The 50 Best Tips
Say what you will about this wonderful trade we call the catalog/multichannel business, but whichever way you spin it, you can’t go very far if you’re unprofitable. That’s why above all else — the marketing, the merchandising, the creative, the e-commerce, etc. — we’re most interested in helping our readers make more money.
So we bring you our annual binge of tactics and tips extracted from all of this year’s issues of Catalog Success, our weekly e-newsletter Idea Factory and our biweekly idea exchange e-newsletter, The Corner View. Our editorial staff went through every article we’ve produced this year to give you a nice, big “cheat sheet” of ways to help your company grow. But each tip is referenced to the individual issue so you can easily turn back for the complete, original story.
We certainly could’ve gone well beyond a top 50 here — of course, we strive to offer up 50 tips in each issue. But it was a good exercise for us to whittle it down to 50 from an initial “best of” list in excess of 100. And we did our best to include moneymaking or cost-saving tips from categories across the board.
Use these tips in good health, go far and prosper with them. But I also encourage you to look upon this, as well as every edition of our magazine and newsletters, as a lending library of sorts. Grab the tips, but also contact us with your own winning ideas. And be sure to let us know when you adapt one of these ideas into a winner for your company. We’re your middleman here, and we would love to communicate your ideas with other readers on pages in the magazine or in the comments section of our newsletters and Web site. As always, feel free to click the “submit a comment” button online or to e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Paul Miller, Editor-in-Chief
MAILING, MARKETING ISSUES
✱ Contact management.
Create a contact strategy that incorporates all methods of customer contact. It encompasses planning all of your contacts with the customer, e.g., special promotions on the Web, catalog mailings and e-mailings. By planning your e-mails to support your mailings and your Web specials, contact with your customers will be more meaningful and have greater impact.
— Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct, Strategy column, “Circulation Planning: How the Rules Have Changed,” May, Catalog Success
✱ Set specific goals.
If you set concrete goals, you get concrete results from your competitor analysis. And you’ll avoid the risk of investing time and effort in a study that just gets filed away and forgotten. Launch five new catalog initiatives. Make them action-oriented. Avoid goals like, “Come up with five new ideas.” Ideas tend to get loved, filed and forgotten.
— Susan McIntyre, McIntyre Direct, Catalog Doctor column, “Intense, Competitor Analysis,” May, Catalog Success
✱ One mailer’s ‘disciplined’ approach to prospecting.
“For each catalog title, we calculate breakevens by season and maintain models of short- and mid-term customer value. We then determine, based in part on risk, an acceptable cutoff for each source. These values are continually adjusted. We run the same analysis whether we’re looking at prospects from one of our catalogs or from an outside source.”
— Jon Fleischman, Potpourri Group, “Teach an Old Trade New (and Not so New) Tricks,” August, Catalog Success
✱ Don’t stop mailing to Web-only buyers.
When you look at your source code report, it appears Web-only buyers are considerably below breakeven. Even the results from the most recent Web buyers don’t look exciting. It’s logical to conclude you should stop mailing Web-only buyers to save money. But Web-only buyers are performing at more than acceptable levels, according to recent matchback studies, so keep mailing them.
— Stephen R. Lett and Sandy Wolstencroft, Lett Direct, “Cost-cutting Tips You Can Take to the Bank,” September, Catalog Success
✱ Be more picky in who you mail catalogs to.
Know the people you’re mailing to are interested in your products by taking advantage of the new analytical tools out there. Be able to analyze data to know your customers. “The catalog business has become quite an expensive part of our company with the cost of paper, printing and postage as they are today. So you need to get your catalogs to people who are interested in buying from you.”
— John Watts, Edwin Watts Golf, “Golf (and Multichannel Marketing) The Watts Way,” October, Catalog Success
✱ Find off-the-radar-screen-type prospects online.
Search the Internet for companies that match your customer profile. These tend to be fairly small companies, perhaps newer businesses, that aren’t hitting on normal B-to-B lists.
— George Hague, J. Schmid & Assoc., “Upgrade Your B-to-B Multichannel Marketing Strategy,” January, Catalog Success
✱ Matchbacks the B-to-B way.
Run tests to determine the incremental differences between your catalog marketing and outbound telesales vs. the combined effort of the two. You’ll likely find that the whole is greater than the two parts in terms of both sales and ROI.
— George Hague, J. Schmid & Assoc., B-to-B Cataloging column, “Four Ways to Coordinate Marketing and Outbound Sales,” August, Catalog Success
✱ Integrate page changes.
