Marketing Technique: Customer Magazines - Future/Digitally challenged/Digital TV is just around the corner, and the Internet continues to expand. Aren’t magazines a tad old-fashioned as a way for manufacturers to relate to customers, asks Ken Goft

One lesson most companies have grasped in the past few difficult years has been the need to nurture customers; keep ’em and grow ’em has been the message.

One lesson most companies have grasped in the past few difficult

years has been the need to nurture customers; keep ’em and grow ’em has

been the message.



This has been a very helpful environment for the producers of customer

magazines. At the last count there were more than 250 of these titles,

including several boasting some of the biggest circulations in the

UK.



Customer titles provide a means of communicating complex arguments, of

cultivating warm feelings, of cross-selling other products and

services.



Their performance is very measurable, another must when so much emphasis

in marketing is put on evaluation.



Yet isn’t it likely that the digital revolution will at least slow this

boom? Home penetration of the Internet is growing, with Web sites able

to provide in-depth product information and the opportunity to buy

online. Coming next is digital TV, with all sorts of possibilities for

direct interaction between customers and firms.



Leading contract publishers see it differently. Several, including

Redwood and Premier Magazines, have electronic divisions. Redwood

chairman Mike Potter is convinced magazines will not be replaced because

they are the obvious way to communicate with customers. Digital TV will

be an interesting additional outlet, but not for five years.



TPD, specialising in IT customer titles, with a client list spanning

Apple, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft, is particularly close to the

issue. Its chief executive, Julian Treasure, says the firm has simply

repositioned itself as a ’customer communications agency’, in any

language and any medium. ’We don’t think of ourselves as just contract

publishers any more,’ he says.



Where many have talked about media fragmentation, Treasure points out

that this means content fragmentation too, on a massive scale. ’Within a

couple of years,’ he says, ’every TV set will arrive with a set-top box

built in, giving everyone easy access to these new media. Entry barriers

will be lowered, text, sound and visuals will be used both together and

separately, and the average ’what’s on’ guide will be the size of a

telephone book. It could be very frightening to the consumer.’



He believes a huge demand will develop for original and syndicated

material.



Information from trusted brands will be required, giving those brands an

opportunity to lever their reputations. Potentially, there is a big role

for magazine publishers because they bring interesting material together

from diverse sources.



TPD has already provided Internet content for BBC and Which Online

sites.



It employs 28 people on interactive media and is investing pounds 2.5m

in the sector this year.



Opportunity knocks



The idea that an opportunity is looming to provide editorial content for

the new media is well rooted. This is particularly true of material for

Internet sites.



Premier Magazines, for example, already produces the Rolls-Royce

magazine, Queste, and was the joint developer of its new Web site, at

www.Rolls-RoyceandBentley.co.uk.



’Companies like us need to have an electronic side because our editorial

skills and understanding of marketing objectives will be increasingly in

demand,’ says Premier’s managing director, Craig Waller. ’I am a fan of

the Internet, in so far as it offers a complementary way of

communicating. But it hasn’t got all of the answers and it won’t replace

existing media.’



Several members of the Association of Publishing Agents (APA) now

include their ability to handle Internet or CD-ROM tasks in pitching for

new business, says Kim Conchie, APA chairman and managing director of

Brass Tacks. ’We are the communications experts, and we are the people

who will be employing the technologists who have been running the

Internet so far.’