In the environment I have been working in for the past 13 years, we believe the next step up from consumer magazines is customer magazines. This might baffle the hardcore purists, but was recently once again supported by the move of Esquire’s UK editor, Jeremy Langmead, joining Mr Porter, the male version of online luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter.com, as editor-in-chief.
What’s even more interesting is that his move followed swiftly on a long line of similar moves – including that of Elle’s UK online editor, Melissa Dick, to Asos magazine and website last year.
In South Africa it is not dissimilar, with today’s well-known names like as Sumien Brink, Joan Kruger and Les Aupais all moving across a couple of years ago and finding the customer environment more stimulating and interesting than the successful consumer magazines they left behind.
In thinking about the lure of customer magazines, I have found 10 good reasons why this fast-growing medium is doing so well in unstable economic times, when compared to its sister, the consumer magazine.
- You could say the risk is lower. Obviously, any recession would put pressure on margins and performance, but for customer magazines it’s mostly linked to the marketing budget of the client and proving the effectiveness of the publication. Add that to a real need of clients to engage meaningfully with their customers – especially in hard times – and you start to understand why the customer magazine environment can be described as more stable than the consumer environment in difficult times. When customer magazines can help to show a higher return on investment (ROI), it’s bingo time.
- Talking about proof, simply put: customer magazines work. Compare the following statistics: 48% of customers go in-store after having read the Edgars Club magazine. A Mitsubishi Motors dealer in Umhlanga, KZN sold 10 Pajero Exceed vehicles as a result of its clients receiving and reading Mitsubishi’s Xplore ‘rich’ digital magazine. Woolworths World customers responded three times more favourably when receiving segmented products than from other direct marketing campaigns. This led to a ROI in 2009 of 300%. Can consumer magazines deliver these types of statistics?
- Customer magazines are also all about a focused message, which is appreciated by readers and third party advertisers. Their audience expects this type of message and looks out for it. Readers of Woolworths Taste, for instance, are asking for more information on new Woolworths products and are upset if they can’t find an ingredient at Woolworths that they see in the magazine.
- Magazines as such are a form of media that engages more than most in an age where ‘disruption’ for marketing messages (such as TV ads) is becoming increasingly unpopular. Readers invite the content of a magazine into their lives by buying it or picking it up. In this environment, it is interesting to note that customer magazines are the fastest-growing media after the Internet, according to the Association of Publishing Agencies in the UK.
- This one might come as a surprise: customer magazines can often be more creative than consumer magazines. There’s more freedom to experiment and be playful in a marketing environment than in the newsstand environment. For instance, covers with no cover lines or only one cover line, square or other interesting formats that would not work with the restrictions of the newsstand or six different covers for the same issue (as we did last year with an issue of Hip2B2) can be used. We have also used a format that resembled an amplified cigarette box for a Dunhill magazine. Can you do that on the newsstand? Not easily.
- Customer magazines often deliver bigger audiences. According to ABC Q2 2010, only two of the top 20 circulating magazines in the country (Huisgenoot and YOU) are not customer magazines. The larger circulation, together with a focused target market, is obviously very attractive for certain advertisers.
- Journalism and marketing converge in customer magazines without credibility issues. Readers of customer magazines know they are being ‘sold’ to in these magazines, and often read the magazine to get more product information or for explanations of difficult concepts related to products. At the same time, devices that are used in consumer magazines – i.e. infographics, interesting headlines and captions, engaging writing styles, to name a few – can be used to make the customer magazine more dynamic.
- When taking a look at the challenges of the future, digital opens a whole new world for magazines in general. The custom magazine editor, more than any other, understands how to market content across multiple platforms, which puts customer publishers in an enviable position.
- Customer brands can experiment with channels more easily and save on print costs. Mercedes-Benz, for instance, is now communicating more regularly with its customers by printing one less issue of the magazine per year, having replaced it with four ‘rich’ digital magazines, resulting in increased engagement and lower cost.
- Customer publishers often know more about the habits and behaviour of their readers than consumer magazine publishers, because of the wealth of customer information and trends that marketing departments of clients are mining and collecting.
The latest PriceWaterhouseCoopers South African Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2010-2014 claims that “consumer magazines are often luxuries that thrive when the economy is growing but suffer when economic conditions are difficult”. That might be true to a certain extent, although certainly not for the strong consumer brands that held their circulation at the beginning of 2010. There was only a drop of 2.7% reported. But what might be true of customer magazines, on the other hand, is that they certainly are thriving in bad economic times because of the specific targeted marketing message they carry.
Note: ABC report Q1 2010 by Charles Beiles (ABC’s GM) in May 2010
- Whilst consumer magazines have dropped by 2.7% compared to Q1 2009, the figures are still up on Q1 2007 and Q1 2008. The total number of titles increased from 186 to 193.
- Custom magazines’ overall circulation declined 6.1%, mainly as the result of one title splitting into three separate titles and only reporting one. This situation will be corrected in Q2 2010. However, circulation is performing well against 2008 levels.
This story first appeared in The Media magazine.