Alternate Media-Other Catalogers Use?and Why (1,957 words)
By Scott Shrake
Producing and mailing a catalog can be a most expensive undertaking. With alternate media you can achieve some of the same goals as with a print catalog: Testing, driving customers (new or existing) to your e--commerce site and building awareness/loyalty.
Speaking at the Annual Catalog Conference in June, Kevin Kotowski, of Olson Kotowski & Co. in Los Angeles, named some top reasons catalogers use alternate media, or "non-catalog pieces:"
1) cheaper prospecting than with full-sized catalog drops, since most alternate media are cheaper to produce and mail;
2) building and strengthening your customer relationships with name and product awareness;
3) targeting current customers with offers and products suited to them;
4) testing products and prices before they go in the catalog;
5) eliminating overstock cheaply; and
6) keeping the phones ringing between catalog drops.
Most of the following media can be used either for prospecting, testing or for building on existing relationships.
Stan Madyda, vice president of list brokerage at D-J Associates in Ridgefield, CT, specializes in alternate media. He says, "What we try to do whenever we have the opportunity to recommend insert programs is to take a look at [who] the cataloger has already been mailing to."
If there's a market a cataloger is not currently going after with list rental, he says, "you're at less of a financial risk to test a package insert in that market in order to see if there's any life …."
With package inserts, Madyda sees catalogers making three types of offers right now: 1) predominately catalog request solicitations, usually for a free catalog; 2) mini-catalogs in package inserts, offering top sellers; and 3) offers to drive traffic to their Web sites.
With inserts you have the advantage of automatically reaching buyers, since your offer goes into the package with a purchase. Success depends on matching demographics with the companies mailing the packages.
Madyda adds a caveat: "With package inserts, there's no selectivity; so if we have an offer that is primarily male-oriented, we cannot select out the packages that are going to male customers."
The timing of package inserts depends on the seasonality of the product. Madyda says, "[In earlier years] you'd see a lot of packages go out in August through October, and start to die out in November/December.
"Now because of last-minute shoppers, 800 numbers and overnight delivery services, you see a lot of the volume count shifting into November and December," he says.
This is a problem for holiday offers: If your offer is inserted into a package after Nov. 15, the chance of a good response decreases, Madyda notes, adding that most orders are already in and catalogers start to get concerned about delivery issues.
Package inserts deliver the best response among alternate media, with some variance by type of offer, Madyda says. With co-ops and ridealongs you get a lower comparative response, but at a lower cost per thousand (CPM).
A co-op is defined as a group of advertisers equally splitting the cost of a mailing. Madyda says, "The types of offers going into those programs are usually ones with a lower average order." He says co-ops are much less expensive than package-insert programs, making them more attractive for low-ticket offers. Cataloger Fingerhut frequently goes this route. "You would very rarely see a mid- or high-ticket catalog in [co-op] programs," Madyda says.
Ridealongs are mailings going to a specific list source where a host company is usually selling its own product, and takes inserts in to offset mailing costs.
An example of a ridealong program might be when a film developer or photo processor sends customers more film envelopes, plus catalog offers.
In your own book, blow-ins (cards inserted into a catalog or magazine) are another way to make a special offer. In a spin-off or even another company's book, it's a way to build your housefile.
Kotowski warns: "A blow-in card won't turn a dog of a product into a winner …" but selling on a blow-in card may up sales of a slow seller significantly.
For his part, Madyda notes that blow-ins can sometimes allow for regional selectivity not possible with package inserts. He notes that, "As long as the program owner feels it's not competitive, they'll let [other catalogers] in."
Marilyn Black, president of Warminster, PA-based direct marketing agency Marilyn Black & Associates, says blow-ins are inexpensive but "can fall out on the way in from the mailbox." You get what you pay for: Make sure the ROI justifies the means.
If you're looking to generate inquiries by blowing in to others' catalogs, again, she says, the demographic match is key.
For instance, religious-products merchants could try a local religious newspaper, offering regional specificity. One of Black's clients has enjoyed tremendous success with targeted newspaper inserts, also known as free-standing inserts (FSI) and "preprints."
Great for product and list testing, e-mail is also cheap for frequent use—which keeps you in the customer's thoughts.
It works especially well for limited-time offers.
Thaddeus Wawro, copy director at Olson Kotowski and Co., who also participated in the catalog-conference presentation, offers this tip for making e-mail work for catalogers: Use proven direct mail teaser copy in the subject line and incorporate editorial copy in text or HTML e-mails to distance yourself from spam. Including editorial copy may even get readers to forward your e-mails, he notes.
Mini-catalog Self Mailers
As for sale-promotion mini-catalogs with limited product, Kotowski says they are "down and dirty" and cheap to produce.
In fact, he even goes so far as to say that they should look vaguely cheap, "Because people will think they have to be getting good prices, because you certainly didn't spend a lot of time on the creative presentation."
