Special Report: Direct Response Media: BEER a channel for customer opinion

Labatt Breweries of Canada has launched a magazine that addresses its most valued customers, and invites those customers to respond, in the latest phase of a relationship marketing program that has been evolving for the last four years.Two versions of BEER...

Labatt Breweries of Canada has launched a magazine that addresses its most valued customers, and invites those customers to respond, in the latest phase of a relationship marketing program that has been evolving for the last four years.

Two versions of BEER (Beer Enthusiast’s Entertainment Review) magazine, with a total circulation of more than 250,000, keep customers informed of what Labatt is up to, relate information on beer, promote contests, and offer chances to buy Labatt merchandise.

Voluntary info

At the same time, beer readers supply Labatt with voluntary information on product preferences, beer drinking habits, and many other pertinent data for marketers.

One version of the magazine is for young people roughly 19 to 24.

The other, more staid version, contains nearly identical information, but is adapted for Labatt’s older core customer, less interested in a hip format.

Next issue

The first issue was launched in November. Labatt is tight-lipped about the date of the next.

The magazine evolved from a program Labatt started four years ago through which different brands were promoted in a quarterly newsletter called ‘BeerTruck,’ developed by database marketers Hughes Rapp Collins.

‘The same principles apply, the same offers are in there, and the theory as to why Labatt should be doing this is the same – it’s just in a bigger format,’ says Trisha Cudmore, account manager at Hughes Rapp Collins.

The magazine’s subscription list, known as the MVP (Most Valuable Patron) Club, was built from ‘a whole range of sources’ over the last few years, including Labatt’s 1-800 customer response line and market research companies.

Names were also supplied by the marketing, sales, sports and entertainment divisions at Labatt.

Labatt research suggested that customers, particularly heavy-volume drinkers, enjoyed getting Labatt mailings and were interested in anything which increased the value of those mailings.

‘We decided to take the consumer need, and apply an innovative approach to it,’ says David Kincaid, director of marketing at Labatt.

‘New twist’

‘We put a new twist to the direct mail package other people seem to be offering by putting it in this magazine format,’ Kincaid says.

The eight-page, five-color glossy magazine measures a large 11 x 17 inches.

‘It stands out in the mail,’ Kincaid says. ‘It doesn’t look like an average envelope.’

The magazine which is directed at younger consumers, has a stark black-and-white look on the inside pages, with campy graphics and photos.

The products promoted within it include a cigarette lighter, a keg-like beer canister, a hooded sweatshirt, and a full-length Australian outback coat.

The core version is equally slick, but its styling is more conservative, and the products are more traditional: Labatt watches, hats, shorts, baseball jackets, and the John Labatt Classic Special Extra Aged beer in a wood case.

In the initial issue, both magazines contained the same mvp contests, including one for a Pink Floyd disc collection together with a Sony Discman, another for a trip and tour of the Labatt brewery in Toronto, and a third for $1,995 in cash.

People who get the magazine are encouraged to sign up others through the ‘Get a friend’ program.

If new members object, they are quickly taken off the list, but, as Kincaid says, ‘most people appreciate getting this thing.’

And, appreciation is the key.

According to Kincaid, ‘the objective of the program is to develop a more direct one-on-one relationship with our best customers, and to be able to enter into a two-way dialogue.’

Decrease conversion

Labatt hopes that a more intimate relationship with consumers will decrease the chance of brand conversion, and increase the chance of getting the loyalty of the undecided.

Kincaid, who once worked for American Express and is familiar with the results of many direct marketing initiatives, says the response to the first issue of beer made him ‘ecstatic.

‘We have received thousands of letters back from these people commenting on things in the magazine, and on things in general,’ he says.

One reader, whom Kincaid says is typical, wrote:

‘Reviewed your first issue of beer. What a great idea for a large company like Labatt to keep in touch with the people who buy your product. Keep up the good work. Thanks, Larry.’

‘Quite genuine’

‘It’s not like they’re writing in saying, `Give me tickets to the Blue Jays, or free this or that.’ It’s quite genuine,’ says Kincaid of the response.

In terms of marketing, perhaps the most valuable of the magazine’s eight pages are the two on which is found a computer-scannable questionnaire.

Along with basic demographic questions, the form asks readers what radio stations they listen to, what tv shows they watch, what sports they play and watch, what music they listen to, and, where, what, and how much they drink.

The questionnaire also collects information on brand loyalty.

Integration

‘This allows Labatt to find out who the consumer is, so we can integrate that information into the advertising,’ Cudmore says.

‘We take it all, and use it to plan the content of promotions, as well as the next issue [of beer magazine,]‘ she says.

Also important, although not so much for the revenue it collects as much as for the loyalty it fosters in consumers, is the page of special merchandise offers.

The products, emblazoned with Labatt logos, are available only to mvp club members.

Cudmore believes this element of exclusivity is especially effective with younger customers, aged 19-24.

‘It’s an image thing,’ she says. ‘Their friends don’t have this cool leather jacket with the Labatt Ice logo on it.’

Editorial content

The editorial content of the magazine is based lightly on beer trivia and heavily on Labatt and its products.

Content ideas come from the Labatt marketing department, Hughes Rapp Collins and Ammirati & Puris, Labatt’s advertising agency whose direct response arm works in conjunction with Hughes Rapp Collins.

Each magazine also has an ‘MVP Person,’ the persona of the magazine, who addresses the readers directly.

The younger version has Alex, a slightly self-deprecating Generation-X voice. The core version has Fred, a relaxed, neutral voice.

At the moment there are no plans for another version of the magazine, but Kincaid says ‘We are always open to new ideas.

‘I want to be as friendly a brewer as I can be,’ he says. ‘I want to do everything I can to earn their business.’

‘The better you know your customer, the better able you are to develop a selling proposition that will interest them.’