Modest page changes from edition to edition of catalogs can improve productivity compared to pages that don’t change. Change 6 percent to 10 percent of inside pages with each monthly catalog mailing to customers. Creative change costs generally increase total mailing costs by 2 percent to 8 percent, but usually deliver much larger gross margin increases. Effective changes include changing category sequences and creating two or three versions of each important product listing (at the same time) and alternating them from month to month.
— Dan Harding, MeritDirect, “Formulating a B-to-B Catalog Mailing Plan,” July 17, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Invite customers to help you merchandise.
Your customers want to be involved. Invite customers to the collaborative process. Customers from reading-tools cataloger Levenger use the company’s products to create their own methods for note taking and organizing.
— Steve Leveen, Levenger, “Don’t Be Boring,” January, Catalog Success
✱ Floor pricing.
If you’re attempting to appeal to a price-conscious consumer, floor pricing is the way to go. As the name implies, floor pricing keeps prices at the lower end of the price spectrum. It’s best used when there’s little differentiation between competitors for a particular product. Businesses that can survive on low margins, whether because of high turnover, lower profit requirements or insignificant overheads, are best able to pursue this type of strategy.
— Oneupweb, “Four Lessons Learned From Holiday ’06,” Jan. 16, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Everyday brand exposure.
To successfully adopt a culture and identify with a brand, an agent must believe in a cataloger and its products. Make the brand part of an associate’s everyday life and/or work experience. This firsthand approach can have a positive impact on a program’s results. For a cataloger that sells audio systems, for instance, equipping every workstation in the contact center with an audio system enables associates to listen to music throughout the day, promoting their passion for sound quality.
— Sandy Ellis, Sitel, “Four Steps to Infuse Your Culture and Brand into Outsourced Call Centers,” March 6, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Use best-seller analyses.
Best-seller analyses are extremely useful reports. They help take the “guesswork” out of merchandising decisions and identify the potential of a product in a different sales venue. These analyses should be performed several times a year, especially during the planning stages of a new catalog and prior to your company’s attendance at industry trade shows.
— Shari Altman, Altman Dedicated Direct, “What Sells Where?” October, Catalog Success
✱ Grow your search term list.
Test three to 10 times as many distinct keywords as there are pages on your site. If you carry, say, 5,000 SKUs, test between 15,000 and 50,000 terms. Assign tracking codes to gauge sales and costs at the keyword level.
— Alan Rimm-Kaufman, Rimm-Kaufman Group, E-commerce Insights column, “Winning at Paid Search ’07,” January, Catalog Success
✱ How Cabela’s tests its SEO.
The outdoor sporting-goods cataloger tracks its search engine optimization program performance by comparing, week to week, the percentage of keywords ranked in Google’s top four, along with the percentage in the top 10. The keyword sample includes 90 product-specific (“tail”) keywords and nearly 2,000 general keywords.
— Stephan Spencer, Netconcepts, “SEO Testing: How to Go All Out,” April, Catalog Success
✱ Use the first three pages rule.
Compare paid campaign keyword strategies with natural search results for the same words. If they’re not coming up on the first three pages of a search engine based on natural search, focus on improving ranking of those nonranking terms.
— iCrossing, “Study Finds Integrating Paid and Natural Search Significantly Boosts Online Performance,” April 17, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Avoid ads on your site.
If your conversion path is nothing but a series of ads linked together, you’ll likely lose your audience early on — probably at screen one or two. Use your conversion path as a forum to earn consumers’ trust and respect, not as a medium to bombard them with an advertisement at every possible moment.
— Bronto Software, “Six Ways to Succeed — Post-click,” Aug. 28, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Make it easy for consumers.
Consumers want to quickly find what they need. In fact, Forrester Research says nearly half of people who visit a landing page leave within eight seconds. So, your landing page needs to connect buyers with their product without making them have to search or wait for it. With this in mind, don’t ask customers to fill anything out when they get to the landing page. Make them visual with a limited amount of text, particularly for retail stores. Have product selections update dynamically based on factors such as availability, new additions, sale items, etc.
— Brian Beck, Broadspan Commerce, “How to Successfully ‘Land’ on Your Feet,” Sept. 11, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Prolong the season with e-gift cards.
Online sales began a rapid decline in the week before Christmas, probably due to shipping times. To minimize this effect, start promoting electronic gift cards around the same time you’re no longer able to meet Christmas shipping deadlines.
