Two years ago, J.C. Penney Co. unveiled its latest branding slogan, “It’s all inside,” to illustrate to consumers that no matter which channel they shop — retail, catalog or online — they’ll find the same from Penney in terms of merchandise, service and the overall brand.
No other companies have copied Penney’s slogan, of course, but many have followed the same path, recognizing that with more orders coming online, customers need to know that regardless of which channel they choose, they can expect a similar experience.
Easy Does It
Some catalogers have been making subtle alterations in their approaches to the print book to align it more closely with customers’ online shopping experiences — for example, by making frequent online references to the print edition and showing many of the same photos both online and offline. Many more catalogers, however, remain intent on ensuring their print editions clearly communicate the same message to consumers as their other marketing channels.
“Both the look and feel of our print catalog are closer to the Web site than they’ve been in the past,” says Martin McClanan, president of San Francisco-based art supplies and gifts cataloger Flax Art & Design. “We have more of the same kinds of graphic treatments, color sections and titling. If, for instance, you’re talking about barbecue tools for the summer on your Web site, you talk about it in your catalog, too. It’s just good integrated branding and cross-channel marketing. If you organize it on Web functionality, you do it that way in the catalog; if you organize it as lifestyle, focused on casual themes, you create that same style in both channels.”
Calculate and Coordinate
Lois Boyle, president of Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based consulting firm J. Schmid & Associates, expands on that point, noting that the most important change catalogers should make with regard to their print books is how they gauge sales results.
“The old benchmark said a cataloger should capture 95 percent of all source codes,” she says. “But most catalogers now are lucky to capture 60 percent, what with the steady increase in online orders. This causes real problems when trying to test offers, covers, formats, outside lists, reactivation efforts, etc. So catalogers have to find alternative ways to match back these uncoded orders to make educated decisions.”
For instance, savvy catalogers are coordinating their circulation plans with their e-mail campaigns, Boyle says. “Pushing people to a Web site with e-mails truly works, but it works even better when coordinated with mail drops and related offers and messages.”
Furthermore, mailers can learn more about buying patterns by gauging online results — and applying that information when putting future editions of print books together, says Boyle.
For instance, understanding their top online search keywords can help catalogers use appropriate terminology when creating a table of contents or an index, she notes. Understanding the language customers use helps catalogers better organize and write copy for the catalog. It also gives insight to possible product expansion.
As for the physical makeup of their books, catalogers for the most part are sticking to what they’ve done in the past. For instance, Flax hasn’t changed its page count, although its online sales (as a percentage of overall sales) have increased from the high 20s to the high 30s in the past three years, McClanan says.
As for specific portions of its print books, such as ordering information and the order form itself, “We try to encourage consumers to visit the site by messaging the fact that there are thousands of items on the Web not shown in the catalog,” says McClanan. The catalog also features the URL on every spread and mentions the Web as the first ordering method on the order form, he notes.
All for One and One for All
Brad Ekiss, director of catalog marketing at Bowling Green, Ky.-based camping equipment mailer Camping World, says the company tries to promote all of its channels in each individual channel. Camping World has a catalog, Web site and more than 40 stores. “We don’t structure the catalog so it’s totally one channel. In the catalog we talk about searching on the site to see more products, and play up the retail end. Certain portions of the catalog even specifically talk to retail customers.”
Although many consumer mailers must present more of a unified brand presentation in their print books to reflect their different marketing channels, some business-to-business mailers don’t have a similar need. For instance, Nasco, a Fort Atkinson, Wisc.-based multititle cataloger of farm equipment and school supplies for educators has found that many of the educators it mails to are slow to adapt to the Internet for ordering, says president Phil Niemeyer. “So we haven’t made major changes to the catalogs” to reflect a shift in channel-buying patterns, he notes.
At the same time, however, the Internet has allowed Nasco to gain more sales through its print books than in the past. He notes that the concept of mailing fewer catalogs because more orders are coming online is just plain false. “Since most of the catalogs we mail go out only once a year, the Internet has increased our catalog numbers, because we use the Internet to send special offers and notify our customers about the shipping status of orders.”
Everything Old Is New Again
If anything, the increase in online ordering has led many catalogers to increase their print catalog circulation, rather than decrease it. “Multiple tests have proven that the catalog is still the key driver to pushing online sales,” Boyle of J. Schmid says. “The ‘tap on the shoulder’ that a catalog provides is still more intrusive in nature than a Web site will ever be, and helps keep the brand at the top of the consumer’s mind. We’ve seen a direct correlation between an increase in online activity when mail circulation is increased. Furthermore, the mailed catalog still upholds retention rates.”
Ekiss of Camping World says as long as it makes sense financially to mail a catalog, he will. “Whether it’s to an online customer or someone who calls us, we’ll mail it,” he says. “Internet customers, or some portion of them, still read that catalog, and they still want it.”
Likewise, McClanan of Flax says that each marketing channel’s expense “is determined by its return on investment. Whether it’s online, e-mail, affiliate marketing or catalog, we simply look at the ROI by channel from the previous two years and determine our spending plan by how much margin we expect to get in return.”
Even with the steep postal rate increase expected for early next year, McClanan and others contacted are unfazed. “In theory, this would cause us to divert dollars to other channels,” McClanan says. “But it takes a fairly sizeable change in cost to swing big dollars. So we haven’t decided yet whether it will lead us to decrease our circulation — or by how much. Postal or paper cost increases simply make it harder to make money with catalog circulation that’s on the cusp of profitability.”
Paul Miller is a veteran writer and editor specializing in all areas of catalog/direct marketing and e-commerce. He is the former senior news editor/Web site editor at Catalog Age. He can be reached at email@example.com.