Catalog Doctor: Spur Response With Unit Drivers
PATIENT: “Doc, I want to increase response from my prospecting catalog mailings. We’ve already used all of the circulation tricks that we could think of. Is there an added prescription for lifting prospect response?”
CATALOG DOCTOR: “Yes, I recommend taking the products that are your unit drivers and getting them out in front of prospects in your catalogs, emails and website.”
PATIENT: “What’s the best process for going about doing that? And how will unit drivers help increase prospect response?”
Unit Drivers and Why They Matter
A unit driver is simply a product that sells in high quantity. Why do unit drivers matter? High unit sales tell you a product has broad appeal, and broad appeal means higher response rates from a wide range of consumers — like prospects.
You can often get higher response rates from prospects by featuring your unit-driving products prominently. That means prospects see the most appealing products during their first few catalog-viewing moments. It makes them more likely to open, keep and buy from your catalog.
How to Keep From Missing Out on Your Best Unit Drivers
When it comes to product sales reports, many order management systems are more oriented toward inventory control than marketing. This means sales are shown on a SKU level rather than on a marketing level. These reports often don’t give the whole picture, however, leading to wrong decisions.
For example, let’s say you have a matching cardigan and tank top that are both shown in a single photo and sold in a single copy block. Each comes in two colors and four sizes. Two-thirds of customers buy both pieces in one order to get the matching set. If your sales are reported on a SKU level, the report will show two items, two colors and four sizes for a total of 16 line items. Your cardigan and tank top set may be a top-10 unit driver, but it’s easy to miss high unit sales for a set of products when the set’s sales are scattered across 16 lines on the report.
An item number report more accurately reflects this scenario, but still isn’t perfect. A product sales report will show two line items (one for the cardigan, one for the tank top). This is a better report, but cardigan and tank top sales still won’t rise to the top of a top-10 unit driver report because only half of the set sales will appear on each line in the report.
The Power of a Depiction-Level Sales Report
What you really want is a report that shows sales on a depiction level. A depiction-level sales report shows what sales are for all item numbers and SKUs sold in a given depiction (e.g., a single photo/copy block combination). Our example on a depiction-level sales report would show total sales for the cardigan and tank top combined for all colors and sizes. Of course, it could show item-level and SKU-level sales too. The important thing is that it also shows total sales for everything in that depiction. For catalog marketers doing pagination, depiction sales are key to profitable decision making.
Oddly, in my 30 years in this business I’ve rarely seen depiction-level sales reports available. My company recently took a client’s item number sales report and manually combined sales for the item numbers in each depiction to get total sales per depiction. From that we generated a new top-10 unit drivers report. When we compared the new depiction sales report to the old item number report we saw dramatic shifts in sales ranking. What originally looked like the No. 1 unit driver moved all the way down to No. 9. A multi-SKU depiction that wasn’t on the original top 10 report shot up to No. 1. This new report completely changed the client’s thinking on how to paginate their next catalog.
What Makes a Product a Unit Driver?
Low price. Some catalog marketers think unit drivers are always low priced. That’s not always true, but a low price can often help because low-priced products create an easier decision for a prospect to try out your catalog. Plus, low-priced products are more likely to be added on to an existing order.
Consumables. If it’s a type of product that gets used up, and customers really liked the first one they got from you, they’ll often come back for more. This buying cycle creates unit drivers. Examples include food, notebook refills, a classic turtleneck shirt, among other products.
Signature product. Food catalogers sometimes have one signature product that drives 20 percent to as much as 80 percent of their sales. Other types of catalogers have signature products, too. Signature products are often unique and steeped in history. If you have a stable of quality signature products that get worn out or used up — and are also great values — you’ll likely find those in your top-10 unit driver report year after year.
Where to Put Unit Drivers in Your Catalog
To boost response, position your unit drivers out in the open where prospects will be sure to see them. Use these window display spots to grab attention and build interest fast:
- back cover;
- front cover;
- opening spread; and
- beside bind-ins (because a catalog naturally falls open to spots where cards, order forms or other inserts are bound in).
Effective use of window display locations will not only help sell more unit drivers, but more prospects will look inside your book, too. They’ll be thinking, “These products are great, I’ll bet there are more inside. I think I’ll take the time to look further.”
Put additional unit drivers inside the catalog near the front of your product categories and adjacent to products for which they’re natural add-ons (e.g., shirts by jackets, jam by muffins). Cross-sell to unit drivers wherever cross-sells make sense. Apply the same principles to unit drivers on your website’s homepage and category pages, as well as in your emails.
Unit Drivers Work for Buyers, Too
If you’re thinking, “I can’t afford to make a second catalog version just for prospects,” don’t worry, you don’t have to. Buyers will also deliver strong sales on unit drivers. A cataloger I worked with was concerned about needing completely different catalogs for buyers versus prospects. Upon my recommendation, the company ran separate prospect and buyer sales reports and found that the list of best-sellers was surprisingly similar for both. The same may be true for your brand. Just be sure that for buyers your top revenue drivers are easy to find and the front cover tells them about the new products inside.
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.