The Magnum PI Look Is The Giveaway

Why do you always aim for perfection instead of change?

At last year’s Datamann catalog and ecommerce seminar, which Datamann hosts and sponsors for the VT/NH Marketing Group, the local chamber of commerce in Concord, NH had a pile of the magazine pictured below in the conference center lobby.

Do you notice anything wrong?

Look at the guy’s sweater and his mustache. Look at her hair cut. This photo is from the late 1980s!

Because I worked next door to the Eastern Mountain Sports headquarters in Peterborough, NH for more than 20 years, I recognized the photo immediately as being from an EMS catalog from that time frame, 25+ years ago!

This is not an isolated occurrence or problem. Almost every catalog is guilty of it. I see many of you using the same photos in your catalogs year after year. Usually, you don’t have models that have a “dated” look, but some of you do. (Do most women wear eye shadow and earrings when they go camping?)

If your response is lagging on some products that used to do well, take a count of how many consecutive times that product has had the same photo in your catalog. I’ve seen instances where the same photo appeared more than 100 times consecutively, with no changes! Of course, not only does the photo not change, but the headline and copy block often remain unaltered for years as well.

I’m going to refrain from showing examples of this, as it would become a game of “gotcha”. There would be little value to readers to embarrass those you that fall into this trap. But, you know who you are, and if is response is lagging – change it up a little.

The reason that most of you do not do more photography is that you want perfection. As an industry, we spend a fortune on new photography. Only a few of you do what I call “make do with good enough” photography.  Sure, you can’t rely on your cell phone to take product pictures, but do you really need to bring in an outside photographer, a lighting technician, a stylist, and a model to shoot a sweatshirt? Or a lawn sprinkler?

You still look upon your catalog as being something for which the Library of Congress is waiting. Even though you know that Catalog Age magazine is not around anymore to give you an award for “Catalog of the Year”, just in case someone else is, you don’t want to be marked down for any photography that is less than perfect. And of course, perfection is expensive. So, you stick with the same photo that has been used 100 times (literally) before because you can’t afford to shoot a new one.

But here is what is so puzzling to me. You won’t shoot your own stills for the catalog or website, but you are willing to shoot your own video, of your latest “behind the scenes at our company”, and post it to YouTube, with minimal editing, minimal changes, and certainly, no “professional look”.  You agonize over catalog photography and models, but will throw anything on YouTube.  I actually agree with getting videos on your website and YouTube frequently and cheaply.  I’m puzzled over the continued striving for perfection on static photography.  What’s wrong with “make do with good enough”?

Let’s try a test. Instead of doing yet another useless cover test, let’s do a photography test. Unless you are a high-end fashion catalog with a $500 average order, try having someone in the creative department use their own camera (not a phone) to shoot a few products in the next catalog. See if sales fall off dramatically for those products if you don’t go for “perfection” but instead go for “change”.   Change is good.

Your customer may not have the historical memory that I do, but they recognize when they have seen something repeatedly. That’s when they stop opening your catalog at all.

This year’s seminar – which is now only three weeks away – is not about catalog creative per se. But it is about the need to change, the need to evolve. If you have not already registered for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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B2B Medical Catalogs

I write too often in this space about consumer catalogs, and don’t devote enough attention to B2B catalogs. So, if you are a consumer cataloger, you can take this week off. I’m going to take a look at the sterile world of medical catalogs.

Many B2B catalogs seem to be 15 years behind their consumer counterparts. They do little to drive a response. They simply present a product – actually a ton of products – with little to differentiate these products and help the buyer determine which is best for them. Maybe they have not yet felt the sting of online competition.

I suspect B2B catalogs are the way they are for another reason. We all know the problem inherent with B2B catalogs of not always knowing who at the company should receive or did receive our catalog, and that person is often not the one who actually places the order. I believe that B2B catalog designers picture a procurement clerk or manager of supplies sitting at a darkened desk, ordering products from a catalog for someone else in the company that will eventually use the product. Thus, they make the catalog easy to order from for the bureaucratic clerks, but do little to design the catalog to generate a response from the ultimate end user.

