Monday, 16 May 2011

Slingsby magalogue works it

By now we’re all familiar with the magalogue format. Part magazine, part catalogue, the magalogue’s aim is to sell through engagement. As Sean King, chief executive of customer publishing agency Seven Squared once told me, “owning your own media—magazines, websites, blogs, Twitter feeds—is an effective way of reaching and engaging with customers, existing and potential,” something a catalogue alone cannot do.

By that token, there is no reason why a magalogue should be the preserve of consumer brands. DIY giant Kingfisher, for example, launched a customer magazine in January called Trade Talk. The publication, created by John Brown, is distributed to customers via Screwfix's trade counters and at TradePoint counters within B&Q’s stores.

Most recently I received a copy of Slingsby’s Work-it magalogue. Landing on my desk in April, Work-it combines the workplace equipment provider’s seasonal items, including spring cleaning items and outdoor equipment, with features and news articles.
Slingsby says it will produce the 64-page publication twice a year and feature supplier and customer interviews, buying guides, tips, ideas, news articles and, of course, product. The first issue contains six interviews, special offers, competitions, product reviews, and health and safety advice. According to Lee Wright, Slingsby’s marketing director, the first issue was circulated to a wide range of customers across a variety of industries. So far, he says, “response has been fantastic and we are delighted with the feedback we have received.”

Creating editorial content is much more than including a competition or publishing a recipe, something Slingsby seems to appreciate. It appears to have worked hard to create a publication that warrants a second and third flick-through. There are tips on site maintenance, a case study on Slingsby customer and engineering firm WFEL and an interview with the chief executive of the British Institute of Facilities Management. My favourite feature was the “To-do board”. Designed to look like a cork noticeboard, the spread on pages 24 to 25 has tips on the most important jobs of the season—pest control, road maintenance, outdoor furniture, and drains maintenance. A handy reminder for readers, it’s also a perfect way to showcase commodity products that customers may not have associated Slingsby with. I also liked the feature on health and safety in the workplace detailing all the regulations with which businesses must comply—a feature that can be kept for future reference.

Slingsby's To Do Board

Work-it is a very comprehensive magalogue, with plenty going for it but there are also improvements to be made. Slingsby uses Feefo to gather customer feedback online, and featured a spread of reviewed products. I would have liked more to be made of this as the idea seemed a little half-baked. For example, for the £97.05 air cooler, the Work-it magalogue included 103 words of descriptive copy, compared with only 11 words of customer review. For the next edition, I’d like to see Slingsby print the entire customer review. After all, it’s commonly accepted that people trust other people’s opinions more than they trust sales copy. I would also like more “good, better, best” features. Slingsby included a “compare it” column on the same spread as the feedback, which in my opinion could be much improved and used more often throughout the publication. I’d like to see real-life examples as to why a particular item costs £200 more than a similar model and some pros and cons so that users can make a truly informed choice.

Evidently, this is an ideal vehicle for Slingsby to demonstrate its expertise in facilities management. And if it can work for that sector, it could work for any business-to-business merchant. There’s plenty of scope for an educational supplies cataloguer, for example, to produce a magalogue with the latest on the curriculum, interviews with recognised professionals in the sector, and ideas on “back to school”. A supplier of hair and beauty products to salons could use the format to create seasonal magalogues, such as hair and beauty at wedding season, or a summer special with advice on tanning or waxing. An IT products supplier has the potential to feature hints, tips and tricks of the trade to get the most out of the hardware it sells, plus expert advice and how-tos for specific IT projects--the opportunities are surely endless. I look forward to seeing all your magalogues very soon.--MT

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