Engagement

This is a sample size of one – so take these observations with some skepticism.

I wrote in last week’s posting that I had changed my view on “engagement”. Here’s what changed it.

For years, vendors and other media “experts” have been pushing “engagement” as a way to acquire customers.  “You’ve got to be engaged with your customers!”

I always thought that was a bunch of bunk*. I believed that saying you had engagement with your customers was just a fancy way of saying that you stunk at generating orders and sales. It was like proclaiming that an event was successful because it generated tons of PR, but in reality, was a failure because no one showed up.

Hard orders and sales are what I always encourage clients to focus on – and to a VERY LARGE degree, that is what they must always be focused on. To old school mailers with customers prone to placing orders on the phone, nothing beats the feeling of obtaining a 10% response to a catalog mailing.

But over the past few years, I’ve watched the changing shopping habits of my wife Shari. First, let me point out that Shari is ten years younger than me – which at times seems like a huge generational gap, especially when it comes to consumer behavior. Second, she is not as stubborn as I am when it comes to adapting to new technology. Third, about four years ago, Shari got REALLY hooked on mountain biking.

At first, I tried keeping up with her. But I’m more of a “road bike on a paved rail trail” bike rider. I find little enjoyment in weaving through trees and over rocks through the woods the way she does. You go girl!

In addition to the actual riding, she joined several mountain biking clubs/groups in the area of the trails she rides. All of these groups are active on social media. This is where the discussions of trail conditions occurs – not on the group’s own website, but on their Facebook pages. Plus, I have learned that people who are really into mountain biking, love to share their rides. There are numerous apps with which you can “record” your ride, which can then be posted to Facebook, to show that you went over a certain trail, at a certain time, and that it was part of a 14-mile ride that day. It’s the modern-day version of Show & Tell. This is one example of social media engagement. Maybe not the 2 million Facebook followers I mentioned in last week’s blog, but these bikers are just as motivated, just as inspired, and just as “engaged” when it comes to sharing news about their latest ride.

Shari’s fellow mountain bike enthusiasts – who are worldwide, not just in New Hampshire where we live – also share equipment and apparel ideas. She is constantly posting photos of products she has found online to Pinterest and Instagram. She has purchased products from new vendors – some of them very small niche companies – that others have posted to those sites.

The vendors she purchases from are part of this “engaged mountain biker” community. They are not necessarily the biggest “bike” brands. This is how the new, smaller niche players are grabbing attention, grabbing sales and acquiring customers. The biggest brands often stink at engagement. Those bigger brands are satisfied with buying “disruptive” Facebook ads (because it “scales” faster) rather than creating content with which readers will actually take the time to read.

The little guys grab a few percentage points of the big guy’s business each year, and pretty soon, after 5 years, the little guy is on a roll, and the big guy is trending down and can’t figure out how to stop the slide.

Since we live in a tiny town in rural New England, I think many readers of this blog envision that we probably have a hand-crank telephone. Not so. We have a fairly fast DSL connection, and wi-fi throughout the house. My wife uses her phone for these social media interactions about 90% of the time, and only uses her laptop about 10% of the time. She never phones in an order, and except for my stash of Elvis stamps, we have no other stamps in the house with which to mail in an order.  Unless your customer demographic lives in a nursing home, this is the way of the modern consumer, with more emphasis on engagement and use of mobile the younger you go.

As I said, this is a sample size of one. But, you probably know consumers just like Shari, or you are one too. We know lots of households that have given up their land line. We have never had cable TV (not available in our town because you need at least 10 people/mile) so we are not surprised that people are giving up cable and discovering that you can live without it, because they stream Netflix and Hulu when they want to watch TV. Technology changes consumer behavior, and no amount of cries of “print is not dead” is going to erase that new behavior.

Shari will still occasionally look at a catalog. Since we get hundreds of them – including every women’s apparel catalog – she has a huge selection from which to pick coming to our house every week.  But when I’m sorting the mail on the kitchen counter each night and ask “do you want to look at these new Talbots, Lands’ End, Athleta catalogs?”, she often says “no, I can check them out online”, which means with her phone.

I have come to realize that engagement is not just about having a mobile presence. It is about having content that the reader wants and craves. It is also NOT a panacea for low catalog response rates. It will not and cannot be the sole avenue of sales and customer acquisition for your company – but it does work, and must be acknowledged as something that you must play a role in, if it is appropriate for you. I can get engaged with a baking site because I love to bake bread in the winter.  I’d have a hard time getting engaged with a site that sells keyboards, even though I use one daily.

Bear this other thought in mind. You cannot expect “engagement” to just happen. It is hard work. Maintaining this blog on weekly basis is no picnic – but I’m keeping you engaged. It is also something which is difficult to “hire”. You can hire Datamann to build a database, do your merge and matchback, and you can even hire me to do your circ plan. It’s not as easy to find an “agency” that will build you engagement. Five years ago, I never thought I’d be saying this, but in my opinion, companies in the future will be farming out their circ planning to people like me, and hiring “social media engagement” specialists in-house.

