Five Ways to Bring Your Catalog/Multichannel Business in Tune With 2008
There’s that old Bob Dylan song about times a-changin’ that I won’t bother to quote further. But it seems to hold true moreso year after year, and 2008 is no exception. So while some of us continue to exchange “happy new year” greetings with one another, I’ll send along one last new year’s greeting with what I believe to be the top five actions you should act on, examine or just ponder to bring your catalog/multichannel business in sync with the times.
1. Get your matchback system working smoothly at once.
Assign someone in either your marketing or operations departments to do nothing other than go over your matchback system with a fine-toothed comb so it’s working accurately. Why? Because a sizable chunk of the catalog/multichannel business still doesn’t get it.
Consider the facts: In our Latest Trends Report on Key Issues that ran in our January issue (and that you can find on our Web site right on the home page, above the fold), we have two survey questions on matchbacks. The results show that catalogers’ learning curve on matchbacks remains steep.
In response to our simple question, “Do you have a matchback program in place?” more than 47 percent of respondents said they don’t have one at all. Need I say anymore? Yes, I must: Among those who said they do have a matchback program, while 40.9 percent said theirs is “very accurate and reliable,” 59.1 percent called theirs only “somewhat accurate and reliable.”
To you folks and especially to those of you without a matchback program at all, I say, get on it. Find out which channels your orders are really coming from. You could be tossing marketing money down the drain, and you don’t even know it.
And having a functional matchback program in place shouldn’t only be about whose department gets credit for the sale; it should really be about which department gets more marketing money going forward, based on that sale.
2. Get even more ‘cyber’ this year.
Boy, that’s an outdated phrase, isn’t it? More than a decade ago, when I was still figuring out how to use the Web (I think we still called it the “World Wide Web” back then) as well as e-mail, I recall somebody e-mailing me a message telling me to “get cyber!” All he meant by this was that I needed to make better use of the emerging online tools, because I was still aloof to the whole thing.
The technology in key online tools, such as search engine optimization and search engine marketing, e-mail marketing, affiliate marketing and online digital catalogs, is continuously updated, and, needless to say, it’s getting better all the time (yikes, quoted another ’60s song there). We all know that. But if you came through the traditional catalog ranks, how well attuned are you — and are people at your company — to being totally on top of fast-changing technology?
After all, the most significant year-after-year changes affecting the print catalog business typically have revolved around postage increases more than anything else. Sure, desktop publishing and other technological advances have impacted the print catalog business over the years, but all your e-commerce-related features and enhancements change far more rapidly. Don’t get left behind.
3. Copywriting: Write for today’s audience.
I’m swiping a page from the book of copywriting guru Herschell Gordon Lewis here. If you’ve ever heard Herschell give a presentation at a conference, you know that it’s pretty easy to sum up his mantra very briefly: He’s all about staying in tune with today’s consumer.
If your copy is written in a manner that you couldn’t comfortably speak to another human being, why are you writing it that way? Write the way today’s consumer speaks. Well, at least in the manner most people speak (maybe refrain from the “anizzles” of Snoop Dogg).
This comes into play especially on the Web where people have far less patience. Cut to the chase. Spit it out. Show the benefits. Move on to the next product.
4. Is it all about the merchandise?
Oh yeah, sure. But where can you really find unique merchandise these days? You sure won’t find much on your sourcing excursions to China. Everybody’s been there, bought that.
So I feel that for catalog/multichannel merchants, it’s more about how you present and package the merchandise. This is certainly nothing new, but it’s become more important year after year. Consider this non-direct marketing example if you will:
Take the case of Brighton Jewelry, a 17-year-old retail company that has steadily expanded to 6,000 stores around the country and is only now making a big name for itself. The company sells women’s accessories from head to toe in a manner designed to make women feel elegant and special not only while shopping (as well as husbands like myself while shopping for our wives), but after they walk out of the stores with their fancy gift bags, colorful tissue wrap and the like.
The merchandise is all feel-good with a touch of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. I bought my wife a necklace locket recently that she was dying to have. It’s the kind your grandmother used to wear that you could open up and find a tiny sepia photo of your great grandfather inside. It’s not terribly expensive and hardly original. But it’s all packaged along with other feel-good items inside the little boxy mall stores that entice you to go in and explore.
Brighton doesn’t have a catalog business, and I don’t believe it even hosts a Web site. I Googled it and couldn’t find its own Web site. But what I did find was a couple of Brighton blogs and bulletin boards of women sharing accessorizing ideas with one another, which says a lot about this retailer’s following.
No reason why catalogers can’t do a better job packaging their goods to make them look unique and special even if you can find the same things hunting around elsewhere online, in catalogs or at the mall. Catalogers have the ability to build the kind of cult/loyalty following that Brighton has among its faithful.
5. Go postal.
No, not in the morbid, creepy sense, of course. Assign someone in-house to become an expert on all things postal. Gene Del Polito, the Association for Postal Commerce’s relentless president, for years has beat his head against a wall to get catalogers to become wiser to postal matters. As brilliant a guy as Gene is, it just seems that few listen to this battle cry.
Too many catalogers rely on their printers to keep them up to date on postal matters. We named the column launched in Catalog Success last year that Gene wrote (and has since stepped aside in favor of his former colleague Kathy Siviter, whose first column will appear in our March issue) “Understanding Postal” for a reason: Catalogers by in large — and there certainly are exceptions — just don’t get postal. Wrong time for that.
There’s way too much going on in postal that oh-so-directly affects your bottom line with regard to changes in postal rates, rules, regulations, laws, you name it, that you can’t afford not to have at least one staffer who keeps up to speed on postal matters on a daily basis.
Although these five suggestions are listed in order of priority, they should all be top priority in 2008. They’re crucial, but they’re hardly for brain surgeons. Any catalog CEO is capable of implementing them if he or she hasn’t already. Then again, you have plenty on your plate running your day-to-day business just to keep afloat in these tough times, so I leave you with a little advice more typical of that from a trade conference: See if you can take action on at least one of these. Then take it from there and try the others. You’ll be glad you did.