Medical catalogs are the worst at this, because they seem to compound the problem of product presentation with the assumption that all medical staff can immediately tell what every product is for, and which of the 17 versions of leg braces is ideal for their needs.

Look at these four pages from the MediChoice catalog. Whether the page is selling surgical scrubs, portable tables, or stethoscopes, the pages all look alike – which is incredibly boring to browse. Further, there is nothing to indicate that a specific product is “Our best seller” or “Our Most Popular Style”. There is no effort here to sell – just SKU barfing page after page.

 

These pages are designed for ease of ordering by the supply officer. It is not intended for the doctor or medical professional trying to determine the best option.

Contrast that design approach to these pages below from MarketLab catalog, where each page is visually different in design. There are color blocks, angled photographs, and large copy callouts of “new” and “play the video”, all catalog design elements missing from the MediChoice catalog.

 

Plus, the headlines for most products contain a product benefit. All these design elements – which are pretty basic catalog creative stuff – all catch your attention, and help drive response. They drive response because they are “selling”.

Do this if you are a B2B cataloger: take you catalog and rip out 10 pages. Shuffle them up so that they are in random page sequence. Lay them out on the floor, and then stand up and look down at them. Unless you have incredible eye site, this forces you to look at the pages from the proverbial 30,000 foot view, rather than looking at the individual product detail. Do the pages look significantly different, or do you they all look like the MediChoice pages?

B2B catalogs still need to focus on selling. You can no longer simply throw some products on the page and expect they will sell by themselves because someone needs them. You can do better than that. Go sell!

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Learning From Hunting Catalogs

It’s hunting season across much of the country, so let’s look at some hunting catalogs. Although I have not hunted since I was in high school, I receive many hunting catalogs. I have nothing against hunting or people who enjoy it. My problem is that I tend to be very loud in the woods (HEY! I THINK THE DEER ARE OVER HERE) so no one wants to hunt with me.

First, let me draw a distinction about hunting catalogs. There are two kinds. There are those for real hunters (which are the ones I’m critiquing today) and the ones for guys who simply want to dress the part (this would include, in my opinion, catalogs like Guideboat, Filson).  I learned recently there is a group of people called Lumbersexuals – men that want to dress like lumberjacks, but who live in the city. So maybe there is a corresponding group of Huntersexuals – guys that want to wear plaid shirts and camo pants, while driving around in their Toyota pick-up.

NiteLite Catalog:

This catalog has everything you need for raccoon hunting, which is usually done at night.  They had a product that caught my attention and which prompted me to write today’s posting.

nitelite-nov-2016-p46-cropp

It marries your iPhone with your rifle scope, so the image through the scope is much bigger (good for guys like me with bad eyesight). I thought this was a cool product, but it is lost on the spread (see below) because every product here has the same weight.

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This is a common problem with many hard good catalogs, certainly most B2B catalogs. The merchants want to pack as many products as they can per spread, not understanding that giving some products just a “bit more space” will generate more sales per page overall.

However, this creative issue is only a slight problem with this catalog because there are several spreads that feature just one product per page of what I suspect are some of NiteLite’s best products.

nitelite-nov-2016-p61

NiteLite owns this product category. They have to show product domination, and product expertise – which they fully present here. There is no space wasted on branding. This is the ultimate execution of the hero shot. But what’s important to remember is that they are doing this to show all of the product’s features. It’s not a full page given over to an overpriced flannel shirt that has no features beyond being overpriced. This presentation reinforces that NiteLite is where you go for ‘coon hunting products, because they are the experts.

Legendary Whitetails:

Nationwide, participation in deer hunting has been trending down overtime, mostly due to changing demographics. But this catalog, featuring products for deer hunting, does a great job of holding the customer’s attention by focusing on product.

lw-nov-2016-p2-3

This is the opening spread. There’s no wasted space on branding, no “how to use this catalog” information, not even a useless “president’s letter”. They jump right into selling.   They can do this because they are not trying to create a “lifestyle”. Their customer already has a lifestyle with which they are comfortable.

