No, I Bought A Different Brand

A few weeks ago, I wrote very favorably about the B&H catalog, and their 330-page behemoth of photography equipment, which added editorial pages sprinkled throughout the catalog on how to pick the right photo equipment. At less than 5% of the page count of the catalog, this is by no means a “magalog”, which typically devote at least 50% of the space to non-selling editorial or “lifestyle content”.

It is easy to see what B&H is doing – they are trying to differentiate themselves as the de facto place to go for photo and video information and by extension, for purchasing that equipment. But, here is the problem that I see: I purchased a Nikon camera from them a year ago. I have subsequently purchased a few filters for my existing Nikon lens. It’s pretty clear, I’m sticking with Nikon.

But, they keep sending me emails for all kinds of other products from other brands, including the one received this week for Canon cameras. To me, this says one of three things:

  • Like many other catalog companies, they probably have antiquated legacy systems which prevent them from doing any finer segmentation of their emails by product;
  • Or, upper management may not see that as an issue because they probably rationalize that “Hey, we don’t want to miss a sale because someday you might decide to buy a Canon”.
  • Or, they are incredibly unsophisticated, and don’t want to bother with any segmentation, because it is still easier and possibly even profitable, to keep blasting the same email to all customers, for a catalog with thousands of SKUs.

Further, they have failed to send me any “specialty” catalog of just Nikon equipment. My camera has lots of bells and whistles, many of which I’m still learning. They could be sending me a small, targeted 24-page catalog of just the accessories that are right for my camera. I’d look at that!

I don’t need the 330-page encyclopedia, which is quite frankly, pretty intimidating. I need a targeted (dare I even say “curated”) collection of just the products for my camera. I didn’t buy Canon, or Sony, or Hasselblad – so quit sending me the stuff for which I have no use.

Some of you might be thinking that maybe there is not enough margin in doing a specialty book by camera brand alone. I don’t think that is the case, but let’s assume it is – they could at least do a mini-catalog of lenses, or camera cases. It would have to be more productive than sending the 330-page tome once a year.

Why is this a big deal? B&H has an edge at the moment, based on its photographic knowledge, great customer service, reputation and depth of product assortment. But none of that matters, does it?  The reason – there’s someone out there – maybe Amazon, maybe some company that is yet to be heard from – that is going to realize how big B&H is from a sales perspective, and will take them out by using data, targeted advertising with advanced CRM, and a bunch of other sophisticated tools.

And it isn’t just B&H. It is every other catalog company (B2B and B2C alike) that is failing basic catalog marketing by becoming more targeted, more focused. I’m a consumer that is tired of being ignored – I want to be recognized for what I need. Sending me 330 pages of products, only 20 pages of which are applicable to my needs, is no different than going into a retail store and being ignored by the sales staff. You may have a million SKUs, but someone else is going to figure out a way to be more relevant to me. Good intentions are no longer enough.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Catalog Creative In A New World

Let me do something different today – I’m going to offer comments on a catalog that I think is doing an adequate job (that’s as complimentary as I get) from a “creative” perspective, but is certainly not a traditional catalog. I’m also going to check how they are doing against my list of 21 catalog creative rules, and in the process, illustrate why many of those rules don’t apply here.

Let me be clear, it is a catalog from which I would never purchase. It is also not necessarily catalog creative that I like, or that resonates with me – but contains “creative and design elements” that I expect resonates with the catalog’s intended audience.

The catalog is NatureBox, which is a relative new comer mailing since at least 2014, and is from what could best be described as an “online company”. NatureBox is a membership program ($50/year) that you must join, and they ship you snack food, which you have to pay for on top of the yearly membership fee. (Note: they have all kinds of deals/rebates on their website, so please don’t write to me to tell me I have their pricing wrong).  Right off the bat you are spending $50 for the privilege of buying snack food that you could buy at just about any supermarket, and most gas stations.

Not off to a good start

I received these two catalogs earlier this year, one addressed to me, one to one of my seed names.

My first reaction to this company as catalog marketing mavens was not good, since I considered the cover test they were conducting to be a classic example of a test that makes no difference.  What does it prove? How do you act on this in the future if the one on the left does better than the one on the right? I am certain that the creative director at NatureBox could explain in painful detail the difference between these two covers, and how each resonates to a different type of person. But, come on…to the average consumer, there’s no difference here, so stop doing stupid tests like this.

