AGENDA: Can Jigsaw hold together? - The decision by FMCG giants to produce joint customer titles may seem overdue but, asks Laura Mazur, is it simply diluting brand strengths in a crowded market?

The news that three of the most famous consumer goods companies in the world have banded together to produce customer magazines looks at first glance like smart marketing.

The news that three of the most famous consumer goods companies in

the world have banded together to produce customer magazines looks at

first glance like smart marketing.



Strengthening loyalty to your brand by building up a close, personal

relationship with individuals - not easy when your customer base is in

the millions - is not just technologically possible but what

sophisticated consumers expect.



The three, Unilever, Kimberly-Clark and Cadbury Schweppes, have formed a

consortium called Jigsaw to reach over the heads of retailers by

experimenting with three glossy publications.



While they have different titles and designs, the magazines, which are

going to three million UK homes, have identical content about brands,

recipes, beauty tips, as well as ads from other firms.



Smart? Maybe not. For companies that have led the world with real

innovations, this smacks too much of ’me-too’ marketing.



Look at the numbers. By the end of 1997, it is estimated that there were

over 180 customer magazines in the UK, going to almost 65 million

people.



Few business sectors don’t offer them.



The list includes companies in finance, entertainment, IT/telecoms,

leisure, luxury goods, cars, medicine, photography, property, retail,

travel and utilities - not to mention business-to-business.



Identikit magazines



Almost without exception these titles are glossy and have tips,

lifestyle articles, celebrity interviews and holiday information.



If there is such an avalanche of these magazines, how can they establish

points of brand difference?



Take loyalty cards. With 40 million or so in existence, and another 15

million if you add Shell Smart and Argos Premier Points, it is hardly

surprising that the market is simply overcrowded.



A report by Mintel suggests, in fact, that the biggest short-term driver

for introducing a loyalty card scheme seems to be because the

competition has one.



Yet again, too many companies seem to confuse copying what they perceive

to be the latest marketing tool with real originality. And it shows.



The Illustrated News Group, itself involved in customer magazines,

pointed out in a recent survey that 40% of contract titles launched in

the past three years no longer exist. Its interpretation? That there had

been a client stampede into identikit magazines.



Part of the problem is risk-aversion. Big, often bureaucratic, companies

do not always encourage the sort of risk that produces real marketing

innovation.



It is understandable if harassed marketing managers offer their

overlords something which they can argue is a proven and pretty way for

reaching out to individual customers.



But how many interviews with Angus Deayton on his favourite

meal/holiday/car does anyone want to read?



What is needed is some originality - and the investment to back it. It

could be argued that the new Goldfish guides do just that. Yes, they are

customer publications - but with an original twist.



The financial services arm of Centrica has come up with what looks like

the clever idea of producing buying guides on a range of products and

services such as computers, home-entertainment and kitchen

appliances.



Sent out on request, the guides have explanations of jargon, useful

tips, descriptions of what’s available, and clearly flagged offers and

promotions from advertisers. They are personalised through digital

technology to the extent of listing where the goods can be bought

locally.



This is by no means an earth-shaking development in customer

relationship building. But it shows how a bit of lateral thinking can

inject new life into a rapidly ageing marketing technique



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