Publishers roll out the red carpet for customer magazines

Customer
publishing was once perceived as the poor relation of the publishing
industry – however this is no longer the case. Customer publishers now
produce innovative flagship titles that challenge consumer magazines
for reputation, with high-quality titles such as Waitrose Food
Illustrated providing serious competition to many glossy, newsstand
lifestyle titles.

Further testament to this is the influx of
consumer editors moving to customer publishing, for example, Scott
Manson former Loaded editor joining High Life and former Men’s Health
editor Simon Geller moving to Sky .

The idea that customer
magazines are less creative, lower-quality versions of their consumer
counterparts is simply not true, as reflected by the staggering growth
rate experienced by the industry over the past 10 years.

New
Mintel research, commissioned by the Association of Publishing
Agencies, investigating the customer publishing industry revealed that
despite a slowdown in the majority of media sectors, the customer
publishing industry is going from strength to strength, with turnover
now topping £385m.

This is an increase of more than 10 per cent
on the figures published by the last Mintel report in 2003 and a
massive 244 per cent increase over the past decade. Furthermore, the
report indicates that customer magazines are set to become even more
integrated into the marketing mix, with industry turnover expected to
exceed £531m by 2009.

The 10 per cent growth rate has been
attributed to a combination of two factors – increased spending by
companies already utilising customer publishing, and an influx of new
businesses trying it out for the first time. This is reinforced by the
substantial increase in the number of new business pitches over the
past two years.

So why, when many other marketing media are
experiencing downturn, are customer magazines thriving? Simply, because
they deliver a wide range of objectives, which is what makes the medium
so flexible for marketers.

In an increasingly fragmented market,
customer magazines have been proven to encourage loyalty, sell more to
existing customers, drive retention, communicate brand positioning,
enhance brand awareness and entertain the reader – which few other
marketing mediums can claim to do so comprehensibly or cost-effectively.

Existing
customers were found to be the most important audience, highlighting
the key role that customer magazines play in retaining, informing and
increasing existing customers’spend.

Nearly half of customer
magazines were also found to target prospective customers – which is
the main growth area since the last Mintel report, reinforcing and
guarding the future value of customer magazines as an acquisition tool.

More
than two-thirds of all customer titles currently target consumers,
while a fifth are aimed at a business audience highlighting that the
term “customer”means different things to different organisations.

The
research found the retail sector to be the most prolific customer
publishing sector, accounting for more than a fifth of the market at 56
titles. The sector has maintained growth since the last survey,
increasing by 2 per cent over the past two years.

The financial
services sector also remains an advocate of customer publishing, being
the second heaviest investor in customer magazines. The travel,
utilities, charity and automotive industries have also embraced
customer magazines as a CRM tool.

The majority of customer
magazines were found to be mailed through the post. Royal Mail can
deliver to 99.9 per cent of the population, guaranteeing to brands that
they can reach their customers, unlike in-store distribution which
relies on consumer pick-up.

Nearly three-quarters (78 per cent)
of customer titles which are mailed are personalised, 6 per cent higher
than in 2003, reflecting the current trend for more targeted,
one-to-one marketing.

The research revealed store-based
distribution to be the second most popular method of distribution,
accounting for a quarter of titles. Interestingly, however, in-store
customer collection at 14 per cent is only 3 per cent more popular with
consumers than purchasing in-store (11 per cent), shattering the myth
that consumers are not prepared to pay for customer titles.

In
fact, 20 per cent of customer magazines now have a cover price and this
trend is expected to grow as customer magazines increasingly encroach
on newsstand titles.

Despite all the positive figures revealed by
the research, there is still some cynicism regarding the effectiveness
of customer magazines from clients, media strategists and buyers alike.
However, the APA is confident that its forthcoming Effectiveness
Measurement Programme (EMP), due to launch in March, will address these
concerns.

It is undeniable that customer publishing has come of
age. The fact that eight of the top 10 magazines by circulation are
customer titles and that more than 500 UK companies, including many of
the top 250 brands, now produce such magazines, is testament to this.
Furthermore, the continuing growth trend means customer titles will
continue to be a fundamental part of the marketing mix for businesses.

Julia Hutchison is the director of the APA

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