What fun times we are in…

*Instead of using the word bunk in the fourth paragraph, I was going to use a different word. But I was reminded of a story about President Harry Truman. In 1948, when Truman was running for re-election, he kept referring to the Republican platform as “manure”. His aides did not think this was dignified for the President to be saying. So, they spoke to Bess, the President’s wife, and asked her to get him to change his terminology. She replied “Boys, it’s taken me 40 years to get him to call it manure.”

 

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Impact Of Harvey On Your Catalog

I don’t need to tell you how bad the damage is from Hurricane Harvey in south Texas and now Louisiana. Being 1,800 miles away in New England, I can’t begin to imagine how bad the conditions must be.

However, several clients have asked what, if anything, they should be doing with regards to their upcoming mailings and whether they should suppress mail in that area.

Immediate Impact:

Your printer has probably forwarded you a list of US Post Offices that are closed or are not delivering mail in the immediate Houston area and is already advising you on which ZIP codes to avoid/suppress because your catalogs just won’t get delivered. In past instances during major storms which impacted mail delivery, bulk mail (catalogs) was discarded by the US Postal Service, as they lack the space to store it while they try to re-open post offices.  The USPS has a list of closed post offices (click here) with their status of operations updated daily which your printer is closely following.

But, if you are just in the final stages of completing a merge – either here at Datamann or your own service bureau – that mailing probably won’t be hitting home for at least two to three weeks. In many cases, some of the closed post offices in the flooded area will have re-opened by then. What to do?

I think you should take a hard look at your catalog and ask yourself if the people that have just gone through this horrific disaster are really going to be in a mood in 3 weeks or even 6 weeks to look at your catalog. You may want to suppress all catalogs from the Houston area until at least early October, because there is not going to be a quick “return to normal”. I know Texans are resilient, and they will bounce back, but be reasonable with your expectations as to how important your catalog will be to them right now.

Further Impact:

It was different in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York, at which time I felt that most catalogs would suffer a 10% drop in response nationwide for the balance of the holiday season, simply because of the distraction which the news coverage was causing to the average consumer. But that storm hit the first week of November, during most catalog’s peak Christmas catalog delivery.

Harvey hit before Labor Day, and most of you have much smaller Fall circulation in the mail at the moment. So, although response from consumers nationwide is off this week, I don’t expect it will have lingering impact on the rest of the Fall/Holiday season.

Everyone at Datamann extends our heartfelt concerns and prayers to the folks along the Gulf Coast, and we hope for a speedy recovery.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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Ted & Muffy – A Sad and Cautionary Catalog Tale

Most of you have an obsession with youth. You believe that the solution to your response problem is to appeal to a younger audience with your catalog. You have the 65-year-old woman in your back pocket, but you struggle to get her 35-year-old daughter to even look at you, let alone place an order. It is even worse if you appeal to a 45-year old, and you are attempting to acquire a 22-year old customer.

I’ve mentioned many times before that Datamann works with a number of UK-based catalogs mailing here in the US. They were all brought to us by a consultant with whom we work, who is based in London.

One of those companies was Duo Boots. Prior to 2015, they had a great catalog of nothing but women’s fashion boots, knee length and thigh length. These all-leather boots are handmade in England, and individually fitted to your foot and calf measurements.

Cool products, well made, great story and delightful catalog. For a fashion catalog, it did not stray from focusing on the products, the beauty of the products, or the craftsmanship of the boots. I’m usually not a big fan of editorial content in a catalog, but in their case, I thought it was well done. The book had a few design flaws (too much knock-out type), but in general, I loved their catalog.

Then in the fall of 2015, the Art Director sent me PDFs to review for the coming Fall season. They were repositioning the catalog to go after a younger audience. And, they were changing the catalog name to “Ted & Muffy – Fairytale Fitters”.

What? 

Below are a few of the spreads from that catalog in 2015.

I pleaded with the Art Director not to go in this direction. The consultant in London pleaded with them. Then we both begged them not to do it. We knew what the consequences were going to be. No one listened. In their mind, we were two old guys that did not understand how to appeal to the intended younger audience.

Aside from the totally bizarre creative direction, I was also concerned with the decrease in product density and a significant price increase. In addition, the products themselves were changing, with more “colored” boots.

The catalog mailed, and results, as you would expect, tanked. In 2016, they toned down the fairy tale aspect, and focused more on the boots, but still stuck with the new name of Ted & Muffy.

Sadly, things did not go well, and we learned earlier this year that the company had been placed under the administration of the bank, which luckily – and rather quickly – found new owners, that are keeping the business alive in the UK.

I’m sure there were many factors which led to the company’s downfall. The odd creative style is the most visible evidence of how the catalog drifted in a direction that alienated not only existing customers, but prospects as well. But pricing, product density, and overly trendy merchandise all contributed.