Don’t Tell Me About Your Grass Seed, Tell Me About My Lawn

Oh God, no! Right on page 2 – the most valuable page in the catalog – they have a President’s letter, Actually, it’s worse than that – it’s a letter from Travis, the Director of Sourcing and Innovation. Travis tells us how he likes to “discover and develop new and unique flavors”. The focus of the copy is all about NatureBox and Travis, and nothing about you, the consumer. Plus, there is no mention anywhere in the letter that this is a membership offer – oh, why be so sneaky? If you are going to waste space with a letter, don’t you think that’s the place to tell the consumer the part of about the $50, but then also explain that you get a $50 credit applied towards purchases? That’s kind of basic customer service courtesy. (The only reference to the membership is on page 27 – one lonely line of copy that says “join today – NatureBox is only $5 per month, which is credited towards your purchases”).

Between the cover and page 2, these guys are failing two of my basic rules of catalog creative, which are no dumb cover tests, and no president’s letters.

However, page 3 gets us back track, because they show their eight top snacks. That’s good merchandising – show the best stuff up front, and tell me it is your best stuff.

But, the copy, which is tiny (can’t be more than 3 point font), never tells how much you get. Do I get a bag of each snack, a box, 2 ounces, 10 ounces – what? Maybe you get the amount of product shown in the photo? That isn’t clear if that is what I get. Further on in the catalog, on the “nuts” page, each sampling of nuts is listed as 8 oz., so their labeling/merchandising is inconsistent.

However, go to their website, and it is a different story. Each product description lists in detail the serving portion.

Below is their center spread – which does no selling. Oddly, it shows 11 icons, which you can use to “shop our catalog using these filters”. But again, these “filter icons” appear sporadically through the catalog, and not on every page or product, so how do you use them to shop the catalog?

Finally – this is their exit spread (below), with again, no selling.

In a 36-page catalog, 12 of the pages, one third of the total catalog, have no selling, and six of the remaining pages are selling a single product, the highest priced of which is $3.79.

Why This Is Not So Bad

As with many things in life, one of the things which you learn as a catalog consultant is that not all rules apply to all catalogs. If this catalog were selling garden tools, this “minimalist/lifestyle” approach would not work. People who buy those types of products want specifics, and are not impressed by lifestyle imagery.

People who are willing to spend $50 just for the privilege of buying snacks are probably equally concerned with those details, but NatureBox recognizes that they cannot “seal the deal” to get you to be a member from the catalog alone. You have to go to the website to do that.

Consequently, this catalog is a 32-page web driver. Its primary purpose is to sell you on the concept of buying healthy snack food, in a convenient way, at seemingly very affordable prices, as almost all the “snacks” are under $4.00. Moreover, these customers are not taking the time to calculate the cost per pound to determine the equivalent cost at Wal-Mart.

As a marketer, the temptation for me would be to gut this catalog of those 12 non-selling pages, get the page count down to 24, and add in a ton of extra products, with longer, more detailed descriptions. That would probably be a huge mistake. The margins on the products in this catalog are probably obscene, which is what allows them to have 1/3 of the catalog not selling anything beyond a warm feeling, and force people to go to the website.

Are there creative changes I would make to this existing book? Yes, I’d stop the cover tests and get rid of Travis’s letter. But other than that, we have to recognize that this is a new world. This is an example of a catalog where the website is MUCH stronger than the catalog, which alone negates many of my “21 catalog creative rules”.

NatureBox is also an example of how an online company maxed out its ability to acquire customers online with PPC, SEO, etc. Search on “healthy snacks by mail” and you’ll discover a host of companies doing the same thing, including Graze, Healthy Surprise, and Urthbox. NatureBox’s catalog is just one more tool to reach different audiences, though sadly was mistargeted at me.

The lesson here – NatureBox’s catalog creative – with all of its drawbacks in a traditional catalog world – probably resonates with their target customer, and reinforces the concept that your website MUST be stronger than your 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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Whose Call Is This – the CEO, Marketing or Merchandise?

Here was the question – “I’m a merchant, battling what our marketers do. In my opinion, catalog marketing optimization has its downsides, namely, blindly going where the response rates lie.  As more money is spent on the catalog, the optimization tactics our marketing department use quickly become our brand face.  Our catalog promotes an outdoor lifestyle, but because of always chasing response, our top sales drivers are more likely to be a turtleneck than a tent.  What can I as the merchant do, because I see this direction as ultimately destroying what originally made our company different?”

