Overton’s 301 and a Way of Discovery

Yesterday, NASCAR held their annual July race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It was the Overton’s 301, with boating cataloger/retailer Overton’s acting as the race sponsor.

Yes, NASCAR does venture into New England twice a year – there are a few stock car race fans north of the Mason-Dixon Line. If you hadn’t noticed, there are only a few drivers left that hail from the South, which is a huge change from when I was a kid. Back then, all the drivers sounded like Richard Petty.

Is this a good match for Overton’s? Well, the race takes place in New Hampshire’s “Lakes Region”, and the big lakes in Maine, Vermont and the ocean are only an hour or two away. So, they are in the right place, during the right season, with the right audience. And they are following the lead of Bass Pro Shops and Camping World, two other retailers/catalogers that have sponsored NASCAR races for years.

Was Overton’s taking catalog requests at the race track? Probably not. At an event like this, which is New Hampshire’s largest public event of the year, you are going for name and product exposure only, if you are the sponsor.

Let’s look at this sponsorship from a different perspective. This past week, Amazon held their annual Prime Day, and raked in billions of dollars in sales. Tough to compete with that if you are a single title catalog. But can you at least grab some attention? No one left yesterday’s NASCAR race without knowing that Overton’s had something to do with boats. They grabbed some attention, and built some brand awareness. Time will tell if it was worth it for Overton’s.

Early next month, during the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD, cataloger J&P Cycles will be one of the major sponsors of the event. Another example of a cataloger going beyond their traditional method of mailing “co-op segments” to grow.

So, how do you, as a single title catalog, grab some attention? You need some help from your friends. Think about how this industry grew years ago, back before the co-op catalog databases. You exchanged customer lists with your closest competitors, and lots of other mailers. Some of those other companies were “friends”, and others were “competitive enemies”, but you still exchanged with them because that was how you grew. There was cooperation on a giant scale.

Years ago, when I worked at Brookstone, and was a Board member of the VT/NH Direct Marketing Group, I coordinated a giant cooperative package insert program for catalogs within the group who were located within the two states. It was called “Get A Taste of Northern New England”, and featured a profile of about 20 catalogs, with the address where you could write to request a catalog (this was in the Dark Ages before the internet). Each participating company inserted these “brochures” into outbound packages, giving exposure to the other participants. As the largest participant in the program, Brookstone ended up distributing more than 50% of the pieces, but we looked upon this as our civic duty (partly because we still felt guilty about moving our catalog distribution center out of New Hampshire to Missouri!)

In today’s world, you do not want to generate catalog requests. You want to get consumers to remember that there are still catalogs in business, and for those consumers to visit your website immediately. How do you do that?

Here’s an idea. What if the catalog “industry” arbitrarily called November 1st National Catalog Day? A cataloger in each state could host their respective governor in the call center, maybe even let the Gov pick/pack and ship an order. Great photo ops. Would it grab some attention? Yes. As much attention as Amazon Prime Day? No.

But are you just going to sit back and let your catalog wither? Wouldn’t you rather seek some help from your friends?

Since the DMA’s Catalog Conference disappeared, there is no place for catalogers to meet on a grand scale. There is little personal interaction with your peers at other companies, because you don’t even know who they are. Who are your friends? Mostly vendors. Let’s just pick a few big companies like LSC, Quad, Dingley, Abacus, Oracle, Wiland, and UPS, all of whom depend upon the growth – nay, the survival – of the catalog industry. They are friends to all of you. Collectively, they must work with every B2B and B2C catalog in the US, and in many cases, catalogs beyond our borders as well.

What if they got together and sponsored a few TV ads during the NFL games on the Sunday before November 1 promoting National Catalog Day? Or blanketed YouTube with ads during the last week of October promoting National Catalog Day. Every time someone viewed a Beach Boys video or Annette Funicello video (those would be the right demographics), they’d be targeted with the catalog ad. The ad could provide a link (ooh, better yet, maybe an app!) that brought consumers to a listing of every catalog that wanted to participate – free of charge.

As an industry, catalogs need a way of discovery for consumers. You need to provide consumers with a way to collectively find you, because if you are a single title cataloger, it is getting more and more difficult to survive without the help of your friends.

I, of course, like to think that Datamann is your friend, even if you are not one of our clients. We supply you with this blog on catalog trends – free of charge. We sponsor our catalog seminar for the VT/NH Marketing Group every March that is open to all catalogers. Datamann wants to see the catalog industry survive and grow. But it is time for more cooperative efforts with your friends, because you can’t do it alone.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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A Smile of Wisdom That Explained Why He Was CEO

With Memorial Day, this is a short week for many of you, so I’m going to offer a “feel good” blog posting, which has nothing to do with increasing catalog response rates or fighting Amazon. It has everything to do with your personal leadership abilities. And it has to do with a “life lesson” I learned almost 40 years ago. If you are only interested in reading about catalogs, you can skip this week’s posting and I will not mark you as absent.

