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
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.
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
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
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
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