Marketing Statistics and Alternate Facts

We are all familiar (or you should be) with Captain Renault’s famous line in the movie Casablanca, that he is “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here”, at which point a croupier hands him a wad of money and says “…Your winnings, sir.”

I’m going to share with you some insight I received via an email recently from a longtime reader of this blog, and longtime friend in the catalog industry. His comments and concerns are a perfect encapsulation of an issue which I hear too few of you discuss, and echo Captain Renault’s famous line.

His email was one of several I received from readers regarding a posting I wrote a few weeks back on the death of the catalog media, and the independent voice which publications like Catalog Age used to bring to our industry. I will share several of the other comments I received from readers over the next few weeks. They all had a common theme, and surprisingly, it was not a wistful, nostalgic yearning for cataloging’s Golden Days. Rather, they all acknowledged that the industry has lost a great deal of knowledge, and basic common sense.

My friend wrote that he was “shocked, shocked” that there could be such a thing as ‘fake news’. He felt that “the people who value this drivel do so because it either reinforces what they already believe or they don’t have a framework for evaluating the ‘facts’ in the story.”

“Which brings me to marketing statistics. Every email service provider, personalized shopping experience vendor, cloud web service seller, total marketing integration service seller with whom I’ve talked has an easy to install, comprehensive reporting suite that will produce pretty graphs showing how effective their product is. How else can I get email, affiliate and PPC services claiming to produce 121% of my total revenue?”

“Without a business strategy the numbers are hard to evaluate and can be used to tell stories that don’t reflect reality. Our company likes to make a profit so we look at order contribution at a business level. If we are not making money on the orders we take in it doesn’t matter what the “reports” say. We also do an analysis by channel but that is secondary. I often wonder whether people who are looking for ‘good marketing statistics’ have a framework for evaluating fake news. That’s really the issue. Without a framework and context numbers don’t matter.”

Mark Twain used to say there were lies, damn lies and statistics. Today he might say there is fake news, alternate facts, and marketing statistics. They all sort of fit together.

My friend’s email reminded me how much I enjoy his wisdom, and his ability to see and state the obvious to which so many other marketers are blind. He is the Sage of Spokane.

His comments reminded me of a speech that a VP of Sales for one of the co-ops gave at NEMOA a few years ago. She was presenting a talk on new customer acquisition, and she used projections from the DMA to show that direct mail was trending to grow in the next 3 years. I remember thinking to myself – now, who is better qualified to project where catalog volume is going? Who would you put your money on? The co-op, a company that has millions of transactions from thousands of catalogs, and who knows every catalog’s mailing trend for the past 20 years? Or, would you put your money on projections from the DMA, a trade lobbying group which has access to no company mailing information, only self-reported survey data? Hmmm…., why would the co-op use the DMA’s projections, and not their own? Maybe because the DMA’s projections are always overly optimistic, and were a better fit for her narrative that day.

How many others in the room came to that conclusion? How many were “shocked, shocked” that she would cite so shallow a source as the DMA, when her own company was sitting on more data about the catalog industry than any other source available?

The issue is not so much being able to evaluate fake “marketing” news. The issue is the brain drain and experience drain our industry has suffered. There are very few people left in our industry that can even execute a really good direct mail campaign. When was the last time you received a piece of mail at work – not an email, but something that went through a postage meter or that had a stamp? No one does it anymore, because they have been lead to believe it no longer works. In their rush to show that they are not email and social media Luddites, and that they can embrace “Millennial marketing”, catalog marketers have dismissed efforts to make their base books stronger and more appealing. In my opinion, catalog marketers today are not creative, they are lemmings.

Yes, I believe that consumer behavior has changed, and is shifting ever more toward mobile – I see it on an individual level when I watch my wife shop from her iPhone. Yes, I believe that websites need to be stronger than catalogs.

But to ensure catalog survival, we must separate fad from trend, statistical fact from marketing fantasy. To my friend’s specific point about every vendor supplying an easy solution, I encounter this phenomenon frequently with clients that are being told by other vendors how easy it should be to “dial up their marketing”. But, these same vendors never ask the client to provide all costs associated with the marketing – the way I do and the way most list brokers would do – to calculate the marketing program’s profitability (or as the my friend stated, “order contribution at a business level”).