This question was from a reader of this blog, which I used in the Q&A portion of our catalog seminar in March. I asked Frank Oliver, our “merchant” at the seminar, to address the question. I had not shared the question with Frank previously.

As a merchant, it would have been easy for him to agree with this question, and put all the blame on marketing, as the reader who posed the question had done. But after a slight pause to consider his response, Frank replied “So, this merchant is complaining that one set of products is selling better than another, and is blaming marketing? This is not a marketing issue. Marketing does not pick what products go in the book. The CEO sets the direction for what products will exemplify the company’s “mission/brand”, and the merchants carry that direction out. Don’t blame marketing for driving response.”

“The optimization tactics our marketing department use quickly become our brand face. I’m a marketer, so I can imagine what tactics the merchant is referring to, namely using the co-ops for prospecting. If marketing instructs the co-ops to provide the most responsive names, and the co-op’s database skews towards an older consumer (let’s say 55+), then this merchant’s logic is that marketing has driven the catalog off its intended course by loading up on customers that don’t belong to the merchant’s vision of the intended customer.

I look at this a little differently. If you didn’t want to go to Chicago, why did you get on the bus bound for Chicago? If you did not want turtlenecks to become the “brand face”, why did you put them in the catalog in the first place? The reader stated that the catalog promotes “an outdoor lifestyle”. If the catalog is doing a decent job of promoting that “lifestyle”, then any product the consumer purchases gives them a connection to that lifestyle. Don’t blame marketing if the products being purchased begin to skew away from an intended or original mission for the company. The products in the catalog or on the website are there because the merchants put them there – and I’ve never met a merchant who did not think that every new product would sell well.

Besides, name a successful catalog or company where the product selection has not evolved over time. Isn’t the purpose of a company to maximize profits for the owners/shareholders? Wouldn’t that dictate that you sell the products that the customer wants, rather the ones which you think they want, or you think they should have? Yes, I know, you are going to point to Apple and quote Steve Jobs who probably said something cool about not selling turtlenecks when you could sell tents. But using this example, if your margins are sound on the turtlenecks, and the customers you acquire on turtlenecks convert to buy other products (like tents) from you, what’s the problem?

Yes, I agree that some marketing tactics can skew the composition of the audience. In the late 1980s when I took over as the marketing guy at Brookstone, I found that our prospecting strategy consisted of always offering a cheap premium (free jackknife or flashlight) with each first-time order. To drive response, the prospecting lists acquired from our rental/exchange partners (this was before the co-ops) were their “sale” buyers. All this strategy did was attract the pond-scum from everyone else’s files that wanted a free jackknife. So, this is not a new concept.

Ten years ago, the concept that the co-ops were skewing the composition of the customer base may not have been as well understood, or as evident, as my Brookstone model. But everyone in cataloging today should understand that the co-ops are skewing the composition of your buyers, certainly toward an older consumer. Can they also be skewed toward a propensity to purchase one type of product over another – certainly.  If a modeler at one of the co-ops knows that by providing you one group of names (turtleneck buyers) over another group (tent byers) that your response rate will be 10% greater, they are going to give you the higher performing names. The result of that might be more turtlenecks sold than tents.

The question becomes not how we got here or who is to blame. The question is whether you can make a course correction now. Ultimately, the companies that carve out a unique position in the market via merchandise will be the ones that survive. That may mean merchants need to prune from the product assortment those products that are commodity in nature and not in keeping with a product strategy that promotes that “uniqueness”. Of course, the CEO, and Board of Directors, must acknowledge that a move like this might mean forgoing short-term gain on the turtlenecks, to ensure long time survival by focusing on tents.

To answer the merchant’s original question as to what he can do, he can make everyone – especially the CEO – aware of the tradeoffs involved with maximizing response versus maintaining a unique identity via merchandise. And if the CEO still wants to take the bus to Chicago, at least you have made everyone aware of the consequences.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Don’t Worry About The 40X Names, Focus On The 1X Names

Think about what you ask the catalog co-op databases to do. You ask them to find you the best names for your mailings.  Those names are usually buyers at your closest competitor’s catalogs. If  I’m the circulation manager at LL Bean, I want the co-ops to give me names of good buyers from Lands’ End, Orvis, Eddie Bauer and Woolrich.