The point is this – it is really difficult to take an existing brand, especially one that is doing reasonably well (and they were doing well, at least here in the US), and think that you can acquire a totally different demographic by changing the creative, the mailing list and even the merchandise. If you are going to do all that, it’s probably better to just start a new title, and protect the core business.

I received the email below a few weeks ago. Duo Boots is back. Ted & Muffy, at least the name and the funky styles are gone. The new owners cannot be held accountable for the mistakes of the past, and I wish them well with the business.

Let the catalog brand positioning lesson of Ted & Muffy be a cautionary tale to any of you who are thinking that you can wave a magic wand over your catalog and suddenly get a younger consumer to be your new customer. It ain’t going to happen.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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The Coming Mobile Tsunami

Let’s get this out of the way right at the start – I don’t like the word tsunami. In my day, it was a “tidal wave”.  And that is the start of our problem – some marketers just can’t accept change.

If you have been a reader of this blog for a while, you know I have never given an endorsement to a 3rd party, except for the speakers I’ve had at our annual catalog seminar, including Amy Africa, Kevin Hillstrom and Frank Oliver. I also don’t believe in citing research published by 3rd parties, especially the DMA and the Postal Service, whose data, in my opinion, is always suspect.

I’ve been asked many times by other vendors to give their product or service a plug, but that is not the purpose of this blog. I want you to think about growing your business – I don’t want to always be giving you a sales pitch, not for Datamann, and especially not for some other company.

However, I’m making an exception today. Carole Ziter, from Trigger Email Marketing, sent me some original research that I want to share. I’m doing this for three reasons:

  • I’ve known Carole since 1991, when we began serving together on the Board of the VT/NH Direct Marketing Group. Last fall, I had the honor of presenting Carole with that Group’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Carole and her husband Tom have helped me a number of times in my career with answers to direct marketing problems, which is what her research is about today.
  • Carole is a direct marketer at heart, owning her own catalog for many years, and now co-owning an internet service company. She is always thinking about driving response.

That bears repeating. For the almost 30 years I’ve known Carole, she is one of the most passionate people I know with regards to a love for direct marketing and getting someone to respond to an offer. With Carole, it’s not about a catalog or an email – it’s about getting a customer to respond.

Carole sees what’s coming and from her perspective, it’s a Mobile Tsunami. Unless you are one of those rare catalogs whose consumers are over 75, your customers are going to continue migrating to their phone to shop from you. If your target audience is 35, you already know this.

This spring, Carole’s company tracked 500 major catalog and ecommerce companies on one thing – did they have cross-device shopping carts, meaning if I put something into my cart while on my laptop, will it show up in the cart when I access the cart on my phone?

Below are the results of that research:

  • Of the companies tracked, 44% did not send a single email within their 3-week test period;
  • 60% had no abandoned cart recovery program – many of them well-established brands;
  • Of the companies with abandoned cart recovery programs, 39% sent a single autoresponder and 22% sent just 2 reminders, and 54% do not rebuild their carts across all devices.

Carole then took this a step further, and analyzed the cross-device shopping cart abilities of sixty of the companies that attended the Datamann catalog seminar in March. This was her process: Email subscriptions were completed via desktop when possible; a single item was placed in a shopping cart and abandoned via desktop; abandoned cart emails received were opened via phone; Return to Cart buttons were clicked via a phone to verify the presence of a cross-device feature.

Of the 60 companies Carole reviewed, only 29 (48%) had abandoned cart recovery programs. Of those 29, only 11 companies (18% of the total) had some form of a cross-device cart saver program.

One of the reasons I don’t write about these types of programs is that I feel that 90% are common-sense things that you should be aware of and should already be doing. Amy Africa was speaking about the need for abandoned cart email programs more than 10 years ago. Of course, Amy’s ideal was to start emailing consumers within 3 seconds of their leaving your site, but still, the concept has been around for a while, and has been proven to work. Plus, it’s not like the competition is getting any easier and that your response rates could not use a boost. So, it always comes as a bit of shock to see that companies are not doing some of the basics.

(Part of Carole’s research also tracked basic check-out procedures, and I was further shocked at the number of companies that still don’t have a Guest checkout. Why don’t you just tell customers right up front to go to Amazon?)

On the other hand, what is considered a “basic marketing technique” to one mailer is an extra hurdle to other mailers. There are literally hundreds of additional programs, services, products and methods that you are constantly being sold, and of which you are told that failure to implement each one will spell instant doom for your company.  Plus, there are ten different versions of each of these services from different vendors. You don’t have the time, staff or resources to do all of these things that you are told you should. You have scarce resources which you are struggling to manage.

But, as you get ready to go into this fall/holiday season, having a shopping cart that can be viewed across multiple devices seems to me to be one of those standard customer expectations similar to an 800# twenty years ago. You can’t compete with Amazon on many levels. But one thing which Amazon has perfected is convenience and speed. They don’t have a beautiful design, nor many digital bells and whistles. It is all about being efficient in getting your order. Keep that principle in mind as you think about your website this year. Get with it. (And if you want help, contact Carole by going to the Trigger Email Marketing website).

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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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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