The catalog has strong product density – not too many products to look crowded, but enough to drive sales, which also lends a level of authenticity to this catalog.

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And similar to NiteLite’s full page hero shots, Legendry Whitetails has several one-page presentations meant to really drive home the fact that they are the experts in deer hunting apparel.

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However, I do have three knocks against the catalog from a “creative” perspective:

  • The copy font is way too small. Take it up a point or two, and if you have to, cut some of it out.
  • There are too few call-outs throughout the catalog to go to the website. Remember, your website has to be better than your catalog, and your catalog has to drive people to the website.
  • Where are the hunting photos? No, I don’t want you wasting space in the book trying to showcase a “lifestyle”, but show some of these products being worn by real hunters in real hunting situations.

Cabela’s

Over the years, I have written how Cabela’s continues to mix up the formats of what they send me. One week will be postcard, followed by a five-panel brochure, followed by a mini-12-page catalog. This week I received a 172 page Holiday catalog. The focus with Cabela’s is always to get me to go to the website. They get it, and they are one of the few catalogs that execute it well.

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But they also understand the power of “realistic selling”. Look at the photo above. If you have ever been ice fishing at sunset, you know the cold cuts right through you (my father used to take me ice fishing and I was always frozen). You know this photo probably cost Cabela’s a lot. It is perfectly propped and shot. But, it communicates perfectly that these coats will keep you warm far more than laydown studio shot. This is worth the expense.

I have said before “branding is what you do every day”. Branding cannot be created by fancy creative. Branding is your merchandise. If you get the merchandise right, sometimes it will almost sell itself.

Enjoy the hunt.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Hey, LL Bean! – You Aren’t Louis Vuitton Either

About 20 years ago, I was invited to the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC to consult on their catalog. I walked into a big conference room filled with about 20 people.  The creative director for the catalog ran the meeting.

He announced that they were planning a full redesign of the catalog and wanted my input.

Now, keep in mind, we are talking about the National Geographic catalog, which in my mind, is fairly similar to the magazine. I have always felt that you could not get much more middle-of-the-road, average American household than the National Geographic magazine. According to Wikipedia (always a reliable source), they have 6.8 million members/subscribers. Even George Bailey mentioned them in It’s A Wonderful Life, a movie made 70 years ago! The National Geographic is as all-American as apple pie, hot dogs at the ballpark, and fireworks on the 4th of July.

And so, what “brand” did the Creative Director want to emulate with his proposed redesign of this iconic All-America catalog? “We want to be like Louis Vuitton”. (He even pronounced Louis Vuitton with a really annoying phony French accent).

As I recall, my initial reaction was something along the line of “What the hell are you thinking?”   The meeting deteriorated at that point, with half the room saying “told ya’ so” and the other half saying “but we have to change”. The company I was representing at the time did no further consulting to the National Geographic.

I bring this up because a month ago, I started getting emails from clients, friends and readers of this blog asking if I had seen the latest catalog from L.L. Bean. I’m sure most of them are wondering why it has taken me four weeks to comment on it here.

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If you did not receive a copy, it is physically quite impressive, and certainly nothing like anything Bean has mailed before (or, at least not to me). It is a very large trim size (9 x 10), 324 pages, and perfect-bound. From a content standpoint, it also is not your average LL Bean catalog. Ninety percent of the photos are lay-flat silhouettes, with very few models (I counted less than 20 model shots in the entire book). The copy blocks are about the same as would be found in a traditional Bean catalog, but because there is (mostly) one product per page or per spread, the copy looks “minimalist” in comparison to what you are accustomed to in a Bean catalog.

To be honest, the book has me puzzled. It reminded me of an H&M catalog for grown-ups. Based on the number of people that contacted me, Bean must have carpet-bombed most of New England with these things. It certainly does not appear it was mailed to a selective audience of LL Bean credit card holders (which my wife and I are).