Sadly, I still encounter mailers for whom the concept of calculating profitability on a mailing is a new concept. The thought of assigning profitability to other, less tangible marketing is out of the question. (Errors committed by the new generation of catalog mailers will be the topic of a future posting).

The irony of all this is the second part of that famous scene from Casablanca. Renault is shocked, but then he turns around and accepts the cash from the croupier. In the catalog world, many of us know how to detect when data is wrong/ missing/ misleading/ fake, but we smile, accept the report and say “thank you very much”. We don’t push back enough and say “Your data is crap, and your assumptions are misleading.” Although, I have no doubt that some of you tell your internal analysts that, and especially tell it to your vendors, not enough of you do, because you lack the insight to know what is real and what is fake.

Wisdom is an asset that often comes only with time and maturity. Don’t overlook it, and don’t under value it. As Lord Tennyson wrote “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

PS: In case you are interested, Casablanca’s Captain Renault has a connection to New Hampshire, where I live. Claude Rains, the actor that played Captain Renault, is buried in Moultonborough, NH. Bet you didn’t know that.

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

read more

Press On – Why Coolidge Matters to Catalogs (Really!)

Most of the catalogers that are readers of this blog reported that they had soft sales this past holiday season.   There are many reasons, some of which I have previously reported.

I think Amazon took a far bigger chunk of business from each of you than you probably are willing to acknowledge. Few of you had “remarkable” catalogs – you just keep boring your customers with the same old look.  The catalog co-op databases, your major source of prospect names, are dying.

But what really bothers me, and where I see the biggest problem, is that most of you have given up on new products. You are making no effort to develop, source, find or promote new products. I’m talking truly new products – not just a new color or a new version of an old product.

I don’t get it. You know that introduction of new product is the number one thing that will drive sales from both existing and new customers. But you are not taking an aggressive stance to get new products, especially products exclusive to you.  It’s almost like you have given up.

This brings us to Calvin Coolidge (30th President of the United Sates, 1923 to 1929), who was born and raised about 20 miles away from Datamann’s offices here in Vermont. He was even inaugurated President by his father, in his childhood home, by the light of a kerosene lamp, in 1923 when President Harding died.

As a history buff, a presidential inauguration like the one later this week – regardless of incoming party – is like ten Super Bowls to me. So I’m going to tie a catalog lesson to one of Vermont’s native sons – Calvin Coolidge

I’m going to bet that 99% of you know nothing about Coolidge, other than he was quiet, and not a very remarkable president. Much to the relief of many of you, I’m not going to take the time to provide you with an education on his contributions to history – minimal as they were.

Coolidge was a conservative, taciturn Yankee, who prized hard work and independence. One of his few lasting contributions to American history and culture was something he wrote just after he left the White House. When asked what was the most important character trait for success, Coolidge replied:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.”

Persistence and Determination.  Do you have those two qualities? In my opinion, they alone are the two qualities you need to survive. Short cuts are not going to get you there. Cataloging is no longer for the faint of heart – it can’t be. Going forward, the key to having a successful catalog will be the persistent application of aggressive tactics for basic survival. It has no other direction to go. You have to be willing to gird your loins and ‘Press On’. The place this most applies to catalogs is the development and testing of new products – you must get aggressive at introducing new products. And when they fail, “press on” and bring in more new ones.

Some of you will think my comments are overly dramatic. You have not yet been tested the way many other catalogs have been, especially this past year. But that time is coming for all of you. Maybe not 2017. But it is coming sooner than you think.

Here is the important thing to remember – your fight must be to find new product and new customers. Your fight is not just with Amazon, the post office, the printers, the co-ops, or even me. Don’t waste your bullets on imaginary foes. Your fight is against yourself, and your ability to shake off your old habits and try some new things.

There are no short cuts.

press-on-coolidge-quote-cro

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

read more

Henry’s Many Options

Everyone always asks for specifics on how to grow their catalog business. So, let’s use Henry Repeating Rifles as an example.

Let’s get my gun credentials out of the way. I own two shotguns which belonged to my grandfather, and a .22 single-shot Ithaca rifle which my father bought for me 50 years ago, and which was at least 25 years old at the time. I fire the rifle about once a year, and don’t recall the last time I used either shotgun. Guns do not fascinate me the same way they do for others, but I appreciate how they can be very meaningful to some people.