In theory, this is exactly what happens. If I have made purchases at all those other companies, I would look like a great prospect to LL Bean. My name would float to the top of every model LL Bean receives from their co-ops.  But, what if I’m just not willing to become an LL Bean customer?

These consumers that are actively purchasing from other catalogs have nothing against you. They are simply comfortable with the companies from which they purchase now. In the apparel world, they know that what they purchase from these other companies will fit, and fit the way they like. They don’t need to add another apparel catalog to their fashion mix with the risk of dissatisfaction over an order.

The same phenomenon happens in hard goods and gifts. If I’m strong buyer of Virginia peanuts and Pacific salmon by mail, it doesn’t mean that I’m guaranteed to want Wisconsin cheese or Vermont maple syrup, although my name probably floats to the top of models for those other food catalogs as well.

You have prospects like this too. You have a core group of prospects that you mail over and over because they are either good customers with your competitors or with companies close to your product mix.  You either rent these names directly from those companies, or receive them in your co-op models.  But these consumers are never going to buy from you because either they don’t need you, or they choose to stay loyal to the other brand. You just keep mailing them over and over.

But, that may not be a bad thing.

Datamann builds and maintains prospect contact histories for our clients, which is a database that tracks the number of times you mailed a prospect name (individual or household) before you finally received an order from that consumer, as well as tracking those that have never ordered.

The report shows the optimum number of times to mail a prospect to get the maximum response rate, but more importantly, it illustrates the point at which it is no longer profitable to mail that prospect name. You can suppress these “over-promoted” names from future mailings, as well as send them to the co-ops to have them suppressed from the files you order.

Every client for whom we produce these reports uses them differently. Further, every report we produce has vastly different patterns of response. In the sample report above, there were 67,450 prospects mailed for the 12th time in five years (not consecutively). 3,476 of those prospects finally responded to their 12thth mailing, generating a 5.15% response rate for that group of names – not bad. We always see that the response builds over time, but where it reaches the maximum response differs widely. For some mailers it may occur on the 5th mailing. For others the highest response rate may not be achieved until after the 20th mailing.

It is always shocking for some mailers to see that they have prospects which they have mailed 20, 30, and sometimes 40 times, without ever placing an order. Some mailers thought they were always getting “totally fresh names” with each mailing. But think about this – the co-ops are doing what you asked them to do – which is send you the names most likely to respond, which would be those buying from your competitors. The co-ops are not coordinating with each other to say “Oh, I sent that name last time, so you shouldn’t send it this time.” However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you know I’m not a big fan of the co-ops. It would be great if they could identify those buyers that are extremely loyal to your competitor’s brand, who are unlikely to ever buy from you, and not send them to you.  But in this case, I’m not sure they ever could, or that you want them to. You need to determine how to structure an offer to these names that you have mailed 20 times, or 40 times, to get them to buy from you. What’s it going to take to get them to buy from you?

Look – this is not rocket science.  The co-ops are NOT analyzing 320 million US residents, sifting through tiny bits of data that reveal a fresh new consumer that no one has ever mailed before, who is destined to become your greatest customer ever. No, if the co-ops are doing their job correctly – meaning they understand who your customer is – then they should be sending you these top prospects that are actively buying from your competitors over and over. Those are the names with the highest propensity to convert to being your next new customer. The problem is that this scenario repeats at every other catalog company too. The catalog that raises their game and determines how to appeal to these active prospects/consumers will be the winner.

Here is the bigger issue I see. Look at the top row – the 1X names. Every time we create this report for clients, we see a similar pattern. The 1X names are two to three times greater than the 2X names. Overall, the 1X names are 38% of the total quantity of names this mailer has ever mailed. Doesn’t that seem odd? The co-ops are supposed to be giving you the best names. They “model” what they send you. You are supposed to be getting the best of the best. That would mean you should be getting more of the same names more often.

But, almost 40% of the time, the co-ops sent you a name that they subsequently decided was not worth sending you again. Those are the names you need to focus on. Were those “filler” names that the co-ops gave you to get your quantity up? When you are planning your Fall and Holiday circulation this year, ask the co-ops their strategy on giving you names only once vs. multiple times.