Every Saturday, our local newspaper features a profile of a local person with an interesting story to tell. Several weeks ago, they profiled the retired CEO of Friendly’s Ice Cream, who had recently turned 100, and who was now living not far from me at a retirement center in New Hampshire.  He was the 3rd employee of Friendly’s, hired in 1945 to wash dishes at the original Friendly’s restaurant.   When he retired in 1982 as CEO, the chain had grown to 500+ restaurants, stretching from Maine to Ohio, and as far south as Virginia, and was then owned by Hershey Chocolate.

I was stunned to realize this man was still alive. After telling my wife and son about my one encounter with him back in 1981, I decided to write him this letter.  The rest is self-explanatory.

“Dear Mr. Gaudrault,

I was delighted to see the article about you in last Saturday’s Keene Sentinel, and to learn of your good health at age 100.  I’m sure that you do not remember me, as we met only once almost 40 years ago, but I wanted to let you know how much that one meeting impacted my work career over the ensuing years.

In 1981, Friendly’s became a national corporate sponsor of the Easter Seal Society. I was about to graduate with my MBA from Clark University in Worcester, and take on the business world. But Friendly’s wanted someone in the Wilbraham headquarters from Easter Seals, to coordinate the Cones-For-Kids project. My father at the time was President of the Massachusetts Easter Seal Society, and I was hired to fill the role in Wilbraham on behalf of Easter Seals.

One Saturday morning, you and I flew to Toledo, Ohio to attend a “PR” event at a local Friendly. I was terrified of being late, and holding everyone else up, so I left Worcester at almost 4 AM to drive to Westfield for 7 AM, where the Hershey corporate jet was awaiting us.  I was early, but I remember you arrived a few minutes late because you had stopped to buy donuts for the pilots.  I was amazed at that.

I had arranged to have several local children who were receiving services from Easter Seals, attend an ice cream sundae party at the restaurant. The local TV station which hosted the Easter Seal telethon sent over a camera crew and the telethon host to film the party and conduct an interview with you. Everything went well, and while the children were finishing their sundaes, you met with every employee, and talked with some of the customers.

But the part of the day which I have remembered all these years came as we were walking back to the parking lot, to go back to the airport.  A customer was having difficulty seeing around another car as they were attempting to back up. You began to guide the driver on backing up, and you were calling the driver by his first name. I realized it was the cameraman from the TV station.

When we got back into our car, I asked how it was that you remembered the cameraman’s name, as I certainly couldn’t.   You simply smiled at me with a wisdom that explained why you were the CEO.

I knew then that you remembered his name because you had taken the time to learn it the first place. That was the sign of a leader that truly cared about people. Your kindness toward me that day was another sign. I was in awe at being just 23, flying on a corporate jet, and traveling with the CEO.  Your kindness helped put me at ease.

I was recently asked by a junior staff member at my company what was the most memorable business lesson I had experienced, and without pause, I told them of your instructions to a driver in a parking lot in Toledo, and your ability to remember their name.   In my business career, I have tried to develop that same sense of warmth which I saw you display that day.

I’m sure that at age 100, you have many pleasant memories of a long and fulfilling life. But I wanted to let you know how your kindness and business acumen had touched me and guided my career as well.

Thanks again.”

 

NOTE: Two weeks after I sent my letter, I received a very nice thank you note in the mail from Mr. Gaudrault. The hand writing was a little shaky (hey, will any of us have a steady hand at 100?), but he was sincere in his thanks to me for writing to him.

I leave you with this last thought: My father was the biggest mentor in my business career. I never had the chance to thank him. If there is a person in your life that helped your career – even if it was only a one day lesson – take the time to write a note and say thanks. It will be appreciated.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

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And That is The Point I Reach for my Cellphone…

Registration is well under way for Datamann’s annual catalog seminar, which we host for the VT/NH Marketing Group. This has become the largest one-day catalog event in the country. This year’s event is Thursday March 30 in Concord, NH. (There is a link to the registration at the end of this posting.)

2017-seminar-brochure-cover

At last year’s seminar, I surveyed the attendees, asking one – only one – survey question: “What topic do you most want discussed next year”? The top two topics requested were:

  • marketing analytics (how to use your data);
  • merchandise analysis.

 

As I was planning the 2017 event, I realized I was too vague in defining what I meant by “marketing analytics”. I needed to know what the attendees thought it meant.   So last summer, I contacted all of the attendees that had checked off this topic on their survey and asked for additional clarification of what they needed related to Marketing Analytics.

