Catalog Doctor: The Doctor Is In to Help You ...
PATIENT: Doc, I’m a longtime catalog marketing pro running a multichannel business. But between the down economy and the expanding Web, I’m depressed and confused about how to get my business back on track. With all of today’s changes, are there any prescriptions you can give me?
CATALOG DOCTOR: You’re suffering from a recent affliction called Lost-Boom Syndrome, or LBS. It’s been sweeping multichannel businesses since this economic malaise set in, creating anxiety and despair. LBS exhibits multiple symptoms, requiring a multiple therapy approach. Let’s look at each symptom and its therapy.
Symptom 1: Sloppy Marketing
The most recent economic boom allowed many catalogers to adopt sloppy marketing practices. Boom times delivered growth and profits even to catalogers whose marketing method was, “just get the products on the page.” But lean times weed out players who forget to focus on what customers really want and need.
Prescription: Focus on cataloging fundamentals. Many catalogs today are missing out on the basics of clarity, scannability and eye flow. That means they’re also missing out on higher response rates.
The basics still matter. I was recently behind the mirror at a focus study, and I saw that consumers are still viewing catalogs in the eye-flow patterns that Siegfried Vogel discovered in his eye camera studies.
Review your unique selling proposition (USP). Is it delivering what your customers need, or what you wish they’d need? If your USP really is great, is your copy communicating that USP in a clear, compelling way?
Symptom 2: Undertesting Circulation
“Mail more names, more often” was the mantra for many catalogers during better times. Then the U.S. Postal Service hit the industry with a high postage increase, and many catalogers implemented arbitrary, desperate circulation cuts. But what’s the optimum quantity, frequency and time for mailing?
Prescription: More circ tests. Test your timing. With the availability of the Web and frequent e-mail contacts, some catalogers don’t need to mail as often as before. So try testing one more week between mailings, then two more weeks between mailings. Check how fast the mailing “tail” drops off — you may experience less drop-off than you historically have.
Also, check your Web sales curve. If your e-mails or search (paid or organic) are doing more to lift Web traffic than in the past, you may not need to rely as much on catalog mailings as in the past.
Test your mailing frequency on folks who are Internet buyers and those who receive e-mails. Some tests have shown that these groups respond just as well with fewer catalog mailings.
Test frequency for regular catalog buyers, too, starting with lower-value names. If return on investment (ROI) is more important to you than marginal sales, try cutting mailing frequency to some groups.
Circ testing can be complex and irritating, and it requires good matchbacks. But testing will help you budget into the most productive paths.
Symptom 3: Uncomfortable With the Internet
Many marketing managers are old catalog pros. They’re whizzes at printing, paper, pagination and circ, but lack that Internet-related comfort zone. So they often leave their Web, e-mail and search staffs more or less alone to do their own thing.
But you can’t manage what you don’t know. Unmanaged departments will be suboptimized departments, not delivering the ROI they should.
Prescription: Learn enough to manage your Web staff well. The key to learning more about the Internet is knowing you don’t need to understand it all; just understand enough to manage your online channels. You didn’t have to know how to run a press to manage your print jobs, right? And you didn’t have to know how to run a camera or set lighting to manage your photo shoots. Similarly, you can manage your Internet channels without being a total techie.
Continue to wear your catalog hat. But also understand the Web to optimize your multichannel business.
Symptom 4: Teams Are Siloed
For many catalogers, each channel team works independently, often in different parts of the building. Sometimes the teams never meet at all. Although each team is managed off the same master plan — “The catalog mails Aug. 28, so it’s time for a catalog preview e-mail blast” — siloed teams lose opportunities to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
Prescription: Get channel teams to interact regularly. When team members interact more and understand the limitations and scope of the other channels, they can develop ideas to use channels more effectively.
Here are a few ideas I’ve seen succeed when teams work together.
1. Offer-hurdle tests. Where’s the best place to set the order-size hurdle for special offers? If the catalog’s average order is $75, is it better to set the hurdle above or below that average value? Should the hurdles end in $5, $9 or $0?
Testing hurdles in the catalog is complex and requires matchbacks. Once the results are in, they take months to roll out. If catalogers know what they want to test, they can work with their e-mail partners to test via e-mail blasts. Results come back in a couple of days. The risk is low because the “wrong” hurdle has exposure of only a few days.
2. Sell obsolete inventory. How long should a product stay in the catalog? How fast can it sell out on the Web? How will customers find closeouts on the Web? Should closeouts be promoted via e-mail?
Catalog teams often don’t understand parameters like what can or can’t be easily changed on the homepage, which sortations can be added to Web site navigation, or if e-mail names can be selected by product interest, among others.
When channel teams sit down together, they can quickly cover mutual goals, challenges, and the best channels, methods and timing for recovering the investment in obsolete inventory.
3. Find out what’s working in search. Your search team is always studying search results to optimize natural, paid and site search. But few multichannel marketers think about how those results can apply to other channels. Find out which keywords are working best and what’s changed recently.
Knowing Web sources can give the catalog circ team ideas for new prospect lists to test. Knowing which prospect lists are working can give the search team ideas for new paid search sources.
Susan J. McIntyre is president of McIntyre Direct, a full-service catalog creative agency and consulting firm. Reach her at (503) 286-1400 or email@example.com.