Here is another aspect of this report. Let’s assume this mailer is willing to generate a loss of $45 in profit to acquire a new customer. On an incremental basis – looking at each mailing as an event unto itself – this mailer does not reach this threshold until the 34th mailing.  But, what if you looked at this cumulatively? Go back to the 12th row. You did not just mail 67,450 names to get those 3,476 orders.  You mailed 809,395 catalogs (12 x 67,450).  If you include the cost of all those additional catalogs mailed to get those first orders, you actually lost $97 in profit (far right column).  You would attain your allowable profit per new customer (-$45), measured cumulatively, on the 7th mailing.

Should you stop mailing after that 7th mailing? It depends on how you view your “sunk cost” of those cumulative mailings. Most of our clients want to continue mailing prospects as long as it remains incrementally profitable to do so. However, some want to include those “cumulative expenses” in their lifetime value calculations to determine if a customer that required 40 mailings from you to make their first purchase, was really worth it in the long run.

Datamann’s Prospect Contact History is easy to implement, and provides you immediate return because in most cases, there is no testing involved. Your accumulated mailings over the past 5 or 6 years are the actual testing grounds where you mailed all those prospect names. As long as we have your old mail files, we can build a similar database for you. Contact me for details.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Bill’s 21 Irrefutable Catalog Creative Rules – Last Chapter

We’re almost done – let’s wrap these rules up today.

In case you missed Part One, Two or Three of my rules, click here:

Bill’s 21 Irrefutable Catalog Creative Rules – Part 1 (with rules 1 to 6)

Bill’s 21 Irrefutable Catalog Creative Rules – Part 2 (with rules 7 to 12)

Bill’s 21 Irrefutable Catalog Creative Rules – Part 3 (with rules 13 to 18)

Rule #19 – Do not change for the sake of change

Constant creative tinkering rarely leads to significant gains in response. Unless your customers are calling or emailing and saying “Hey, I can’t order from this catalog/website”, you will see no meaningful increase in response rate from completely changing the format of your design. In fact, you will probably alter the product density and/or the mix of price points, which will hurt response.

Rule #20 – Don’t be afraid to sell

Over and over I see mailers throw a bunch of similar products on a page, with no thought given to helping the customers determine what is best for them. Don’t assume that your customer has the same love for or knowledge about your products that you have – you have to sell them. You have to rekindle that love for your products with every customer, with every new book.  In creative terms, that means going beyond a simple “hero shot” presentation, and going for the “WOW” presentation. Be bold.

Most B2B catalogs are the worst offenders of this rule. They typically make the assumption that the professional to whom this catalog is aimed (regardless of profession) can immediately tell what every product is for, and which of the 17 versions of the same product shown in the catalog, is ideal for their needs. You do no selling – every product is exactly the same, just thrown on the page. There is no effort to be creative, or sell; you are simply SKU barfing page after page.

Rule #21 – You must have a sense of urgency

Our greatest threat is not the online world, or Amazon. It is our own retreat into “catalog narcissism”. We believe it when printers and other industry leaders tell us that catalogs are not dead, and that our industry is fine. We listen to the co-ops when they tell us they are growing, yet we instinctively see all those orders flowing to Amazon and wonder how it could be that the co-ops are growing when they are missing all those orders.

The internet has been challenging catalogs for the past 20 years, and certainly has been pushing the catalog industry hard for the past 10 years. But most catalogs have no sense of urgency in making any changes. You still debate cover strategies, and timing tests. Your merchants maintain the same level of lousy productivity per catalog that they did 10 years ago – largely because no one has held them accountable for increasing productivity.

And because you are focused on the things that matter little, most of you have not had the inclination, the wherewithal, or the luxury of time to really look at your business from a strategic perspective. Neither Datamann nor I have all the answers. Few consultants do. But all consultants have an advantage – we get to walk in the door and view your business without all the day-to-day junk that you have to deal with. We can advise you on where to start making changes. But YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE SENSE OF URGENCY.  Stop fooling yourself that you are unique (there is no such thing as a unique catalog), and stop fooling yourself that your customers have any loyalty to you or that they see you as a lifestyle brand. And stop wasting your day dealing with things that have no impact on the future of the business.

The way to fix this is not to simply say, “well, we’ve got a website, we’ve got an email program, and we’ve got a mobile site, and we’re on Facebook, so we have all the bases covered”. I’ve seen most of your mobile sites and they do not make you a mobile marketer – they make you a catalog from which I can order with my phone.