This past fall, my wife, son and I hosted a high-school exchange student for two weeks from Austria. (My son will be making a reciprocal stay in Austria this spring). Prior to arriving in New Hampshire where we live, the one thing the Austrian student asked to do was visit a shooting range. There are plenty of shooting clubs and outdoor shooting ranges in our area, so we knew we could make arrangements to visit one once the student arrived. We wanted to know specifically what type of experience he was seeking.

It turned out that he had never fired a gun before. He had never even held one. In Austria, the only way to do that – after apparently a lengthy registration process – is to visit a shooting range. So, on his second day with us, I took him out in the backyard, set up some empty cans on a board, and we shot away for an hour with my old .22 rifle. He said later it was one of the highlights of his stay. (Note: one of the advantages of living in rural NH is that no one thinks it odd to hear gun fire coming from their neighbor’s yard).

His interest in my old rifle made me want to investigate a new option. I saw an ad somewhere (I don’t recall where, but it was in one of the magazines to which I subscribe) for a catalog from Henry Rifles, and requested one. They have a beautiful catalog (108 pages), which tells the history of the company (begun in 1860) and shows every rifle they make. But you cannot order from the catalog or online.  You must visit a local dealer, and the catalog I requested came with a list of all the local gun shops in our area that sold Henry rifles.

henry-rifle-cover

Now, they could just leave it there – that the only way you can purchase one of their rifles is through a local retailer. They could rely on those local dealers – most of whom are small mom & pop shops – to be their sales force. But, Henry wants to build demand. They want to drive response. So they have an elaborate consumer catalog that drives sales to those retailers, probably because many of these local retailers cannot afford to advertise on their own. But, there’s more.

Here are the other things that Henry is doing to drive response:

  • They have a half hour infomercial on TV (click here), one of which I landed on one night during the holidays while channel surfing, which prompted me to write this posting. It features the company President, and was actually very entertaining. I’m not sure I’d watch it again, but it was very well done, without looking like an over-the-top Hollywood production.
  • They appear at gun and sportsman shows (their show booth appears in the infomercial), giving their products wide exposure to different markets.
  • They send out great emails – but only about once a month. What makes them great is that they don’t sell. The rest of you send me 2 or 3 emails a day, which I delete. Yet, when I see one from them, I take the time to read it – and I’m not that interested in guns! I am interested in history, and most of their emails have a historical focus. They made it relevant for me.
  • They host numerous gun “events” around the nation, and they get a ton of PR as a result.
  • They have corporate sales, and special commemorative rifles for community organizations like the Masons, Eagles, VFW, and Boy Scouts. (Yes, these organizations still exist, and their members spend money.)
  • They keep creating new commemorative rifles for upcoming anniversaries of other historic events. (Note: these are NEW products).
  • Most important, they have several different lines of rifles – some for target shooting, big game, little game, etc. (Remember, it always comes down to product).

Here’s my point. They could just manufacture their rifles and sell them in retail outlets, like other gun manufactures. They could rely on the retailers to advertise their rifles in newspapers and FSIs.  But they have created a marketing machine to drive attention to their product, and to tell their story. They are doing a bunch of things to drive sales to those retailers, and gain consumer awareness. You know – “branding”.

What are you doing to drive sales for your products beyond having a catalog and a website?

I know what you are going to say – you are going to tell me there is no comparison between a manufacturer and what you do. You are going to tell me they have better margins that allow them to spend money on PR events and TV infomercials.

All of that may be true – but you could be doing so much more than you are. That’s the point. You think of your business only in terms of paper, postage, a website site, with a few emails thrown in. Your job is to sell whatever it is you sell, and make a profit. Don’t limit yourself to think it can only be done by catalogs and a website.

Did it make sense to stick to just a catalog ten years ago? Probably. But those days are gone. You have to look for new options and alternative options, or you will be swept away.  Don’t wait for the customer to come to you. Go to them with some relevant marketing beyond a torrent of daily emails and monthly catalogs. This is the new age of catalog survival. Do some selling!

