Catalog Doctor: Stop Wasting Resources
PATIENT: Doc, times are tough and my resources are scarce. How can I be sure I’m using mine well? How can I avoid wasting time, manpower and money?
CATALOG DOCTOR: Focus your team on core efforts, and avoid low-impact tasks that might run your projects off the rails. Start by asking these seven waste-avoiding questions:
Q1: Will it execute?
Your marketing team has a killer three-tier offer. Design and copy are fantastic; deadlines are doable. Everything’s great. Now it’s time to get that offer on your Web site.
Oops, turns out the site won’t allow a three-tier offer. It can’t be programmed in. So you have to trash the concept, trash the creative and quickly develop a new offer that works with your current systems.
What a waste. Your team needs to check all marketing ideas down the line to make sure they’ll work from more than just a marketing standpoint. Will it print? Will it mail? Will it be caught by too many spam filters? Can your call center talk it through? Will it work with your order management system?
No matter how great conceptually, any marketing idea must be executable at every level or it’s just a waste of time.
Q2: Have you prioritized your projects?
Let’s say you’re lucky and have a team of innovators. They’ve built plans for a Web site upgrade, spin-off catalog title, five-panel e-mail test program, and a digitally printed, selectively targeted wrap cover and VIP gift card program to launch in three channels.
Wow, your team is supercharged. But it’s also stretched thin. Soon balls start dropping: The schedule slips on the regular catalog, a mailing is late, the new products aren’t on the Web site yet and three e-mail offers are blasted without key codes.
What a waste. New ideas are great — keep ’em coming. But also keep your eye on the ball. Have priority meetings to review available resources. Who “owns” each project? Can they handle that and their regular work? What are the relative costs? Which projects are likely to deliver the best return?
Prioritize by tabling some ideas. Then focus on others that maximize the return on your resource investment.
Q3: Will a higher-up kill the program?
Not long ago, a very large branded goods company — we won’t say who — decided to launch a catalog. The book was merchandised, designed, photographed and printed. Then the CEO saw it and hated it. Just before mailing, he ordered all the catalogs trashed.
What a waste. All that time, work and money. When starting any project, review it with everyone who needs to sign off on it. If there’s someone higher up who can pull the plug on your project, be sure to get a sign-off before you carry it too far. Don’t pull the trigger unless you know someone else won’t pull the plug.
A common error in these first three examples is not thinking things through. You can avoid waste and grief by carefully plotting out the twists and turns your project could take and their consequences. Think more, act less, and you can avoid a great deal of waste.
Q4: Will a missing comma really lower sales?
It’s great to have a style sheet and ensure every “i” in your catalog is dotted and every “t” crossed. But strive to get it all right early.
What a waste. The later you make changes, the more expensive they get. When you reach the last minute, limit changes to the super urgent — wrong SKU, wrong price, wrong photo. Learn to live with the changes you didn’t make, even if they’re pet peeves. Inconsistent comma use or an extra space never lowered response, so they’re not worth a high cost or the risk of missing a deadline. Do get these changes fixed on the Web, though, and make a note to fix them in your next print run.
Q5. Why are you sitting down at this meeting?
Meetings can be productive — like daily team meetings when in the throes of production. But limit meetings that require sitting in a conference room.
What a waste. Sitting encourages rambling and filling time. Instead, try a stand-up meeting. If no one can sit down, everyone will get antsy to stop in 10 minutes to 15 minutes, focusing them on just what’s must-do, must-know.
Try limiting topics to, “What do you need from the other people here?” If a longer discussion is needed, use the stand-up meeting to set a time for an additional, special focus meeting for just those who need to attend.
Q6. Has your team learned the tools it already has?
An hour of waste here and there adds up to too much waste at the end of the year. And that’s what happens when staffers don’t know how to use their tools well. So they experiment and fail, and try the same things over and over.
What a waste. This isn’t just with spreadsheets and word processors. I’ve seen huge time wasters involving catalog management systems when no one’s read the manual or taken the training. A month of trying to extract sales for a report, or download the house list for updating to the co-ops, is wasted. Then you have to contract with a programmer to do it.
Or, no one knows how to upload National Change of Address data into the system. That results in a dirtier house list and more money paid to the merge/purge house for work that should have been quick and easy.
In many cases, the right training can save an entire person’s salary.
Q7. Will your customers love this?
Ask this question all the time, every time.
What a waste. Avoid sidetracking onto off-brand ideas, off-ROI ideas, and ideas the staff loves but don’t ultimately redound to your customers’ benefit. Keeping the customer king keeps you focused on growth and profit.
Susan J. McIntyre is founder and chief strategist of catalog marketing and consulting firm McIntyre Direct (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or email@example.com.