The way to fix this problem is to review the list of factors above that truly have an impact on your catalog’s growth and future, and determine which ones have the biggest impact on your business. (Contact me if you want help). Start there. Then ask yourself these questions to tell if you are thinking like a company that can/wants to grow, as opposed to being simply another catalog caught in a downward spiral:

  • Do you have at least twice the number of products available online for purchase than you do in your catalog?
  • Do you have a program in place to reduce your cost of goods by 20% in order to enable you to increase prospecting to more marginal new customer sources?
  • Do you introduce all new products online first, before they even get included in the catalog?
  • Do you ever keep any of your absolute best products out of the catalog, and make them web-only?
  • Are more than 50% of your incrementally new customers being acquired with no help from a catalog?
  • Have you done a hold-out test to determine the percentage of online demand that comes from existing customer if you stopped mailing them a catalog?
  • Do you spend the same amount of time and attention on updating your website and (separately) your mobile site, as you do on paginating and creating your catalog? (I already know the answer on this one is “No”.)
  • Are you creating separate product specific catalogs/mailers targeted at specific portions of your file?
  • Do you have that sense of urgency?

Repeating what I said at the beginning of this long posting, I’m not a creative person. You would not want me to design your catalog. But, I am convinced that 90% of the catalog creative people in this world could create a really great, innovative, response generating design – if only you would let them. Take the restrictions off – let your creative people spread their wings, and show you what they can do. Let them inspire your customers. As long as they don’t monkey around (too much) with product density, what have you got to lose?

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Bill’s 21 Irrefutable Catalog Creative Rules – Part 3

In case you missed Part One and Two of my catalog creative rules, click here:

Bill’s 21 Irrefutable Catalog Creative Rules – Part 1 (with rules 1 to 6)

Bill’s 21 Irrefutable Catalog Creative Rules – Part 2 (with rules 7 to 12)

Rule #13 – Branding is what you do to cows

Do not focus on building a catalog brand “creatively”. You build a brand on your merchandise and your customer service. Roy Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, once said that “Branding is what you do when there’s nothing original about your products.”

How many meetings have you sat through at your company where everyone dismissed dismal response rates by saying that at least you are building brand awareness, or that your catalog is becoming a “lifestyle brand” to your customers? That line of thinking is bogus. Customers are not going to buy from your catalog because of your “brand”, especially if that brand is built on a creative house of  cards.

In my opinion, the one thing that motivates your customers to buy is the merchandise. Get that wrong, and it does not matter how well targeted the mailing is, or how many likes you have on your Facebook page, or how strong your perceived brand quality is.   You’ve got to get the product right, and you’ve got to have it priced right – or nothing else matters.

When I hear clients talking about their “brand”, I always think of Roy Disney’s comments, and I ask the client about their products and merchandise. How truly unique is it? What truly sets it apart from others catalogs? What benefit does it truly provide the customer that they can’t get elsewhere? What are the runaway best sellers that are going to drive your business next year which no one else will have?

I rarely get satisfactory answers about the product itself. Instead I hear about their lifestyle branding efforts and their “branded, curated collection”.  There never seems to be any concrete merchandise knowledge and direction. That is what is missing in American retailing and catalogs.  We are focused on how we are selling, not what we are selling, because there is nothing “original about our products”.  Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod were all original – that’s what made their company so valuable. That is not because of “brand” alone – it is because of product.

Your catalog merchanside has to be original.  Having a black dress with five buttons instead of the four buttons like everyone else does not make your dress exclusive or original. And you are going to lose in the long run to companies that are bringing products to the market that truly are original and exclusive.

Rule #14 – Let The Product Be the Brand

This is similar to, but different from Rule #13. In my opinion, when you have to use “editorial” content to explain to your customer what you are attempting to do with your catalog, then you’ve already missed the point of what a catalog does. A catalog sells product by making the consumer see the product and say “Wow, I want that.” You should not have to tell them why you think they should want it.

Your creative needs to focus on the product, and make the merchandise sell itself.

I believe that catalog creative needs to be inspired, emotional and aspirational, not just “creative”. The best way to put it is to say “don’t bore us to death”.

Rule #15 – Web drivers

This rule is a big deal to me because I believe that one of the ways catalogs will survive in the future is to learn how to use their catalog to drive customers to their websites. Most of you will have to do this as a matter of survival. But I also believe this will ultimately be a better experience for the customer. Your website can, and should, be better than your catalog. You can show the products in multiple positions/uses, you can have video, you can have multiple ways to find product, and you can even steer customers to products that have the best margins (or even the highest inventory). Most important, you can have more products on the web than you can ever afford to have in the catalog.

