I’m Sorry, Did I Miss Something?

By | September 21, 2010

I was just reading an interview with Tony Cox, founder of the multichannel food consultancy 5th Food Group, in Multichannel Merchant. Halfway through, I stopped and said, “Huh? Did I really read that?”

Cox had been asked whether he recommended mailing catalogs anymore or whether catalogs are playing a new role for direct merchants in an online world. He said,

“It’s simple economics—as costs for paper and postage continue to rise, and response rates stay flat or fall, the costs of acquiring customers via list rental is becoming prohibitively expensive.

“Case in point, if the proposed postal rate increase goes through in January, it will be another nail in the coffin for both the Postal Service and for smaller catalog companies.”

Did you see it? The implication was it is becoming prohibitively expensive to acquire customers via list rental by sending them unsolicited catalogs as a prospecting tool. Therefore — and Mr. Cox didn’t say this, but in context — the reader was left to assume that the alternative in today’s postal climate was electronic media.

Mr. Cox did mention catalogs reducing page counts, but there wasn’t a single mention of personalization.

Instead of just writing off print for prospecting, as was implied, why not just switch your prospecting to postcards? Pitch the catalog, then let people choose the products on which they would like information. Send them to a personalized URL, where they can select their product categories, then get them excited about watching for their personalized catalogs in the mail.

If you want to boost response rates, over-size the cards and laminate them. Are they more expensive than traditional postcards? Of course! But they’ll be cheaper to send than catalogs! Then when you do send catalogs, they’ll be slimmer and more cost-effective.

With today’s personalization technologies, creating personalized catalogs is easier than ever. Software vendors like Gluon have created online-based solutions optimized for creating publications that are absolutely terrific. Even small companies can use them. Especially when customers self-select their own categories, there is no excuse for not personalizing these days.

The bottom line is that there is no need to abdicate print. Catalogers just need to do it smarter!

It’s too bad that message didn’t make it into the interview.

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3 thoughts on “I’m Sorry, Did I Miss Something?

  1. Leela Moore

    Someone is missing the boat here and their name is retailer. I search for and buy a particular look. Why send me generic catalogs? Offer me what you know I like. Add a coupon and I’m done. Personal shopper time.

  2. Dan Halmar

    Textbook case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”?? Thanks for the well-articulated, well-substantiated defense and proposal for smarter business.

  3. Brian Callaghan

    Very fine article! I can empathize with catalog marketers. They’ve been bludgeoned with increased postage costs over the past several years to the point where postage is the lion’s share of all direct mail campaigns. Certainly, Congress needs to step in and do something about this fact, but that’s another thread.) Paper is still a distant second.

    However, direct mail is still the most effective way of getting into the home and generating sales. But that’s not to say all direct mail is effective and a cataloger simply needs to print and mail and wait for the phones to ring or the website to starting racking up orders. The number of catalogs and other types of direct mail has skyrocketed, and most mailboxes are being inundated with direct mail – some relevant to the recipient and some not. Change is always inevitable. In marketing, what once worked eventually doesn’t work so well. It is incumbent on all direct marketers to understand the market dynamics and adjust catalogs and promotions to find new ingredients of effectiveness vis-a-vis marketing cost. The answer might simply be your catalog and marketing techniques are tired and need some freshness to produce the results you seek.

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