Sidebar to Brand-Focused vs. Customer-Focused Content
As a long-time Costco member, I’m well-acquainted with The Costco Connection, Costco’s brand community publication with print distribution of more than 5 million (and a website).
Positioned as “a lifestyle magazine” for Costco’s business and executive members, The Costco Connection features a delightful goody bag of features and departments. The July 2005 issue featured wine, remodeling tips, popular books and more, along with monthly fixtures such as David Horowitz’s “Consumer Connection” and Suze Orman’s “Financial Connection.”
With a colorful, jam-packed format, The Costco Connection engages members with lively content while at the same time it unleashes a barrage of product placements, advertisements, and customer service pages (such as listings of Costco gas station locations). This approach certainly reflects the Costco brand, which exudes an enthusiastic but utilitarian consumerism that shouts: “Do NOT leave the warehouse without spending at least $200!”
The Costco Connection goes a long way in achieving the potential of brand community media. It’s a fine publication. But in the continuum from brand-focused to consumer-focused content, it falls somewhere in the middle and as such it leaves some marketing value on the table. Considering the vast number of copies it distributes, Costco selects its editorial content for broad appeal and easy reading. This makes it a quick read, and for me personally, less engaging than it could be. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing about The Costco Connection! As a flagship promotional vehicle, it works.
Instead of changing The Costco Connection, to engage members at a deeper level I would design new publications crafted for specific segments of the Costco “audience.” A Costco Small Business magazine could focus on productivity and office technology. A Costco Enterprise magazine could focus on management training and global commerce. Customer surveys may reveal other interests, such as health and fitness, environmental issues, and travel. For each of these topics, there’s a potential Costco-branded publication not to replace the Connection, but to supplement it. With greater consumer focus in the content, Costco could engage its members in deeper relationships. This would reinforce its brand image and provide opportunities to customize offers for higher value/higher margin sales.