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

read more

A Canary In The Catalog Coal Mine

Here is a wake-up call for the new year: Catalog reporting is gone.

Have you noticed what is missing lately from your mailbox?   When was the last time you saw a magazine focused on catalogs?  Catalog Age long ago evolved into MultiChannel Merchant, but now even that title is gone. Catalog Success evolved into Total Retail, which carries virtually no news or information for catalogs. I’m not even sure whether DMNews still mails – I haven’t received one in ages, and their website only allows for email sign-ups. A quick search on their website for articles on catalogs produced a listing for a few articles on postage rates from early 2016.

I contacted a former editor from MultiChannel Merchant last week who confirmed that if that magazine publishes in the future, it will most likely only be once annually.

catalog-age-cover-1989

Sure, these former print publications still have websites and daily emails. But they only report “fluff” stories, such as these from last month:

  • Communicating with Millennials: Why Messaging Apps Matter
  • Retail Brands Use Augmented Reality to Reinvent Customer Expereince
  • Email Metrics to Watch This Holiday Season

These are the king of “fluff” stories meant to capture attention through SEO, allowing the publisher to sell online ads.

There is no longer any in-depth catalog reporting. It’s gone. It gives me the same sinking feeling I had when I was at the last DMA Catalog Conference and the exhibit hall was the size of a high school gym, and they were only using half of it. I knew we were in a different time when I realized the Quad/Graphics truck wasn’t even there.

Think about this for a minute. If there was still money to be made from publishing a print magazine on catalogs, or even reporting on catalog news and trends, someone would be doing it. Certainly, the folks behind the publications mentioned above had the expertise and the heritage of strong catalog reporting to make a go of it – if there was still a go to be made.

 

Magazines rely on advertising to survive. But there is no need for catalog vendors to advertise anymore. There are only four major printers left, and they are just stealing customers from each other, primarily based on co-mail savings. (In the old days, this was called “gaining market share”, now it’s just stealing). There are four (maybe only 3) co-ops, and they never advertised anyway. There are remnants of the list management business, but they stopped doing print advertising years ago. All the online vendors switched to advertising in publications like Internet Retailer. Since there are no catalog suppliers left to advertise, the catalog print publications disappeared.

Here is another canary in the catalog coal mine: when the industry is no longer viable enough or competitive enough to support print media because of a lack of advertisers, you should realize that the industry has fundamentally changed. Moreover, fewer viable vendors leave you with limited options.

This is also not a publishing issue as in “magazines are dead”.   I live just outside Keene, NH, population 23,000. Our county, one of 10 in NH, only has 73,000 people. Yet, the county supports its own business magazine, published bi-monthly. The states of NH and VT each have their own monthly business magazines, and the page count remains healthy in all these publications. If rural little Cheshire County, NH can support a business magazine, while the catalog industry cannot, that should tell you something.

Here is why this is such a problem. In the past, you never read the catalog magazines for the ads. You read them for insight on the catalog industry. There were columns from such industry sages as Max Sroge, Stan Fenvessey, Arthur Middleton Hughes, Katie Muldoon, Bill Dean, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Don Libey, Ernie Schell, and Curt Barry. A few of these folks are still around and still actively consulting, but with the exception of a few online articles from Curt Barry, I don’t see any of them sharing their expertise with the industry anymore. Unless they had a blog, how could they?

We are now an industry without a media voice, or at least a formal one. Those aforementioned publications have been replaced by blogs such as this one. And I certainly do not put myself in the same league as the previously mentioned authors/consultants, all of whom I had the pleasure of meeting at least once. I’m also not a reporter or journalist. So when I wrote last fall about LL Bean’s colossus catalog that mailed in the early fall, I did not have the luxury of being able to talk to anyone at Bean for their input.  I was writing strictly on my impressions of their effort, as both a catalog professional, a catalog consumer, and a longtime LL Bean customer. You, the reader, missed out on LL Bean’s side of the story. However, you did get more of an unvarnished view from me than you ordinarily would have gotten from a more formal reporter.