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They are obviously “making a statement”. A very expensive catalog branding statement. I’m sure that internally, the PR team is using words like “cool and contemporary” to describe it.   But what are they trying to do?

I read this spring that LL Bean had hired a new Chief Brand Officer, a Brit with lots of retail and consumer goods experience, but I saw no mention of any catalog experience. Couple this with the fact that LL Bean hired a new CEO last year (only the 4th CEO in 104 years), and in my opinion, you’ve got two guys that are in a rush to make some changes, and apparently, the bigger the better. I’m certain that they also told the existing staff in Freeport, who collectively have hundreds of years of catalog experience, that they (the two new guys) knew what was best when it came to designing a catalog, and branding LL Bean. (We’ll see how well that works.)

It is obvious that with this one catalog, LL Bean is trying to retro-fit their brand and image to appeal to millennials. Of course, everyone I heard from that had received the catalog was over 50 (I think you are all over 50, and I apologize to any of you who that have yet to reach that milestone).

As one of my readers described it “The higher ups at Bean are not listening to their core customers. They are all thumping their chests and trying to compete with Pokémon Go for millennials’ face time.”  Of course, they are using a print catalog to try to reach an audience for whom print may not resonate.

Moreover, much like National Geographic, LL Bean is one of those iconic brands that have survived for 100+ years by being loyal to their roots, loyal to their heritage, and loyal to their customers. (LL Bean actually has a style-guide for how their copy is to be written, which draws heavily on the fundamental philosophy of the original Leon Leonwood Bean, who I’m sure is spinning in his grave at the moment.)

I’m always concerned when I see a catalog making changes that just seem totally out of character.  Sure, brands have to change and evolve. But that is why I waited a month to see what else came along from Bean this season. I have received two subsequent catalogs from them, both of which are typical, average LL Bean catalogs.  So the “behemoth” appears to have been a one-shot deal. A “coffee table keeper” for their customers and a folio-sized gift from heaven for LL Bean’s printer.

Plus, the book reverses every initiative that Bean has made in the past few years – and which I have applauded – of having smaller books, and driving people online to see their product. There are some (but not many) call-outs in this behemoth to “go online to see more styles and colors”. But why would you? This catalog is meant to give the impression of being the most comprehensive, omnipotent bible of LL Bean products ever assembled. What could possibly be online at LL Bean.com that would be of any interest if it were not already shown in this book?

Finally – and this is most important – the catalog is ugly. Really damn ugly. And boring. It is not aspirational or inspirational at all. It’s like an office supply catalog, and when was the last time you were motivated by receiving one of those?

There is no warmth or charm to this catalog. There were two photos with some children playing by themselves. But no families, no family fun. No Christmas trees, or little Maine fishing boats. Of the few model shots with women, most of them had that “No I don’t smile and I don’t want to be here” look found in high-end women’s fashion catalogs.

Although it baffles the imagination as to why they would do this, maybe the new leadership at LL Bean felt compelled to “remove the shackles” of the past 104 years and go after a different audience. But do you do that with a catalog? Not if you believe that people are using mobile phones to shop. Do you appeal to a younger audience by creating a stark, “anti-LL Bean looking” LL Bean catalog? Probably not if you want to keep your existing customers.

This behemoth from LL Bean is your typical “let’s change creative” effort by non-catalog professionals, who don’t understand or appreciate that changing merchandise is the only thing that will appeal to a new generation of buyers. We’ve all seen this play out before in Plano, TX and Dodgeville, WI – you would think that someone would be paying attention.

LL Bean has been the leader in so many great ways in cataloging. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote in this space the following “LL Bean is not a Datamann client, but I look at them as an example of 100+ year old catalog company that has evolved to keep up with changing times. In my opinion, one of the seminal moments in the history of cataloging occurred in 2011 when LL Bean decided to offer free shipping on all orders, all the time. I’m sure they did not want to go down that road, but they did. They changed their business model without fundamentally changing their product – which is after all what customers are buying. I’m not going to list all the changes that I’ve seen them make, but they have been considerable. I’m sure things are not perfect at LL Bean, but on the surface, they seem to be adapting as best as can be expected for a company with such a long tradition of relying on a printed catalog.”

