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Profit From Custom Publishing

Furniture World Magazine


The Deep Sell: an exciting new way to connect with your customers.

Custom publishing, an estimated $3 billion business, claims to offer the answer to everything from relationship marketing and fragmentation to added value and customer service, from niche marketing and narrow casting to reaching special consumer groups. Companies like Pier 1, and Staples, Michael's Arts and Crafts have all launched successful custom titles within the last two years. Using sophisticated database marketing to avoid the clutter of traditional advertising, such companies see custom publishing as an exciting new way to connect with their customers. And a way to self-liquidate costs.

Custom publications look like conventional magazines: bright, open design; articles on everything from this season's color trend to the hottest designers; ads for major brands; the full panoply of free standing inserts, perfume strips and reader response cards. Using the sponsor's database as both a concept tool and a distribution channel, custom publishers design a magazine that speaks directly to a company's customers and keeps that company in front of readers beyond the life of the publication, and beyond the sales transaction.

Dividends, a bi-monthly for Staples Office Superstore publication mailed to 300,000 customers, courts the hot small and home-based business markets. "Staples wanted to combine its sophisticated database marketing efforts, its commitment to strong customer relations and its position as a retailer that caters to entrepreneurs. A custom magazine is the perfect solution," says Jim Meyers, president of Chicago-based Imagination Publishing, the magazine's publisher.

Dividends carries no self-serving editorial. In fact, except for the cover tagline--A Magazine for Staples Small Business Customers--and a letter from the president, there is nothing to indicate that the magazine is provided via Staples. New product features and reviews, however, cover only items available in its stores. Business profile subjects come directly from its database. A recent advertorial section on how to design a home office carried ads for furniture available at Staples but, for the most part, overt sales efforts are confined to advertising and direct mail; the magazine carries responsibility for relationship marketing.

"The idea is to give clients a deeper form of branding, ways to deepen their relationship with customers," Stephen O. Frankfurt, chairman of advertising agency Frankfurt Balkind Partners told the New York Times about custom publishing. "There's the hard sell and the soft sell. This is the deep sell."

Imagination Publishing built two publications into its integrated marketing communications program for Pier 1 Imports. After redesigning the company's credit cards and instituting a three-tier effort based on frequency of purchase, Passport, a quarterly newsletter of home decorating and entertaining tips, sent to 300,000 gold card holders, was launched. Over 25,000 interior designers receive Design Concepts, a slick trade magazine focusing on international design trends and carrying non-competing advertising. A World Passport offers discounts from marketing partners to new credit card holders twice a year. Other seasonal direct mail pieces are sent to various selects off the database.

Before launching the program, Pier 1 was signing up about 30,000 credit cardholders per month but was losing about 25 percent overall each year. This necessitated frequent reactivation efforts aimed at customers who had not used their cards for 90 days to 18 months. The new publications draw on a marketing database that allows for a best-customer model to identify predictive factors.

Franchised custom publications appeal to smaller organizations which want to reach customers in a high-quality, information-rich way. Fifty copies of Successful Student, published three times a year by Imagination for Sylvan Learning Systems, are provided to the company's 600 franchise holders, who then can order additional copies. Three different versions of the magazine carry editorial specific to Canada, to the company's contract division and to the main customer base.

Franchises or retail chains can exploit such customization possibilities to spread costs over their many locations. "It's these variations that represent some of the most innovative thinking in custom publishing today," according to Folio.

Custom magazines create a positive selling environment for a sponsor's message without beating the reader over the head. True, a sponsor can run a coupon for the particular model featured in this month's sales circular but only magazines with solid editorial content--not advertorial--endure.

Too much hard sell turns readers off. But they also understand the appeal of service journalism which provides useful information and creates a relationship with the sponsor's customers. That is how they provide the deep sell: understanding the reader, understanding the market.

Rebecca Rolfes is the managing editor of Imagination Publishing, the fastest growing custom publisher in the United States. Questions on this article can be directed to FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at editor@furninfo.com.