Friday, July 25, 2008

The Future of Catalog Acquisition?

Much has been written about the future of catalog acquisition, with the growth of ecommerce, the bankruptcy of so many major mailers in the last year, and now, the green movement and consumer opt-out programs.

But I wonder how many truly targeted acquisition opportunities exist today where we can proactively drive new consumer demand. As marketers, we can’t control how many consumers each month will search for “wood daybed” or “turquoise necklace” on Google. And Mary Jane doesn’t just wake up one morning, unaided, and decide to type in your brand name.

Viva La Terra and Acacia are two of my favorite catalogs I just discovered in the last year. I received each of these catalogs a few times as a prospect before a need (in one case, Mother’s day) drove me to the web to make my purchase.

Now, I am by no means a traditional direct shopper. I could probably count on my hands the number of phone orders I have placed in my life. And I prefer the immediate gratification of in store retail shopping more than anything, but I find more and more that the merchandise in retail stores is the same, same, same.

Did mailers potentially mail too deep as response rates declined? Or did response rates decline because we pushed too deep?

Web merchandising has a long way to go before it can deliver the advertising impact of a well-executed catalog. It’s time we shifted our thinking to the catalog as a targeted advertising vehicle, rather than an order channel. The question we should be asking is whether we can make the same advertising impact with 40 pages instead of 80???

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Product is King

It’s not all doom and gloom. I talked with a handful of clients in the past week who are pleased with results this summer. (Of course, it depends on how you define success- sales growth vs. LY, improvements in operating profit, achieving Plan.)

As Kevin Hillstrom pointed out in a recent blog, it is frustrating to read headlines such as Five Easy Tips to Boost Business- as if anything is easy right now! But it got me thinking about the similarities in recent strategy for the brands reporting success. It also reminds me of something we used to say at Eddie Bauer…

Product is King.

Some marketers have a tough time admitting this, but even the most brilliant marketing strategy can only sell so much mediocre product.

Some of the companies achieving strong results this summer include brands in the following categories- home furnishings, children’s merchandise, and specialty gift. The one common element they all share is an intense focus on the “freshness” of their merchandise strategy: introducing new product, spinning existing product in a fresh way, providing content and solutions, establishing authority, and putting a new look on the catalog creative.

These brands prove that it’s possible to succeed even with all the challenges we face!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Speaking Out on Postal Reform

With prices increasing in all phases of our business, it sometimes feels that we are at the mercy of the postage system, paper vendors, and other suppliers.

Last week, the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA) held an advocacy and strategy forum in Washington, DC. As an industry, we have been remiss in making our collective voices heard.

Representatives from the USPS, PRC and Congress indicated that they had very limited contact from catalog mailers and the lack of contact allowed other special interest groups to gain ground and to adversely affect the industry.

We need to be speaking directly with our local representatives, to help them understand the impact of postal increases on our businesses. Here are some tips on how to connect with your representative:

1) Assign someone as your Postal Reform Advocate
2) Write a letter to your Congress representatives
3) Be specific about your individual issue (avoid form letters)
4) Reference how many constituents in your district will be impacted by your issue
a. Potential jobs lost is a powerful argument with Congress
5) If you have multiple locations – write letters to all representatives
6) The letter will start a file – so keep in contact via email, letters, calls, etc.