But this 324 page beast is just a huge, dumb, expensive mistake. Their existing customers were not calling in demanding an encyclopedia of products with all the excitement of the phone book. Even great brands are allowed to make a mistake once in a while. The next time the guys in Freeport want to make a statement, maybe they will focus on developing some innovative new products rather than creating an ugly coffee-table showpiece with all the romance of a Staples catalog.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Understanding Premium and Affordable Luxury

Timing is everything.

I almost looked like a genius on Monday. I had a blog posting already to go on why I thought Federica Marchionni, CEO of Lands’ End, was not going to last much longer. But, at the last minute, I decided to substitute my posting on the Marine Layer catalog (click here if you missed it). And then of course, Federica was fired on Monday. Oh, what an opportunity to look like a marketing savant…missed.

However, I did get quite a bit of feedback from readers on Monday about the posting I did offer on Marine Layer. As I’ve said before, I write stuff that is meant to generate a response, and get people thinking.

I heard from the CEO of one of Datamann’s clients. He comments about once a year to my postings. I appreciate his comments because he is detailed in his thoughts and comments, does not hold back criticism, and chides me when he thinks I’m wrong. Most important, he never stops trying to teach me new ways of looking at the catalog industry.

He has a catalog that sells “premium apparel”. The products are high priced. He and I have an on-going argument around the point that I believe his products are too high priced. He constantly argues that I don’t understand the premium buyer.  His comments from his email on Monday night follow in italics.

I love reading your posts.  Also I have noticed Marine Layer in some expensive retail locations and I have not understood the offer.  Although I have not gone in to try to understand.  So I am with you…..

Until you start comparing product prices to Target.  Even with your Filson disclaimer paragraph it is pointless to make the comment that you can buy t-shirt cheaper at Target. Duh, really?!

This just reinforces my opinion that no one in the catalog industry understands ‘premium’ or ‘affordable luxury’”.

He is right of course. Maybe I don’t understand or appreciate the premium market for some consumer goods.  I drive a 10 year old truck. I cannot understand why anyone would spend more than $25,000 for a new car. On the other hand, I spent $2,000 on a Nikon camera (from a catalog!) that some might argue does not take pictures any better than an iPhone.

And my wife, who was the one who made the comment that she could purchase t-shirts similar to the $39 ones in Marine Layer at Target for $8, is really into mountain biking and fitness. She may only spend $8 for a t-shirt, but will pay a premium price for a techno-advanced bike shirt.

“There IS a customer for $60 t–shirts, whatever you think.  It is tough to launch a company with the scale of Lands End or Target, and as a result you cannot get the same price for your products.  But that is not the point.  The point is that there is a customer who WANTS to spend more, not for the reasons that you suggest, but for ‘superior product’.  In almost all consumer goods there is a polarization of customers looking for premium, high quality (that might mean design as much as fabric) product and customers looking for the lowest common denominator.  More often than not it is the same consumer shopping at both ends of the spectrum, sometimes in the same category.”

We all have a special interest where we will pay a premium price. Of course premium to one person may be “sub-standard” to someone else. Just as one can spend $60 for a t-shirt, I’m sure that there are “super premium” t-shirts for $300.

My point on the Marine Layer catalog was simply this: maybe they do have a premium product that is worthy of the price – for whatever reason someone would spend a hefty sum for their products. But they failed to capitalize on that. They failed to tell a story.

Catalogs are an incredibly powerful and evocative tool and should be harnessed to sell premium products through storytelling and brilliant product presentation.  I assume that Marine Layer does not do this as I trust your judgement.  But don’t dismiss the premium market. It is smaller and more elite than the mass market, by definition, but catalogs should work there.”

He is right. Catalogs need to sell by having some reason for being. It might be price, it might be selection. Following the argument of my CEO friend, it could be story-telling.  Where Marine Layer fails – in my opinion – is in doing none of these. The people behind this catalog are still just having fun, and not taking seriously what they are – or should – be trying to do, which is put money in the bank. They certainly are not making any effort to have a viable catalog.