You get it – the website just offers more opportunity. And yet, I still hear clients say that if the product is not good enough to go in the catalog, why bother to have it on the website? Or, they simply can’t sell a product unless it is in the catalog. You think that way because you don’t think in terms of the website being better than the catalog.

Clients continually ask me which catalogs do a great job of using their catalogs as web drivers – meaning, using their catalog to drive traffic to the website where the customer can have an even larger offering of products than what is in the catalog. By far, the best catalog at accomplishing this is Cabela’s, at least the books which I receive.  Most pages have a call-out to either watch a video online about one of the products, or a call-out to see more of the assortment online. Moreover, it is not done in a rote manner, similar to the way almost every catalog puts their URL on the bottom of the page. The call-outs subtly reinforce, in appropriate places, that Cabela’s has a bigger product assortment on line.

You may not have time this year to add additional products online, and you may not have time (or the resources) to make your website better. But, if you test anything this year, think about the elements you can introduce to drive customers to your website.  That is a worthwhile effort.

Here is a final word of advice – these web driver call-outs are not a creative element of the book. They belong to the Merchandise Department. Someone in merchandise has to be the champion of making certain these call-outs go in the book, and STAY in the book, on an on-going basis. I’ve seen several catalogs which started out strong with web callouts throughout their pages only to see their use fall off after a few months.  When I have inquired of the mailer to determine if they had tested these and determined they did not work, the answer is universally along the lines of “No, the person that was responsible for that left and we keep forgetting to put them back in.”

Rule #16 – Tell a story

This is a new rule, and not one I would have supported years ago. But that was before Amazon, and before this blog.

I receive the most comments from readers when I “tell a story” in this blog, especially when I mention something about my wife and I living in rural New England, such as owning a backhoe. Although I’m sure it bores some of you, most of your fellow readers seem to enjoy when I relate a catalog lesson/parable to a real life situation. That is one of the things that separates this blog from the ones you read that blabber on about “paradigm shifts”.

I like to think I set a high standard with this blog, at least with regard to content. You may not always agree with what I say, sometimes you might think I’m flat out wrong. But you must admit – you know where I’m coming from. I take a stand. That’s what makes it “unique” and difficult for someone else to emulate.

The same is true with your catalog. Most of you are selling “stuff” that at least two or three other competitors are selling. Plus, most of what you sell is also on Amazon. So how do you differentiate yourself? Tell a story, take a stand, and be unique. It will not appeal to everyone – but you can no longer try to appeal to a broad common denominator.

Rule # 17 – Make it Relevant to your customer – Appeal to their hopes, fears and aspirations

As many of you know, I’m partially deaf. I found a really LOUD kitchen timer online which I love. The copy online stressed how loud it was, and that you would never burn anything again in the oven for not hearing the timer. That is a huge BENEFIT to me, so I bought it.  At about the same time, I saw the same timer in a King Arthur Flour catalog. The first line of copy was “The timer you’ve always wanted”. That is a throw-away line that does nothing for sales. They have since changed it to “This timer wants to be heard! Adjustable volume setting on this timer is ideal for noisy households or for those that need a bigger more vocal reminder that the cookies are done.” That is focusing on a benefit, and making it relevant.  Do it with every product that you can.

Rule #18 – Don’t Be Timid

There is a meeting going on right now somewhere – in some catalog or ecommerce company – where “upper management” is discussing adding a new product category.  You’ve probably suffered through one of these meetings.  Someone may have brought some hard data to support going off into this new merchandise direction, but often it is simply someone saying “I believe, I feel, I think” that this new category is what your customer wants and will buy. Everyone else in attendance accepts these assumptions, because “well, we know we need to grow, and we can’t do that unless we expand the product offering, and these products seem like a logical extension of our brand, so let’s go for it.”

So you add these new products – and in my experience, they hardly ever succeed. The reason is because although everyone thought they were a great and logical extension of the merchandise line, no one supported them to the degree they needed to be support in the catalog.

First, and this is a merchandise issue, most new product categories are not supported with enough products to make it clear to the consumer that you are a champion of this category. You make a half-hearted effort with six or seven products. This is not going to help them move the needle and get strong growth.

Second, and this is a creative issue, you don’t give these new products prominence. You gave them a small amount of space, buried in the back portion of the book. We do this all the time. We are afraid to support new items because we are afraid of detracting from existing products.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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