Retailers give credence to magalogues

Increasing numbers of retailers are beginning to use magalogues - a cross between editorial magazines and catalogues - as vehicles to get to know their customers more intimately, many in the hope that it will improve one-to-one direct marketing efforts down the line.

Increasing numbers of retailers are beginning to use magalogues – a cross between editorial magazines and catalogues – as vehicles to get to know their customers more intimately, many in the hope that it will improve one-to-one direct marketing efforts down the line.

The cost of such publications can be quite high, as Jack McIver, president of Zaxis Publishing, attests, saying that the now defunct President’s Choice magazine ate up about $3 million a year. But these glossies are worth every penny as an effective relationship-building tool, maintains Eric Schneider, president and CEO of Redwood Custom Communications, Toronto, which creates custom publications for Kraft, Sears Canada and General Motors.

‘There’s an emotional connection, because you read it in a manner very different to traditional messaging,’ he says, pointing out that research indicates consumers will spend 30 minutes on average with a magalogue.

Schneider also believes these magazines can help companies garner information from shoppers more easily.

‘When consumers see the magazine and understand it’s part of the communication channel, they appear to be far more willing to provide information,’ he says. In Kraft’s one-year-old What’s Cooking, mailed to one million Canadian households, surveys bound into the magazine have not only asked permission to continue communication, but also created an opportunity to profile shoppers further in subsequent issues, ‘which are a bit closer to one-to-one in the true spirit of CRM,’ says Schneider. He explains that once the survey responses were gleaned, What’s Cooking was mailed with personally addressed letters, directing a shopper interested in low-fat recipes, for instance, to check out a certain page.

Meanwhile, Shoppers Drug Mart recently pulled the plug on two of its custom publications: 18-year-old fashion and beauty book Images, and Health Watch. Both were available in stores, but ditched in favour of a yet-to-be-named ‘selective buying magazine’ that will be mailed to Optimum cardholders, says Neil Everett, SVP of marketing and communications at the drugstore chain. The new book will be ‘segmented,’ in terms of both advertising and editorial. Therefore, 40-year-old women would be more likely to see information about an anti-aging cream, while their younger, hipper 17-year-old daughters will receive a different version, according to Everett, who says the six-times-a-year publication will debut sometime in the first quarter of next year.

Everett wouldn’t comment further, but Toronto-based Multi-Vision Publishing president Greg MacNeil, who lost the Shoppers account to Rogers Media, believes the retailer’s partnership with its new publisher will run deeper than just publishing.

‘We couldn’t do what they wanted, because it’s all-encompassing and will take into account Rogers’ video, cable and wireless businesses. We [as a company] can’t buy one million Optimum points to give to our customers.’

Like Shoppers and Kraft, Sears Canada also plans to somehow segment its New Outlook magazine in the near future, according to Bev Legris, manager of the department store’s Mature Outlook membership program, who says the company is currently testing various communications products in focus groups.

Geared at the 50-plus market and published by Redwood, New Outlook, which was unveiled in April, is sent to 410,000 people, most of whom are also Sears cardholders. While there is already significant data collected on them, New Outlook has led to further insight, says Legris. For instance, a survey recently found that readers were interested in gardening and décor, and the magazine’s editorial was tweaked to accommodate that.

‘What really has come out is that this market is a lot different between age groups, and that some of the age brackets are quite small,’ she says, adding that 50- to 55-year-olds have different lifestyle and purchasing habits than 55- to 60-year-olds. For instance, Canadians in their early 50s are buying a lot of big-ticket items like appliances, a trend Sears didn’t expect.

So far, response to New Outlook has been positive, and Legris says one or two featured outfits sell out each issue. In addition, a contest that ran in the quarterly offering a chance to win a trip to the Mayan Riviera garnered a response rate between 3% and 4%.

In a recent survey, the magazine’s value was rated 6.3 out of 10 on average, coming second only to couponing, which received an average score of 7.3.

Gathering data on their core shopper was definitely what propelled Montreal-based clothing chain Addition-Elle’s decision to launch a 60-page lifestyle book this fall. To be delivered to VIP Club members, as well as distributed in its 70 national stores, the mag will be aimed at 10 million women in total.

According to Josée Marin, communication director for the new initiative, the magalogue will permit Addition-Elle to learn more about its customer: middle-income females in the 25-to-54-year-old age bracket. The retailer normally gathers names and addresses at point-of-sale, but hopes to find out additional particulars.

‘We’re hoping it will drive our whole database marketing strategy,’ admits Marin. ‘Eventually what we would like to do is categorize our customers and send them different things. If I find out that customers are sales-driven, I’m going to send them mailings specifically about sales. If there’s a big difference in age between the Addition-Elle and Addition-Elle Sport customer, I’m going to talk to them differently.’

Addition-Elle will include a $25 off with $100 purchase coupon in the first issue, which will have a questionnaire printed on its back. Shoppers who visit stores with the coupon and questionnaire before the end of September have a chance to win a $500 wardrobe. Women will be asked how often they’ve shopped at Addition-Elle in the last year, if they found what they were looking for and what other retailers they regularly visit, among other things.

Meanwhile, Harry magazine, produced by high-end menswear retailer Harry Rosen, is treated as a communications device, according to director of marketing Sandra Kennedy. The glossy is distributed to 90,000 households, as well being available on newsstands, where it has a 55% sell-through rate. Launched in 1997, the magazine is the successor to a report on menswear started by the chain about 15 years ago.

While other retailers don’t tend to promote their magazines, deciding instead to keep them as an exclusive treat for VIP customers, Harry Rosen always pushes the seasonal glossy in its store windows, says Kennedy. Last season, it advertised the book in national newspapers and on newsstands. In dailies, an image of the front cover was accompanied by the tag, ‘The definitive word on menswear,’ while on the newsstand, three black-and-white cover versions, all with different colors of the word ‘Harry,’ were available.

The company’s efforts over the years seem to have paid off: while it doesn’t track the success of merchandise featured in the magazine, a telephone survey conducted in fall 1998 indicated that 98% of customers considered Harry valuable to them, suggesting that magalogues still have a significant purpose, even when they aren’t used to collect data.

‘One purpose of the magazine is to be a value-added thank you,’ says Multi-Vision’s MacNeil, who adds that while such publications are often quickly axed by retailers during economic crises, they can actually help companies battle through tough times.

‘When the market is tough you focus on your top customers,’ he says. ‘[If] 20% of your customers give you 80% of your business, [magalogues can enable you to] communicate with them more regularly, to stay in touch.’