— Oneupweb, “Four Lessons Learned From Holiday ’06,” Jan. 16, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Keep it short.
When preparing your opt-in form fields, be specific, but limited. Researchers have found about half of Internet users say they’ve been asked too much information when they register. They’re also not likely to spend more than two minutes with the registration form.
— GOT Corp., “Grow Your Opt-in Lists by Turning Browsers into Buyers,” March 16, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Work around your site’s peak times.
Be clear about your site’s peak selling times, days of week or season for selling. Then go out and assess tools and opportunities that fit buyer behavior. So if Monday at 10 a.m. is a very active “browsing” time, align your actions around that knowledge, whether blitzing the market with sales calls, running search campaigns during designated periods or placing radio ads during the drive times that surround peak browsing times.
— Suzanne McGann, Voyageur I.T., “Five Tips for Managing Online Strategy,” June 5, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Charge for membership.
If you create a community where you provide valuable information to others, the ability to share information amongst themselves and the assurance that you’ll keep out defectors, then people will pay for the benefits you offer. It’s necessary to gain the trust of the community and not break that trust with purposeless fees. Make sure that what they’re paying for, they’re getting.
— David Silver, entrepreneur and author, “Online Communities Offer Myriad Opportunities for Marketers,” July 10, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Build your business on repeat customers.
The e-commerce business is built on repeat customers. “When we first started, we did what every other dot-com did: Spent a lot of money on ad campaigns to acquire as many customers as possible. This is a good idea if your goal is to lose as much money as possible. Instead, we started focusing on repeat customer behavior.” Zappos.com increased the percentage of customers who buy again within the next 12 months from 20.5 percent in 2001 to 51.3 percent in 2006.
— Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.com “What Any Catalog Success Reader Can Learn From Zappos,” Aug. 10, Catalog Success’ The Corner View
✱ Reduce “zero results” searches.
Rather than have searches come up empty, simply say “failed search result.” The Bloomingdale’s site directs customers to similar products if they’re searching for something the company doesn’t stock. It reduces the number of zero results returned. And it also can say that the brands or products not in stock are “coming soon; check back with us for an expanded assortment.”
— Sonja Kristofferson, Bloomingdale’s, “How Bloomie’s Revamped Site Reaped Rewards,” Aug. 21, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Dig deeper on references.
Skip over the vendor’s marquis-name references and ask for names of companies that aren’t called as often. Don’t just talk to companies in your field. Rather, seek companies with an e-mail volume, level or type of service similar to yours. Try to speak with one client who has worked with the vendor two or more years, one who has been a client six to 12 months and one who has worked with the firm less than six months.
— Silverpop Systems, “Effective Ways to Select an E-mail Marketing Vendor,” June 5, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Four e-mail sales tactics.
1. Grab recipients’ attention and get them to open your e-mail; 2. Say it with style; give your e-mails a distinctive look and feel; 3. Mix it up by running special offers, such as sales or free shipping, using each sparingly; and 4. Experiment with animation; this captures attention and engages readers.
— Reggie Brady, Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, E-mail Applied column, “Effective E-mails That Sell,” July, Catalog Success
✱ Entertain customers online.
Shopping in the 3.0 era will move from a solitary, utilitarian task built around convenience, to a destination activity where consumers specifically seek out sites that offer rich, entertaining and exciting experiences they can share with their friends and family.
— Joe Chung, Allurent, The Editor’s Take column, “Improve Customers’ Experience,” August, Catalog Success
✱ Don’t allow messages to be image-dependent.
Given the fact that Outlook 2007 will strip out your images if you don’t design things just right, don’t allow messages to be image-dependent. It’s a good idea to ensure you’re e-mail is intelligible even if the images don’t show up for the reader.
— Joe Dysart, freelance writer and business consultant, “Look Out! Why Outlook 2007 is a giant step backward for e-marketing,” November, Catalog Success
✱ Study data from co-op databases carefully.
Novelties cataloger After 5 discovered through some of its co-ops, such as NextAction, that it was very strong in gift sales. “I never thought of us as a gift catalog, nor did I want to be, because we’d end up focused on gift-giving.” But that’s what customers dictated, which led After 5 to start a gifts-related Web site.
— Eric States, After 5/Surf to Summit, “Kayaking, Partying & Profits,” February, Catalog Success
✱ Train your reps.