In theory, those magazines of yesteryear vetted their authors, and found ones that actually knew what they were talking about. Plus, for the most part, those consultants wrote some pretty insightful material – although back when most of them were writing, the catalog industry was much less complicated than today. Response rates were 4 or 5 times what they are today. You captured the specific source code on over 90% of orders, so you knew exactly which list or mailing segment prompted an order. There were no co-ops, no Amazon, no Facebook, no algorithms.  It’s a little easier to offer advice when an industry is growing. There was little need to be critical of the status quo.

Today, there is no vetting by an editorial board of blog authors. Anyone can have one. It cost Datamann less than $1,000 to have someone set up our blog six years ago. That’s a pretty low cost of entry to be a voice in the catalog industry.

I like to think Datamann’s blog offers some substance. Certainly Kevin Hillstrom’s MineThatData blog does. Yet, most of the blogs in our industry today push out a constant thread of pabulum on such topics as “how to increase response to your emails this holiday by 5%”. The authors of most of these postings like to show how smart and well-read they are by citing numerous other articles and studies. With the exception of Kevin and me, few others are willing to go out on a limb and say anything original, or offer any meaningful insight.

Of course, the reason they won’t take a stand, or say anything of any value, is because they don’t want to risk offending any existing or potential clients. What they don’t realize is something which I learned a long time ago – most mailers, certainly the ones who want to improve – don’t want sugar-coated advice. Many of Datamann’s newest clients that have contacted me as a result of this blog did so after I tore apart their catalog in a posting. It’s always refreshing to hear a reader say “Everything you speculated on was true at the time, and everything you predicted would happen, did happen. We need your help.”

Without a true “catalog press” that reports on general catalog news, there will continue to be a gap in what you know, and what is happening in the catalog industry. For example, I did not know that Taylor Gifts went out of business last year, until I was preparing the mailing for our seminar, and saw on the NCOA report that it was closed.

Yes, the catalog media canary is lying at the bottom of the cage. But keep reading this blog, Kevin’s blog, and the others that resonate with your needs, which offer true insight, and you’ll be keeping up as best as can be expected.

Welcome to 2017.

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

read more

Play Like You Have Nothing To Lose

Athleta is playing to win, playing like they have nothing to lose. They are taking risks, not playing it safe. See if you agree.

athleta-jan-2017-cover-edit

Since the NFL playoffs begin this weekend, I’m going to give you a football analogy with application to catalogs, and specifically to this Athleta cover.  (My apologies to my many UK subscribers who will have little appreciation for the American football terminology.).

I read an article last week in the Wall Street Journal on Why NFL Coaches Take No Chances. It cited Buffalo Bill’s coach Rex Ryan’s decision in a game on Christmas Eve, to punt on a fourth and 2 on their own 41 with 4 minutes left in overtime. Buffalo never got the ball back, lost the game, and lost their chance at the playoffs. Ryan was fired two days later. Most Buffalo fans, and apparently team management, thought he should not have punted (play it safe) and should have gone for a first down (take a chance). It was, after all, overtime in the game that would decide their season.

The article cited a detailed analysis of NFL coaches that found that the most aggressive coaches in the NFL this year were still in playoff contention, while the most risk-adverse coaches will be watching the playoffs from home. This analysis was based largely on what teams did when faced with scoring options such as kick a safe field goal, or go for a touchdown on 4th down, when the team was inside the 5 yard line. Or, is the coach willing to go for a two-point conversion or will he go for a more conservative one-point kick after a touchdown.

The article cited a number of statistics that supported its conclusion that riskier choices resulted in more wins, and hence, made the team a playoff contender.

In my opinion, the same is true in cataloging today.  You are getting hammered from every direction. If you keep doing business as usual, and play it safe, you will soon disappear. It is that simple. The forces of ecommerce and mobile competition will simply push you aside. You have choices, and you have to start taking some risks to change and survive.

Most of you will not take those risks. When I ask you the question “What have you got to lose?”, you think in terms of making a risky move that turns out poorly, resulting in the immediate collapse of your company. You think in terms of “all or nothing”. But risky does not have to mean stupid.

Malcom Butler is a hero in New England. In case you don’t remember, he was the New England Patriot that intercepted the pass on the goal line in Super Bowl XIX (2015), giving the Patriots the win over Seattle. (Click here if you enjoy watching it again as much as I do). Pat Carroll, coach of Seattle in that game, made a risky – and most would say stupid – decision to throw for a touchdown on that pivotal play, with just 25 seconds left in the game.

