Case Study: The rise of customer magazines

In the last 10 years the value of the customer publishing market has almost quadrupled. It is no coincidence that this growth followed the launch of the customer magazine group Associated Publishing Agencies, writes its director Hilary Weaver.

According to Mintel figures, the industry has grown in value from £80m in 1993 to £313m in 2002. The APA has been cited as a major catalyst behind this growth.

In 1993, as the first organisation of its kind, APA was launched to promote the effectiveness of the customer magazine as a marketing medium, maintain a high standard of work and business practice, and to act as a central source of information. APA today has 29 UK members (covering more than two-thirds of customer magazines published in the UK), five overseas and 14 affiliate members.

APA met its aims with a number of innovative initiatives dedicated to delivering communications solutions that meet the changing needs of the marketing community.

Research projects, an award scheme, a library of case studies, an online customer publications database and a wealth of resource guides have helped marketers slot the customer magazine effectively into their marketing mix and have helped develop the medium to where it is today.

Over the entire 10 years that APA has been representing the medium, customer magazines have experienced a 324% increase in growth.

Between 1997 and 2001 it almost doubled in size when revenue rose by 88%. Mintel predicts further growth for the sector with an 8% year on year increase year on year since 2002, and be valued at £461m by 2007.

Customer magazines have developed to reflect the changing objectives of the marketing community. Marketing strategies have been through a significant life-cycle as marketers strive to connect more deeply and build long-term effective relationships with their customers.

As such we have seen a change from loyalty marketing through to CRM and finally to where we are today: data driven customer management. This has all been aided by the advancement in CRM technologies and the sophistication in segmentation and analysis techniques.

In the early 1990s, customer magazines had 'soft' objectives -- driving awareness and generating emotional loyalty. Driving product usage or cross-selling were low priorities.

By 1998 objectives became 'harder' with the ultimate aim to stimulate purchase, but other objectives such as building loyalty, entertaining, informing and building the company's brand image remained unchanged.

Initially magazines were targeted almost exclusively at existing or new customers but by 1995 a growing number were aimed at prospects.

By 2003 customer magazines began to be used heavily in the acquisition of new customers, something that is now regarded as a key strength.

Over the past 10 years consumers have become more demanding in the way they are communicated with and sold to. One-to-one marketing is higher on the agenda and consumers will no longer respond to communication that is irrelevant or uninteresting.

The customer magazine medium has flourished because it can communicate with the consumer in a way that pleases them.

The customer magazine is a regular, targeted communication that engages the recipient's attention, builds an emotional relationship with the brand and ultimately elicits a response. It is also accountable.

It is crucial to find out whether the magazine is being read (therefore correctly targeted and engaging attention), whether it impacts on the customer's attitude to the brand (building an emotional relationship) and whether it impacts on customer behavior (eliciting a response).

The medium's ability to justify expenditure has underpinned the growth of the market.

Further proof of the success of the medium lies in its growth in terms of volumes of each magazine and the number of magazines being produced, in the numerous case studies that demonstrate real return on investment and in the medium's reach. Royal Mail volume figures show that year on year, the contract publishing medium has grown by 15%.

Back in 1973 the advent of High Life from British Airways virtually created the contract publishing sector. By 1995, 24 of the top 50 brands by advertising spend (as reported by Campaign) had customer magazines.

The UK market now has 853 titles, 570 of which are published by the APA's 29 UK members.

With regard to reach, 79% of the population is reported to have seen a customer publication at some time, nine out of the top 10 ABC audited magazines are customer titles and NRS figures show that five out of the 10 most widely read magazines in the UK are customer titles.

The wealth of evidence available on customer magazines points to a bright future for the medium. Let's just hope the next 10 years are as fantastic as the last!

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