Yes, I understand that this catalog is aimed at the Millennial buyer, which I am not. But Millennials are consumers too, and they need to be sold. That is a lesson that so many of the new catalogs being run by people with no catalog experience learn the hard way.

I had a call last week from a furniture company with an extensive “look-book”. I’m not a big fan of look-books, but in this instance, the company has a $5,000 average order, so it makes sense. The caller wanted help expanding the circulation for the catalog, and wanted my thoughts and help. I explained that with a $5,000 average order, it would be almost impossible to find a list of buyers to which I would mail their catalog, because although those people exist, no company (co-op) could supply them in a manner that would be affordable for her to utilize.

This is one place where my CEO friend and I agree:

“One reason I suspect catalogs don’t work in ‘premium’ is because no one can supply those names.”

I’m not going to launch another attack on the short-comings of the co-ops. But, the problem with identifying “premium” buyers/prospects for any offer is that a person that may only spend $8 for a t-shirt will get defined as such, even though that same person may spend ten times that amount for a workout top. Yes, I’m sure the co-ops will tell me that the models take this into account. But if that were the case, then why did I get a Marine Layer catalog?

This brings me back to Federica. She tried to bring change to Lands’ End – a company stuck in a snowbank of traditions. I have not been to Dodgeville in more than five years, so it is unfair for me to comment on what the company has been doing, beyond what I have seen in their catalogs. Lands’ End defined middle America. That is who their customer has always been. Federica tried taking that middle class/Lake Wobegonian customer, and move them to the Hamptons. It was NOT going to happen. And I don’t blame her; I blame the Board of Directors that hired her. They bought into her image of creating a premium offer out of Lands’ End, but that is tough to do with customers who are accustomed to buying clothes that are middle of the road. It’s like trying to get someone used to driving a Ford Focus to trade up to a Ferrari.

My CEO friend concluded his email with these thoughts:

“As long as the catalog industry only sings the praises of commodity products which are differentiated solely by the numbers of colors an item comes in and the relatively low prices, it may well continue its downward spiral.”

There are companies that do an exceptional job with selling premium products. But they do so with – for lack of a better term – standard catalog best practices. They build a story around their products and their brand. They do the hard work necessary to sell premium products. That means they don’t treat their customers/prospects with contempt.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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If You Have This Much Contempt for Catalogs…

If you have this much contempt for catalogs and for your customers, why even bother?

For those of you that have grown tired of me ripping apart yet another poorly conceived start-up, yuppie/millennial-inspired catalog, you can skip today’s posting and still get a passing grade at the end of the semester.

For those of you with the morbid curiosity to see how some catalogs simply blow through money, read on…

I received a catalog this week called Marine Layer, based in San Francisco. I immediately noticed two red flags that tell me these guys won’t last long. First, they number the editions of their catalog, which in my experience is a sure sign of catalog hubris, as if they expect their catalogs to become collectibles (“Oooh, you have a pristine copy of Edition No. 5, that one is rare.”) Second, they just opened a store on Newbury Street in Boston. From my perspective of 50+ years of seeing retailers move in and out of shops on that street, I know that a presence there usually indicates a huge ego on the part of upper management, and out-of-control spending.

Let’s look at the catalog. Look way down in the lower left corner. Do you see that tiny gray circle? It offers 15% off – BUT WHO IS GOING TO SEE IT?

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The back cover is even worse. It at least features some of their products, but they are not for sale. The real problem with the back cover is the call-out for free shipping and returns.

marine-layer-back-cover-oh-hey

Again, who is going to see that? (Or, maybe I should emulate their hipster copywriter and say “Duh, who is going to see that?”) There were six additional similar sized call-outs inside the book for free shipping, spread out over 56 pages, and all in tough-to-read reverse type. There were no additional reminders of the 15% off offer.