Your customer service reps should know what to do to make consumers’ requests effective, whether they ask to be taken off your mailing list, be given the source of their information, not have their information shared or reduce mail in general with the DMA Mail Preference Service. When your reps tell consumers their information came from a co-op source, it’s best to name the co-op and then offer to contact it on the consumer’s behalf.
— Pat Kachura, Direct Marketing Association, Privacy Matters column, “Co-op Databases & Consumer Privacy,” March, Catalog Success
✱ Use all of the co-op databases, not just one or two.
There are six consumer co-op databases to take advantage of. Yes, there will be overlap from one database to another, but each co-op can identify names worth mailing based on its modeling that another co-op might not find.
— Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct, Strategy column, “Maximizing Outside List Performance,” February, Catalog Success
✱ Traditional lists work best for niche products.
Names modeled from co-op databases don’t work for all catalogers. dELiA*s is atypical of the industry. “We sell to teenagers and co-op lists typically don’t include teenagers. How niched the product might be may mean you’re not able to work with co-ops. It’s a unique problem. None of the co-ops are going to be strong for us.”
— Mitch Schultz, dELiA*s, “Traditional or Co-op, Tips To Get The Best Performance From Your List,” Aug. 7, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Establish a cross-channel task force.
“If your chief marketing officer isn’t concerned with consistency across channels, then create an interdepartmental cross-channel marketing team.” Production staff must be aware of e-commerce; and e-commerce staff must know what’s going on with the catalog.
— Susan McIntyre, McIntyre Direct, “Multichannel Integration Tactics,” February, Catalog Success
✱ Sales channel integration.
Track sales and marketing costs at the customer level across channels. Differentiate sales from brand vs. nonbrand search phrases. Monitor efficiency just above and below your advertising cutoff, and start hold-out testing to determine your true marketing drivers of behavior.
— Alan Rimm-Kaufman, Rimm-Kaufman Group, E-commerce Insights column, “Multichannel Planning: A Complex Endeavor,” May, Catalog Success
✱ Use your brand as a ‘trainer.’
Your brand needs to “train” people to recognize you as a company or product. And if done right, it becomes symbolic and a reminder of your company’s unique selling proposition.
— Carol Worthington-Levy, LENSER, “Refine Your Multichannel Message,” April, Catalog Success
VALUATIONS & ACQUISITIONS
✱ Exercise an aggressive due diligence approach.
When catalogers exercise the due diligence approach, its disciplines and interpretations, they not only help their own EBITDA generation, but they also best position themselves to do their own deals — whether it’s to buy, sell or raise growth financing.
— Larry West, West Cos., Valuations & Acquisitions column, “What Acquisition Due Diligence Reviews Can Teach You,” February, Catalog Success
✱ Convert your catalog to letter-size.
If you can’t in good conscience (or business sense) convert your nonletter-size catalog to letter-size, then ensure your catalog can be processed on the FSM 100 (flat sorting machine). That means it must be less than 3/4-inch thick.
— Gene Del Polito, Association for Postal Commerce, Understanding Postal column, “Spare Your Bottom Line,” January, Catalog Success
✱ Don’t process NCOALink or ACS too often.
If your match rates start to fall, you may be processing too frequently and paying for the same information. In general, apply a change-of-address processing on every customer eligible for mailings once every three months and less active customers once a year. More frequent processing should be analyzed to see if it is providing enough new information to be cost-effective.
— Sharon Neuenfeldt, Decision Intelligence, “Seven Tips to Stem Losses from Unaccounted Movers,” April 10, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Maximize presort savings.
If a shipper doesn’t mind adding about a day to shipping times, presorting will save money. If the volume is high enough, a shipper can qualify for five-digit discounted rates. If a company doesn’t ship enough to qualify for five-digit presorting, then perhaps it can find another company that ships similarly sized items to get the discount by shipping together.
— Alicia Berry, DVD Empire, “How the USPS Can Save Shippers Some Cabbage,” May 15, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Get prepared for tougher addressing rules.
— Gene Del Polito, Association for Postal Commerce, Understanding Postal column, “Why Accurate Addressing Matters More Than Ever,” November, Catalog Success
✱ If you maintain a flat file, the data should relate only to a specific catalog title or brand.
Develop a circulation plan for each title independently. If you maintain a relational database, look at customer purchase history and behavior across titles.
— Stephen R. Lett, Lett Direct, Strategy column, “Maintaining a Relational vs. Flat File Marketing Database,” March, Catalog Success
✱ Gather and centralize your data, online and off.