Cataloging is not football. The success of your “season” does not hinge on one play. But, your continued survival does depend on taking your game up about ten notches, and recognizing that you must take a series of risks, to become overall more aggressive, in order to survive.

We are in overtime, and the clock is ticking down.

Which brings me back to Athleta’s cover at the beginning of this posting. Their cover features a photo of 98 year-old yoga instructor Tao Porchon-Lynch. Their target customer is probably a 35 to 45 year old woman, who works out/exercises. If that was your target customer, how many of you would be willing to feature a 98 year-old woman on the cover of your catalog?

I love it. To me, their cover is bold, and risky. The fact that it is black and white adds to its power to get you inside the book. I said in a posting last week that having a great cover is not going to solve all your problems. But this is an example of taking a series of risks, to move the needle. I hope this cover generates a ton of social buzz and accolades for them. This is what happens when you play to win, when you play like you have nothing to lose.

Over the next few weeks, as we lead up to the Datamann catalog seminar (click here for more information and to register) I’m going to provide you a series of alternate looks at cataloging today. Some postings will illustrate the current state of catalogs, which in my opinion is not healthy. I know some of you are tired of me beating this drum – but sadly, most of you still do not see the handwriting on the wall. Other postings will provide you insight into your salvation – examples of aggressive marketing and merchandising that are helping some companies grow.

One final thought – for 16 years, the combination of Tom Brady, Bill Belicheck, Robert Craft, and a revolving door of talented players that spend a few years in Foxborough, Massachusetts, have made the New England Patriots the dominant team in the NFL. It is all too easy for New England fans to forget the pre-Brady era, which never produced a Super Bowl championship and actually produced some pretty dismal teams along the lines of the 2016 Cleveland Browns.

Patriots fans know the meaning of “What Have You Got To Lose?” because Tom Brady has lost two Super Bowls, while winning four. There is risk in trying to win. Sometimes it does not turn out the way you want. But don’t stop trying.

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

read more

The Angels Will Weep For You

About 20 years ago, I was recruiting speakers for the VT/NH Marketing Group’s annual conference. I contacted a catalog consultant here in New England about being our keynote speaker. His response floored me. “You want me to come and speak for free and share the information which my clients pay me to provide them? Of course I won’t do that.” He obviously had been asked this question before and had a rehearsed response.  A simple “No, I don’t have time” would have sufficed.

But that exchange has stuck with me for years. I was accustomed to having mailers, vendors and consultants willingly and freely share their knowledge and expertise when asked to be a speaker. Fortunately, this one bad apple – to whom I never referred another client – turned out to be the one exception.

But I recognize where he was coming from. He felt he was at the top of his game, and he did not want to risk anyone else benefitting from his knowledge without paying for it. He did not feel the need to help the industry from which he made his living.

That is why I believe the catalog industry is so lucky to have Kevin Hillstrom. He is the conscience of what is left of the catalog industry. Look at what he does:

  1. He’s running his own business, which takes time and talent. Sure, a lot of you do the same thing, but look at what else he is doing:
  1. He’s doing analytical projects for clients. I’m constantly amazed at the number of mailers that I speak to that say “Oh, we just hired Kevin Hillstrom to help us with that.” And these are not simple projects – these require time and talent.
  1. Kevin’s blog MineThatData.com is a daily (DAILY!) resource read by thousands with information on what is really happening in cataloging, retailing and online. Many of his viewpoints are counter to opinions of most media “pundits” and certainly counter to the sales message of many “omnichannel” service vendors. Did I mention he does it daily? I have a hard time doing my blog weekly. And he charges you nothing for this insight.
  1. He’s always thinking four or five steps ahead of the rest of us to consider the unintended consequences of our actions. The interrelation of the internet, with retail, with catalogs and email, etc., has made sorting through mounds of data a daunting task. He is one of the few in this industry who not only can see that interrelationship, but takes the time to help you understand it.
  1. On top of all that, he is an evangelist for making changes to your business, to your catalog and the status quo in general to keep the catalog industry alive. He is not afraid to take an occasional countervailing view, especially when it runs against the grain of his blog readers’ thinking. Most important, although he’s a low-key Midwesterner, he has a real zeal and passion about his message.