To me, this shows the folks at Marine Layer have contempt for their customers. Why bother to have discounts and free shipping offers if you hide them from your customers, and potential customers?  Oh, I know, if you made mention of these offers in a bigger manner – in a manner that someone might actually notice – it will destroy your brand and the curated image you are presenting. And you refuse to make the dotwhack on  the front cover any bigger because it will “look trashy”. Well, when your venture capital dries up because your sales and profits are going nowhere, maybe you’ll wish you had promoted these two offers differently.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that the three most important spreads in the catalog for sales are the opening spread, the back inside cover spread, and the center spread. So how did Marine Layer do with those pages?

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marine-layer-center-spread

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That’s right – they did nothing with them. They used them for “lifestyle” and branding shots.  That’s 11% of the available space in the catalog – and the most valuable selling space – completely wasted on non-selling. Sure, there are some people who viewed those pages and said “wow, I can relate to this brand”. But, I’ll bet Marine Layer’s CFO would rather have used those spreads for hard selling instead of soft branding.

But here is the main problem I have with this catalog. The catalog’s primary selling point – or gimmick – is that they have products made with a proprietary material, which according to them, is incredibly soft. They even bound a little six panel brochure into the center of the catalog to explain what makes this fabric so great and unique. (And this bind-in card was not cheap). But they fail to make this story part of their selling throughout the catalog.

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This is a mistake that so many catalogs make. You have something unique, and that you love, but you assume that everyone else immediately recognizes it for its uniqueness and that they immediately share your passion for the product. It doesn’t happen that way.

marine-layer-absurdly-soft

This is the first selling spread (pages 4/5) in the Marine Layer catalog. I showed it to my wife, and covered the price, asking how much she would pay for an “absurdly soft” t-shirt. She said “I can get the same thing at Target for $8”. Marine Layer’s price is $39. Ouch.

Before going further, let me state that I received some comments several weeks ago to my blog posting (Value or Not?) on the Filson catalog, and (in my opinion) the exorbitant prices they charge for their flannel shirts. The comments were equally divided along the lines of “yes, that catalog has lost touch with reality” to “you know Bill, just because you are a cheap Yankee who thinks that $150 is ridiculous for a flannel shirt does not mean that the Filson customer agrees”.

Both opinions are correct. Sometimes a catalog’s prices are seemingly out of touch with reality, and yet they have customers who willing pay those prices. Maybe the customer sees value where the rest of us don’t, maybe the customer just wants to make a “vanity” purchase. Maybe the customer is ignorant of other options.

The point with Marine Layer is that they may actually have a t-shirt worth $39, but they have done nothing to convince me as a consumer and a prospect why it is worth that much. The opening spread did nothing to communicate that point to me. Nor do any of the individual selling pages. And the bind-in, which 99% of the readers of the catalog are going to skip, is buried in the middle of the book. This does not have to be a “technical” explanation about cotton and wood fibers. You can appeal to my vanity. But do some selling!

I understand I’m not their target customer. I understand that companies need to be “innovative” to stand out from the crowd.  But innovation comes from merchandise, from the products you are selling. It does not come from having contempt of your customer and contempt for using a catalog to sell.

I stated earlier that Marine Layer had contempt for their customer by designing a catalog which hides offers, gives no explanation as to what makes their products so unique and is seemingly over-priced. However, they also show contempt for “catalogs” themselves. They probably love their stores. But as a consumer, and catalog professional, I sense that they really don’t like catalogs. They don’t want to employ any of the standard techniques that successful catalogs utilize to drive response. I’m certain that upper management is taking a counter-intuitive  approach, as in “We are special, not like anyone else. So we don’t want to have a catalog like anyone else. We know better than everyone else.”  This is just wasteful.

At some point in the future, this catalog will no longer be treated internally as a fun, whimsical project. At some point, someone is going to be given P&L responsibility for it. They are going to be constantly butting heads with the “brand” police that want to continue producing a catalog that is short on selling, and hence short on sales and profits. They will read this catalog critique and wonder how in the world they can turn this catalog around. It is a tough battle to win.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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