Variables, such as e-mail click data, Web surfing behavioral data and purchase history, aren’t that effective on their own. But combined they can prove very successful. Create a separate marketing database that externally runs to the legacy system, configured so the data gleaned from the Web site can be converted into practical information marketers can use.
— Ned Barrett, Direct Logic Solutions, “Mining for Gold,” May, Catalog Success
OPERATIONS & FULFILLMENT
✱ Turn your returns into a positive experience.
“The biggest mistake I see with the returns process is that returns are treated as an operational procedure. But it’s an excellent marketing opportunity. It’s personalized contact with the customer that you don’t get when a customer orders online or through the mail.”
— Debra Ellis, Wilson & Ellis Consulting, “React When It’s Sent Back,” April, Catalog Success
✱ Spend time on the phone with customers who are online.
Teach customers how to deal with any online order problems, so the (Web) self-service option gains relevance again. Spending that kind of teaching time on the phone can show how much you want to support the relationship and participate together. It’s well worth the labor and phone cost if you successfully complete the transaction instead of having an abandoned online shopping cart.
— Liz Kislik, Liz Kislik Associates LLC, “Upselling, the Multichannel Way,” April, Catalog Success
✱ Use copy effectively on the back cover.
Use a strong, bold headline on the top to set the mood and get prospects interested in the catalog’s unique selling proposition, special sales, etc. Look to sell a hot or new product, and offer some different price ranges. Write teasers in other product categories and throw in a strong call to action to say it’s fast and easy to order.
— Carol Worthington-Levy, LENSER, Copywriting column, “Long or Short Copy? What’s Right for You?” May, Catalog Success
✱ Rewriting the rules, again and again.
In this age of YouTube and the never-ending feast of information to be had on the Internet, our reading patience levels have become shorter and shorter because we’re all in such a rush to click to the next page. That’s forced catalog copywriters to tighten up, particularly when they’re writing sales copy for the Web. Lengthy, romantic interludes about products can’t succeed the way they once did. Cut to the chase, give a brief description, spit out the benefits and get out of there.
— Paul Miller, Catalog Success, “Rewriting the Rules, Again and Again,” June 27, Catalog Success’ The Corner View
✱ Engage your customers.
Customer knowledge is power. The more you know your customers, the more you can sell them. Use words customers use; listen in on CSR telephone conversations, search terms, text audits; provide relevant content, such as recipes, tips, how-tos; create a dialog; bring your customer into your office; use customer-provided content; and form a cross-functional customer experience team.
— Lois Boyle, J. Schmid & Assoc., “Brand Your Success by Enlivening Customers’ Experience,” Sept. 25, Catalog Success Idea Factory
✱ Disaster planning.
A seven-point quick guide in case of an unexpected work stoppage: 1. Designate a readiness team or individual coordinator to make lines of responsibility clear; 2. Set up phone and e-mail contact chains and test them; 3. Check your human resources policies; 4. Review your insurance policy; 5. Be ready for sheltering in-place in case you can’t evacuate; 6. Don’t let the game plan gather dust once it’s done; and 7. Be aware of your staff’s individual reactions.
— Liz Kislik, Liz Kislik Associates LLC, “Plan Ahead: Preparing for an Unexpected Disaster Requires Complex Foresight,” May, Catalog Success
✱ Embrace technology.
Technology shouldn’t intimidate would-be catalogers or those already in the business. It should be viewed as a vehicle to service clients as well as possible. If you’re thinking of starting a catalog or getting into the business, have a belief in your product and have a product that has a competitor differentiator. Then, you have to set yourself up organizationally and in terms of technology in a way that the customer always comes first.
— Russ Gaitskill, Garnet Hill, “It’s Only Natural,” June, Catalog Success
✱ On industry trade associations.
In considering the merits of joining the new American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA), the issue here really isn’t ACMA, DMA or PostCom. It’s you. ACMA could certainly help the catalog/multichannel business, but unless you step forward to take an active role in whichever industry association you choose to be a part of, it really won’t make a difference.
— Paul Miller, Catalog Success, The Editor’s Take column, “Weighing in on the New Catalog Group,” July, Catalog Success
✱ So you want to deal with fair-trade vendors?
“Find factories that have high quality and social standards. Be willing to figure out other ways to save money. If you already run your business in a certain way and decide you want workers at the factories you source from paid more, look elsewhere to cut costs.”
— Bill Bass, Fair Indigo, “Will Fair Trade Catch On?” August, Catalog Success «