Catalog Doctor: Rules to Live By
PATIENT: "Doc, you've been around the block a few times in the catalog business. In all that time, have you come up with any overarching guidelines that can help me out in my business?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "Hmmm ... I realize there are guidelines that I use so much they've become a subconscious part of my thinking. Here are 11. I hope they're as helpful to you as they've been to me over the years."
1. Prospecting costs money; get over it. Looking for a way to acquire new customers who are profitable the first shot out of the box? That used to happen, but not today. Times have changed. Today, look for a one year-plus breakeven or profit. Prospecting is still a good investment, but it's definitely an investment.
2. You can't predict test outcomes. What's worked for one company won't necessarily work for another. What worked five years ago won't necessarily work today. After working more than three decades in the catalog industry, I've gotten very good at predicting the outcomes of tests, but I don't get them right every time. Test, don't guess.
3. Prioritize what you test. Testing can get expensive. Catalogers have all kinds of ideas about what they would like to test, but it's not feasible to test everything. Identify which tests could have the biggest impact on your sales and profits. Rank test ideas by what looks likely to increase sales the most, reduce costs the most or contribute the most to the bottom line. Prioritize by the top ranks and forget the rest.
4. The message "Save this catalog, it's the only one you'll get this year" doesn't work. No brand has ever succeeded in cutting its mailing frequency by telling catalog recipients to "Hang onto this catalog for a year ... " and customers did. Almost none will. Instead, mail as frequently as you can manage, depending on how many catalogs each customer segment "earns" from your company.
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.