Marcomm Integration with Brand Community Media / Custom Publishing

How a brand community media program can incorporate multiple marcomm objectives

Gears Marketing organizations use a mix of communications activities – such as advertising, direct mail, customer research, and P.R. – to pursue diverse objectives. A company might develop one marcomm program to keep “at risk” customers from switching to an upstart competitor, another to support a rebranding effort, and another to retain customers in a merger. With the variety of objectives and the diversity of media, these programs typically operate under separate budgets and managers. Because of this, marcomm managers can miss opportunities to work together to maximize effectiveness and achieve economies of scale. This is where a brand community media program can help, by providing a platform for integrating marcomm programs.

The Brand Community Media Platform

A brand community media program can consist of any combination of print publications, Web sites, e-newsletters, events, and other communications products. The main distinction between brand community media and other marketing communications is the use of content to engage consumers. By delivering content that consumers find useful and interesting, brand community media acts as a kind of carrier wave for multiple marcomm messages. If consumers find the primary content interesting and useful, they’ll accept other messages as well and respond accordingly.

A complete brand community media program may include a magazine mailed to 250,000 consumers, a content-oriented Web site, and a weekly or monthly email newsletter, all of which work together to create a kind of two-way marcomm channel: the magazine pushes messages out and drives Web response; the Web site provides interaction (both with and among consumers) and tracks interests. Other media such as opt-in email newsletters and events enable marketers to further segment customers by their interests and keep the entire communications cycle in motion.

With regular delivery and a high level of acceptance, a brand community media program also can deliver multiple marcomm messages. A print magazine can carry branding and product advertising, promotional inserts, and custom content such as customer service information or investor news. The Web component provides a back-end for managing inquiries and promotions fulfillment. It can also integrate shopping functions, turning a branded publication into a sales engine, while e-mail newsletters can include special offers, promotions, and customer surveys.

Brand Community Media Cost Structure

Brand community media programs can be complex, but they gain economies of scale and efficiency through integration. In delivering advertising, for example, the incremental cost-per-page of a branded magazine is minimal – and you pay no space charges as you would if you were to purchase an ad page elsewhere. Every marcomm objective that you can incorporate into the brand community media program – including advertising, direct marketing, P.R., corporate communications, investor relations and more – can save you money.

Expenses, Offsets, and Savings through Integration

To explore this savings, let’s look at the business structure of a brand community media program, including:

  • its direct and indirect expenses;
  • its revenue offsets, including revenue from advertising, co-marketing, merchandising, list rental, and commissions from direct sales;
  • direct savings from programs that are replaced, enhanced, or supplemented through integration into the brand community media program;

On the expense side, it’s easy to quantify direct production costs such as creative development, printing, Web development, postage, as well as the cost of outside management services. You get a price quote, contract the job, and pay the bill. It’s more challenging to quantify the indirect costs of internal management overhead – mainly time – for meetings, creative consultations, meetings, reviews, meetings about meetings, approvals, and more meetings. Without strong external management, turning a marcomm department into a media production department can divert attention and resources away from your core mission.

I discuss revenue here as part of the cost structure, as you should view it mainly as an offset against expenses and not as a profit center. You can sell advertising to partners (or to anyone who wants to reach your customers). You can provide shopping carts on your Web sites for event registration or catalog sales. And over time you can opt in customers to create revenue-generating direct marketing lists. You can also sell merchandise related to your publications, and more.

