There's no doubt that a glossy, high-quality magazine bearing a brand's name can boost a consumer's interest in a product. That may be why some of the most widely distributed magazines in the UK are published by brands, with Sky, Sainsbury's and Asda leading the pack.
However, it is not only the mega-brands that can reap benefits from customer publishing. Smaller brands are often put off customer publishing when they look at the sheer scale of the operations of the biggest players.
Nonetheless, creating branded magazines can be done without breaking the bank and those that take the leap tend to praise the added bond a title can forge with consumers.
Given that even the smallest brands have websites, much editorial and picture content can be used across multiple platforms. Production costs, meanwhile, can be offset by featuring advertising for related – but not competing – products.
Moreover, in terms of return on investment, publishing agencies insist that sending out a magazine can more than match other forms of marketing.
Jayne Capel, managing director at customer publishing agency FuturePlus, says: "There is a perception that a title will have to be big and widespread to work. But the more targeted the magazine, the better. For a smaller company, communication that is bespoke is better than niche marketing."
She claims that organisations can get involved with customer publishing at minimal cost. "It would be wrong if the message was that you need a £100,000 budget. Ultimately, it is all about getting an uplift, whether in brand recognition or sales."
The Campaign for Real Ale launched Beer magazine, a quarterly, 64-page, full-colour publication, in August 2008. It already had an experienced editor, Tom Stainer, within the organisation, working on the What's Brewing monthly newsletter. Stainer writes much of the editorial for Beer, which is produced by Think Publishing, and works with designers.
He says: "A lot of people fear publishing agencies and think they will always be ramping up their fees. It comes down to constantly having useful conversations about costs, constantly being in touch and asking whether it is being done in the most cost-effective manner."
He adds that Think Publishing's experience of working with small membership organisations means it is fully aware of the pressure on costs. Beer has a print run of 80,000 and costs about £70,000 an issue for production and mailing, of which up to £30,000 is recouped from advertising.
The Association of Publishing Agencies advises brands to start off by auditing existing marketing communications and deciding how a magazine would fit in. It says that establishing benchmarks for success is important in persuading parties such as a company's board, for example, to back the project.
Tilly Boulter, chief executive of Think Publishing, says money can be saved by clever use of existing creative and editorial content and that agencies can strike bulk deals on printing, paper and mailings.
"We've persuaded clients they don't need a big budget, but they do need smart thinking. It is unsustainable for a big publisher to have small clients, because of the high cost of servicing them. But we are specialists and are set up to do things cheaper,' she says.
Case study Roland
Musical instrument maker Roland produces PowerOn magazine, mailed to 12,000 of its highest value customers. A further 8000 copies are distributed at music shows, events and recording studios.
The title, produced and designed by FuturePlus, is Roland's primary form of marketing, although it has reduced the frequency of the publication from three times a year, to once.
Roland brand manager Martyn Hopkins is keenly aware of the need to keep an eye on costs. The magazine costs about £3 per copy to produce and mail out.
Roland has a customer relationship management system that can track purchases of the brand's products by people who have received a copy of PowerOn. Recipients of its most recent issue spent about £200,000 on products from Roland and its sub-brand Boss.
"It gives a sense of what we are about as a brand", says Hopkins. "We have given it a lifestyle focus more recently. We try to make the value of the content comparable to the stuff you can buy on the newsstand – but you don't have to pay for it."