By the way, sticking to the same trim size as your regular catalog makes it easier on your creative team. Kotowski also offers this tip: On two or three items in your sale mailer, place a stamped SOLD OUT icon—to create a sense of urgency.
Newsletters: Online and Off
For catalogs, the editorial authority in these non-selling (or very subtly selling) pieces can be invaluable for staying "top of mind" when the customer is ready to buy. Kotowski cites b-to-b catalogs, such as Epson and g-Neil, as especially well-positioned for newsletters because they can offer industry-specific content to their readers/buyers.
Food catalogers have also enjoyed great success using recipes as collateral content to buttress their culinary authority. Many gardening catalogers produce mail or online newsletters. It's all part of building the customer relationship.
Consultant Jack Schmid has a name for the clever combination of direct mail and space: "targeted mass advertising." Many catalogs started their operations with space ads. J. Peterman and Banana Republic are two major examples.
Space ads bring in catalog requests or promote single product sales, with an added benefit: In effect, they pre-test lists for the publications in which the ad appears. With space ads, you reach the same prospects you would renting the publication's list, but usually at a cheaper price. And a bill-me arrangement can allow you to pay with the money you bring in after conversions.
Space ads lend immediacy. The shelf life of the publication demands that your back end be able to handle a flurry of orders (cross your fingers!).
Space ads are created with less effort than direct mail packages, but on the flip side the space to explain your offer is limited.
Yet compared to TV or radio, says Brian Blanchard, head of new business development at Novus Marketing in Minneapolis, "you can tell a longer story" in print.
Blanchard points to the "spillover effect" created by print ads. "If people see [your ad] in a magazine they're paying to receive, there's a bit of implied endorsement … It's almost like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval."
Which response channel pulls best on a print ad? Most catalogers try to drive people to the Web site because it's cheaper to handle those orders. Yet many advertisers are "resistant to putting unique URLs or specific offer codes into their advertising," says Blanchard. (Though a recent Lands' End space ad includes one.) Without these, "It's hard to measure online inquiries," he cautions.
Kotowski says driving readers to a toll-free number rather than a Web site has an advantage: "On the Web, there's no person to talk to and close the sale. If the caller is directed to call an 800 number, the CSR on the other end has a much better chance to persuade the caller to place an order."
Peripherally, Black considers editorial media placements an alternate medium, as well, "especially if your product is general interest, and there is education involved."
Black says that in years past, at the advent of cable TV, catalogers took advantage of "per inquiry" (PI) time, because it was economical. She says that well has almost run dry. Run-of-station is less appealing, Black says, because you need to find programs that match your product closely.
"The total budget for creating and placing a direct response TV spot is about equivalent to mailing a test to a dozen outside lists of about 5,000 names each—not really a huge leap," wrote Jack Schmid in the January 1999 Target Marketing.
Schmid recommends using the services of direct marketing pros who know how to elicit responses; placing extra spots to circumvent pre-empting; requesting an air-time schedule in order to be prepared for handling bursts of incoming calls; being able to fulfill catalog requests quickly; and tracking the time of day responses come in, to select the best time slots.
This is another way to drive catalog requests. Customers may also shop right online, or be routed to your site after seeing a selection of products.
Dot-coms sites, such as Catalog City, My Only Catalog, Catalog Site, Catalog-Mart, iCatalog Inquiry and Catalog Resources offer varying levels of partnership, from the fulfillment of catalog requests to full-scale handling of orders and returns. They pride themselves on simplifying e-catalog shopping, and offer an online presence to catalogers without e-commerce sites, or an added one for established catalogers to gain new customers.
The moment when a customer requests a catalog is a crucial opportunity—make sure to get requested catalogs out faster than the others. Then, go an extra step. "If someone takes the time to request a catalog, they're already primed to become your customer," Wawro says. "You've got them hooked, but you still have to reel them in."
Wawro recommends delivering first-time requested catalogs with a welcome package including a letter and introductory offer (using a code to track which customers are new.) Or if the package approach is too expensive, express welcome in the form of a special-offer dot whack on the requested catalog, to aid in getting the all-important first order.
As a copywriter, Wawro recommends making readers "feel special" by thanking them profusely in the copy and welcoming them to "the family."
Road Runner Sports: This welcome package for catalog requesters comes in a First Class envelope, making it stand out from the pile; the outside envelope reminds customers they requested this; and a guarantee and special offer are extended.
Secret Weapon: The Highlander Catalog targets fans of the same-named movies and TV show. It recently offered videotapes through a continuity club, promoted with direct mail. This package uses a 9˝x12˝ four-color envelope; 11˝x17˝ letter; reply card; lift note and involvement device (a sword-shaped sticker).
Co-ops: Personal electronics cataloger Crutchfield included this catalog-request BRC in a mailing for Rodale Press, which included a free book of 250 bicycling tips. It came in an envelope within the envelope, marked: "Special Offers Enclosed for our Subscribers."