Almost every reply included a reference to some problem unique to that marketer such as determining the impact of seasonality, LTV by channel, or creating extended personas.

But, there was common ground too. Almost every response I received included a reference to wanting to know one of the following:

  • What are the most important metrics/cutting edge KPIs we need to be following to run our business?
  • “What metrics does everyone else look at”?

Almost everyone asked for the same thing, in one way or another – what were the metrics that everyone else was using, and what is the “best” method of calculating it?

I saw this as a problem.

Everyone is looking for a short cut. They want a list of the best “metrics” to look at (“you know, the ones that your best clients use)”. They want to reduce their business to a dashboard that refreshes in real-time, telling them exactly what the response rate is for today’s allocation of a mailing that was sent 12 weeks ago.

They want that list for one of two reasons. First, they believe there is some elusive statistic, which if they were aware of, and tracked it, they could fundamentally change their business. They just haven’t discovered it yet.

Second, they want it for that all-important weekly sales meeting where the CMO, CFO and CEO all ask “how are we doing”? They want to say “based on the most advanced, cutting-edge methods of performance measurement, we are doing fine”.  Sales and response may be 20% below plan, but they are hoping that there is some magic “metric” they can throw on the table that shows they are doing their job above average.

That is, of course, if they can get anyone’s attention long enough to make that declaration.

One respondent had a very interesting comment, but for a reason different than he probably intended.  He wrote “I’d like to learn what are the best practices in data visualization.  Most marketing analysts are great at assembling piles of data, but don’t know what to do with it after that.  The problem with data visualization is the fine line between representing the data in a simple yet effective way, but making it sophisticated, inspiring and able to hold the attention of a room for more than 8 seconds before they reach for their cell phone.  I’ve sat in on some best practice presentations on data visualization in the past and am always amazed at how lacking it is in examples of best practice.  More often than not it is all gum flapping about why it is important to show context and how it is both an art and a science…and that is the point when I reach for my cell phone…”

His comment summed up another problem. Mailers want the short-cut, but they also need a way to communicate it – so that everyone understands. And they want specifics – not more generalizations about “showing content”.

Years ago, when I worked at Potpourri, it was a family-owned business. Everyone spoke the same “catalog” language, meaning everyone knew what I meant when I referred to SPB (sales per book) and CPNC (cost per new customer). Plus, everyone at Potpourri at the time was focused on one thing – the catalog.

Then I went to work at Brookstone, where I was the only cataloger, and I was competing with 200 stores for the attention of upper management. No one understood me when I referred to SPB or CPNC. Even when I explained these metrics, and showed the math, there was no inherent understanding by upper management. Additionally, since these guys all thought they were God’s gift to retailing and accounting, they assumed I must be the one who did not know what I was talking about.

Consultants know something that most mailers don’t appreciate. We realize that every client is different. The metrics that are important for one mailer may be meaningless to another, depending upon whether they are in a growth mode, they are mature, they are big or little, etc. Further, there are no “averages” for response rate or conversion rate.  Clients don’t want to hear that. They want concrete benchmark numbers and metrics to which they can compare themselves.

This is NOT what I want to present at the seminar. I could have found a dozen speakers that would stand before you and give their list of the 38 Irrefutable Most Important Catalog/Ecommerce Business Metrics to run your business. I could have found dozens of vendors that would talk to you about the importance of big data (“sign up today here at the seminar, and get 10% off your Big Data starter kit”).

I want this seminar to give you something different. I do not want you reaching for your cellphone after you get the list of 5 important metrics. I want to challenge you to think.

So, if you are signing up for our seminar because you are hoping/expecting to get a list of the five most important metrics to add to your dashboard to increase productivity by 20% as you run your company, well, you are going to be disappointed. That’s not what you’ll get.

Instead, the three speakers are providing a combination of insight, options and a mirror.  You don’t need more metrics (beyond a few basic ones I’m going to discuss).  You don’t need fancy reporting. You need to simply take an overall view of your business. You need insight into your merchandise and what your customer thinks of it – which Frank Oliver will be presenting with his merchandise analysis.

Kevin Hillstrom’s business simulation is the mirror. Kevin will not be presenting hundreds of ideas and having hundreds of people say ‘no, won’t work, next idea please’. He is flipping the script … and put accountability on you instead. His business simulation will have you making decisions, and seeing whether your decisions work or don’t work. You’ll see that you already have enough information to make good decisions; you are simply not using information with confidence.

You’ll be looking into the mirror, realizing that the fate of your company does not reside with data, or metrics, or Tableau, but with your decision to take action.

Our seminar last year sold out a full month before the event, so please plan on registering early.  Seating will again be limited.

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/

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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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

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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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!

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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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.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com

 

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