirements is key to adding value for your users. It is perfectly acceptable for brands to attempt to cross-sell products online but a hard sell approach is unlikely to work. Content and sales need to be segmented and magazine editors must maintain editorial control, working closely with marketing to ensure the right products are promoted.

When it comes to use of ads on ezines, you will not endear yourself to your users by simply plastering anything and everything across the page. Instead, you must make sure the ads are related to the content being viewed and not intrusive.

The bottom line is that when it comes to online magazines, usability is key and to offer the best user experience possible, brands must focus on user research, content and taking the right approach when it comes to selling and advertising.

Trent Moss, director of Webcredible†

How to grow from local to global

In today’s online, connected world, customer experience is king. Publishing the right message, to the right person, in the right language, at the right time has never been more important. With the internet, major competitors are only one click away. During the Beijing Olympics, there were many examples of “Chinglish” – incidences where the poor localisation or translation processes had resulted in the publishing of humorous mistakes. But marketers need to think about the effect these mistakes would have on their messaging and brand value, should similar mistakes be published on a regional website or in local sales and marketing literature.

Speed to market for information is key to driving global market share. Being the first to offer a new product or service can be instrumental in gaining first-mover advantage when entering new emerging markets. But getting quality, localised content delivered on time can be complex, time-consuming and expensive. Leading global brands are increasingly turning to technology to help automate many of the manual, labour intensive processes associated with taking the marketing message global. Global Information Management systems typically increase the consistency and quality of localised product information, while reducing the time, effort and cost. Motorola is just one of the latest companies to team up with SDL to ensure high quality content for local markets. Motorola’s Global Interactive Marketing Group required a means by which it could disseminate new marketing collateral across its regional websites, and be assured of the highest quality localised content. SDL is enabling Motorola to make cost-savings by re-using content and reducing the time taken to get new marketing initiatives out to its customers.

Paul Hampton, product marketing director at translation specialists SDL.

SDL Case study: Marks & Spencer

Your M&S magazine launched in 1987 and was the first retail customer magazine on the market – leading the way for most of the major retailers that now have their own publications. With a current print-run of 1 million, this year Your M&S magazine increased its frequency from quarterly to bi-monthly.

The main sections reflect the staples of any women’s glossy title – fashion, beauty, food and home – but feature products only available at M&S. It showcases what’s new in store and gives fashion and style advice for every age, body and budget.

Each issue also contains recipes, while industry experts such as Delia Smith and Oz Clarke play an increasing role in the magazine, recommending their favourite M&S products. It also engages customers with key M&S innovations and the stories behind them, such as Look Behind the Label, Plan A and the provenance and quality of its products.

Your M&S is the widest-read women’s lifestyle magazine in the UK, with a readership of 4.45 million, according to NRS. In the past year alone, the readership has increased by 10%, which is equivalent to 400,000 more people reading the magazine. It also attracts 2.36 million ABC1 women each issue – more than any other UK magazine.

“Your M&S aims to engage the customer, present the best M&S products, drive readers into the store to shop, and give inspiration and advice behind M&S products and services,” says Julia Haynes, publications manager at M&S. A company survey carried out by Researchcraft in 2007 found that 57% of readers – nearly 2.53 million – visited an M&S store as a result of reading the magazine. It also found that 30% of readers had bought a product featured in its magazine.


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