There was a time when customer magazines were regarded as second- and third-rate publications. “Real” journalists turned their noses up at them and swore on whatever was available for the purpose that never ever would they as much as touch them with a ten-foot pole.
However, as so often happens, the world changed – and there’s no going back. If in the old days the most expensive grades of paper, finest images and best stories were found only in top-brand consumer magazines published by prestigious agencies, the situation has certainly moved on from there. Nowadays the best-looking periodicals and many of the best articles and reporters can be found almost as often in customer magazines as in traditional publications.
There have always been good customer magazines. Finnair’s well-known Blue Wings is a customer mag of the very best calibre. Its content and appearance have invariably competed well against even the best public magazines (though it must be remembered that Blue Wings has always been put together inside the publishing department of a bona fide magazine publishing house). Publications like Blue Wings are characterized precisely by how good they are, as well as the high quality of their content – quality in which all manner of marketing dazzle has shone in its absence.
A customer magazine is at its best when it serves or entertains its readers in all channels used by the customer. To ensure that any publication is either browsed through or read, it must generate some kind of added value. Marketing spiels are the least interesting content of all and – luckily – an increasingly vanishing species of publishing tradition.
The purpose of a customer magazine is not to simply sell anyone a product right here and now. Its readers frequently know that they are reading a company publication, and understand that the enterprise wants to have or keep them as clients. It is precisely this that represents careful cultivation of a customer relationship: that the maker of the magazine – in this case the company – appreciates its readers so much that it is willing to go to the trouble of providing a publication as a service to them. This is called a magazine/reader relationship.
In the hierarchy of periodicals, so-called coffee table magazines have ruled the roost. These are publications that are meant to be left for guests to see on the coffee table – status symbols that define the status and value system of their readers. Many customer mags have reached this point by operating exactly the same way as so-called “real” magazines. They have given attention to the quality of content and appearance, taken their readers’ special needs into consideration, and responded to these aspects by still giving them a little more.
Business enterprises have woken up to the potential of customer magazines. A well-done customer mag increases the attraction of the company’s brand as a whole. Most have understood that, for example, there need not be a dozen stories about cleaning in a customer magazine for the cleaning industry: in fact, the content of a customer mag should not restrict itself to the field of the parent company and spreading its gospel.
A carefully conceived and well-executed article on a fascinating theme tells the customer that s/he is appreciated. Once respect is earned, it is not very easily lost. If an enterprise cares about its customers so much that it offers them a customer magazine on top of its other products and services, that positive message travels far and wide.
After all, a good story is a good story when told in a customer magazine as well!