CUSTOMER MAGAZINES: Grabbing headlines - Asda has chosen to target customers by relaunching its magazine. Emily Booth looks at its distinctive approach to building loyalty

While most supermarkets slug it out in the loyalty card stakes, Asda has been busy carving a more distinct loyalty path. As all its main rivals are busy developing complex database loyalty-card programmes, the Leeds-based chain has opted to put its eggs in the customer magazine basket.

While most supermarkets slug it out in the loyalty card stakes,

Asda has been busy carving a more distinct loyalty path. As all its main

rivals are busy developing complex database loyalty-card programmes, the

Leeds-based chain has opted to put its eggs in the customer magazine

basket.



Relaunched in June, with a circulation increased from 1.2 million to

four million and a reported budget of pounds 7m, Asda was determined to

prove it was taking its customer magazine very seriously indeed. And

this is in a climate that has seen Heinz dramatically ditch its At Home

magazines.



Premier Magazines now produces Asda’s title after it won the business

from River Publishing. It is available in-store to one million readers

and door-dropped in targeted postal sectors to the remaining three

million.



The plan is for ten issues a year.



’The magazine is fun, bold and bright,’ says Liz Balding, Asda

Magazine’s editor. ’We are trying to convey the range, quality and value

of Asda products.’ The new-look magazine is crammed with product

showcases, sports advice, recipe pages, competitions, vouchers, letters,

plus the successful George clothing range, wrapped up in a jazzy monthly

theme.



Which is all very nice, but why the relaunch? Competition for customers

in the supermarket war zone is tough, and one of the magazine’s primary

aims is to attract secondary and non-shoppers where there is a choice

between Asda and a competing store. There was a recognition that the

magazine had to work harder and drive sales more effectively. Creating a

dialogue with customers is seen as crucial. ’The magazine is a key

marketing vehicle for us; it’s an invaluable opportunity to communicate

directly with customers,’ says an Asda spokesman.



The magazine requires a sizeable investment; Premier has even opened an

office in Leeds to produce it. So how has Asda justified the magazine

expansion and how does it know this is the right move? For a start,

door-dropping is nothing new to Asda. It has targeted catchment-area

customers for years with a four-page flyer. Then there are the usual

ongoing quantitative tracking studies for product sales and coupon

redemption plus two qualitative focus groups per issue.



’Asda has a very robust measurement programme,’ says Craig Waller,

managing director of Premier Magazines. But the line between editorial

and advertisement will have to be carefully considered. ’We will be

talking to readers to make sure we don’t overstep the line between

informative, entertaining copy and a blurred sales message.’



However, Asda’s decision to door-drop the magazine to households in

store catchment areas is significant. Since the magazine is not being

sent to named individuals, data capture of individual customers cannot

occur.



Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, building a database is not part of the

magazine’s remit. ’We understand market share by postcode. We cover the

mass market, but not on a micro basis,’ says Andy Bond, director of

marketing communications at Asda.



Compared with its competitors - Tesco has its points-based Clubcard;

Sainsbury’s its Reward Card; Safeway its ABC card scheme; and Somerfield

(Asda’s direct competitor) is part of the Premier Points programme -

Asda has a broad marketing mix and a distinct attitude to customer

loyalty.



’The most important loyalty mechanism we have is a till receipt, not a

piece of plastic, nor even a magazine,’ says its spokesperson.



Instead, the magazine - and Asda’s other marketing strategies - works

alongside the price premise to help engender loyalty. Asda has a loyalty

card system operating in 19 of its 219 stores, but says it has no plans

to roll it out further. The chain is at pains to stress its magazine

expansion is unconnected to its loyalty card venture. ’This is not a

trade-off, it is part of a marketing mix. This is a different mechanism

- a showcase for Asda,’ says Bond. Other loyalty mechanisms include

in-store Catalina coupons, which tailor promotions to individual

customers.



Nevertheless, extending the circulation of a free, stand-alone customer

magazine to the extent Asda has done is an unprecedented move.

Sainsbury’s has had success with its magazine, but it has a cover price

of pounds 1. Tesco’s Clubcard publications, sent out with statements,

support its loyalty card.



Is Asda engaged in a leap of faith?



’A retailer has scope to use a customer magazine sensibly,’ says Jon

Ingall, director of new agency Archibald Ingall Stretton. ’You’ve got

thousands of products to talk about and new things happening

in-store.



But how much of it will customers read? Do customers want it? It seems a

broad way of trying to reach a market.’