Thomas Jefferson wrote of Merriweather Lewis (of Lewis & Clark), that he was “honest, disinterested, of sound understanding, and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves”. Those words describe Kevin as well. I have no problem with being so effusive with my praise of Kevin because he is one of the few consultants within this industry to whom I refer Datamann’s clients. He’s smart – wicked smart. He’s incredibly open and sharing. Moreover, he helps mailers without needlessly saddling them with expensive projects.

And let me be clear on one other thing. Datamann has no relationship with Kevin. We don’t pay him any commission if he sends a client our way, nor does he pay Datamann when we refer a client to him. We do it because it is the best thing for our clients – not for him, and not for us. I also know that Kevin would not hesitate for a moment to point out to one of his clients a flaw in Datamann’s work or advice, if he found one.  “A fidelity to truth so scrupulous…”

Datamann and the VT/NH Marketing Group are lucky to have Kevin joining us again in March for our 2017 seminar. Let me give you some perspective on how lucky. Kevin recently shared with me this great story.

He spoke at a conference in the Czech Republic in October. There were 1,550 seats, and the event sold out in 8 minutes. Eight minutes.

It was held in Ostrava, a rusted-out city with few hotels and minimal transportation (sounds a little like Concord, NH). It took him almost four hours to get to Ostrava from Prague by train. But they had great food, a space age auditorium and they had crazy evening parties with strobe lights and DJs and loud music – the attendees loved that. The audience was mostly age 25-44. $500 per seat. No discounting. The guy running the conference flew to Seattle (from Prague) to interview Kevin and spend time with him prior to the conference.

Kevin asked me a rhetorical question “When was the last time anybody from a US conference so much as had a conversation with me via email, much less flew to Seattle to see what life on the other side of the Rocky Mountains is like?”

That question reminded me of a dinner 10 years ago, when I was working at Millard Group. Lisa Williams (another Millard alumna) and I were in Seattle to meet with several of our west coast clients. We had an evening free, and I contacted Kevin to see if he could join us for dinner, just to talk about catalogs. Kevin and I had never met, nor worked together. We had never even talked with each other on the phone. But we shared some joint contacts (Lisa and I had worked on the Lands’ End account for years, and knew many of the people Kevin worked with in his years in Dodgeville).

He graciously agreed to meet us in downtown Seattle. We had a wonderful dinner and discussion on catalogs.  About five years ago, I saw that Kevin was speaking at the Mail Order Gardening Association meeting in Burlington, VT, which is a two hour drive from the Datamann office. Again, I made arrangements to meet him for dinner while he was there, and again Kevin was a fount of ideas on the catalog industry.

Take advantage of Kevin being on the east coast in March (he does not come this way often). The angels will weep for you if you miss this chance to hear him. I have benefited immensely, as have Datamann’s clients, from Kevin’s devotion to sharing his knowledge on the industry. He is the answer to catalog survival.

He has prepared a special business simulation just for our seminar. The entire audience will be broken up into ten teams. “Each team is required to build a business in five years – the team that generates the most profit dollars in year five is deemed the winner. The teams will determine the price of three product lines, and will determine how much they want to spend in offline marketing, online marketing, and mobile/social development. After determining pricing and investment strategy, the spreadsheet will spit out a profit and loss statement for the business. Everybody in the room will get to see how everybody else chose to price items and will get to see each other’s investment strategy. The process repeats for Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, and Year 5.”

Kevin’s goal is to show you that your existing business knowledge, your reaction to the profit and loss statement, along with your reaction to change drives your business in unique and unanticipated directions … “and that is what is missing, not metrics … but how we react to metrics.”

2017-seminar-brochure-cover

To register 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

The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH is located at 70 Constitution Ave in Concord, NH – just north of the intersection of I-89 and I-93. Special room rates of $119 are available for attendees of the seminar for the night of March 29, if you book your room with the Marriott by March 1, 2017. You must mention your attendance at the seminar to receive the special rates, or reserve your room directly at this special link: http://cwp.marriott.com/mhtcn/vtnhmarketinggroup/

See you in March.

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

By Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

read more