A brand community media program’s net cost also depends on the marcomm programs that it incorporates. As an example, let’s discuss nine typical marcomm objectives that can be combined into a single branded program comprised of a quarterly 68-page print magazine with distribution of 250,000, a publication Web site, and a quarterly email newsletter. If a magazine carries 55 percent advertising, we have 37 advertising pages quarterly for marketing messages and promotional content. If we sell half of the ad space to partners, we can use the other half for the in-house marcomm programs, as follows:

  • Branding: two pages: back cover and inside front cover.
  • Corporate or investor relations: four pages for corporate editorial content such as letters from executives, information about philanthropic programs, and management profiles.
  • Customer service: one page, back-of-book position, to answer common consumer questions, and provide company contacts and other customer service information intended to lower customer service and support costs.
  • Direct sales: up to three pages of direct response advertising (with either Web or toll free phone fulfillment), unlimited online advertising, and interactive forms (on the Web) for completing purchases.
  • Partner or channel comarketing, merchandising: up to four pages in solutions or partner listings, co-op display ads, or shared inserts or bind-in cards; the Web site can include partner run-of-site partner advertising as well as dedicated partner or channel sections, as well as sections reserved for new partner promotions.
  • Prospecting, new customer development, list development, and lead generation: two pages for inquiry-style advertising with a drive to the Web or an optional bind-in response card. A “pass-along” response card can allow other readers to sign up to receive the publication. The publication Web site can also offer e-mail newsletter subscriptions to capture email addresses and demographic information.
  • Product advertising and promotions: two pages in the run-of-book (ROB) with tie-ins to Web content.
  • Product feedback and customer research: one page with a call for readers to complete Web surveys; the publication Web site can include sign-ups for customer panels (offered to visitors on an nth select basis); the publication Web site can also include product forums or feedback forms.

These sample programs require 18 ad pages quarterly, plus two direct response bind-in cards, an advertising-enabled Web site, and an email newsletter. More importantly, these objectives integrate into the brand community media program without significant incremental cost. Using conservative estimates of what these programs would otherwise cost (for ad space, postage, and production), the brand community media project provides more than $2 million in marcomm value as described in Table 1. This is above and beyond the program’s basic branding and relationship-building value.

Table 1 — Typical marcomm objectives and estimates of annual costs to serve audience of 250,000 customers/prospects without brand community media. In most cases, costs can be expressed in cost per piece or cost per thousand (cpm) recipients or viewers, which includes production, ad rates, and shipping or postage. It’s worth noting that each of these programs would typically come from separate marketing budgets.

Marcomm Program Description Annual Cost
Branding Typically via print or broadcast advertising. For the universe of 250,000, would involve eight pages annually (two pages quarterly), at low est. $25 cpm. 50,000
Corporate, Investor, Press, or Community Relations Letter mail brochure three efforts at $.50 per piece including postage plus one effort with a 4C brochure at $.75 each 526,500
Customer Service Postcard mail quarterly, with drive to Web and/or consumer FAQs at $.40 each quarterly 400,000
Direct Sales, Catalog, or Telesales Cost of selling products, event registration, or other sales consisting of one catalog at $.75; one DM piece with 4C brochure at $.75, and postcard campaign at $.75 per recipient (3 mailings) 562,500
Partner or Channel Comarketing, Merchandising Cost of fulfilling partner advertising program, four ad pages quarterly at $25 cpm 100,000
Prospecting, New Customer Dev., List Dev., Lead Generation Direct mail and telemarketing to identify prospects, drive traffic to Web offers, drive customers to POS. $.50 per mail piece incl. postage for one effort quarterly 500,000
Product Advertising, Promotions Same metrics as branding, with two ad pages quarterly, for $25 cpm. Cost of response vehicle is minimal. 50,0000
Product Feedback, Customer Research Cost to solicit via postcards, letter mail, and telemarketing to 10,000 consumers (nth select); average cost per effort $.50 each quarter 20,000

Brand community media products offer great creative potential. By providing useful and enlightening content, you strengthen the ties with your brand community. Also, by addressing consumers’ interests and needs first, you create new channels for delivering marcomm messages to more receptive consumers. Finally, while you may be daunted by the seeming complexity and high cost of brand community media, the value of marcomm integration is compelling – every marcomm program that you can add to the brand community media mix has the potential to save you money. END

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media and editor of BrandMagnet.