What Your Peers Are Doing and What It Should Mean to You: Focus On a Trade Group, Foreign Customers, Conference Travel and Search
Last fall, we launched a reader poll on our Web site, CatalogSuccess.com. If you’re a cataloger/multichannel marketer and you’ve never seen it or voted (anonymously, of course), I encourage you to do so. You’ll find it on the top-right corner of our home page.
As I thought about what to write in this edition of The Corner View, it dawned on me that we’re sitting on some pretty useful information. So I decided to take a look at some of our past poll results and offer my two cents on what they mean to you — and how you might want to react.
In future editions of this newsletter, I’ll periodically visit our poll results and ponder what they mean to you. For now, let’s tackle some recent ones. Before I do so, let me remind you that all of our poll results are not scientific and sometimes are not statistically valid. Nevertheless, in this day and age of instant Internet polling, they certainly can give you a very good idea of what your peers are saying, doing, know, don’t know, etc.
The most recent poll question was, “Have you joined, or are you planning to join, the recently formed American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA)?” The results of this poll really blew my mind. In addition to simple “yes” and “no” responses, we threw in a third option, “I don’t know what this is,” almost as an afterthought. Guess what? 63 percent of you said you don’t know what it is, whereas 22 percent said they’ve joined or intend to join and 15 percent said they haven’t.
A quick primer: the American Catalog Mailers Association is a real trade association that was formed in April to represent catalogers’ interests, primarily during postal rate cases. In light of the punishing May postage increase, several catalogers came together to form the group. (For more on this, please read my Editor’s Take column in the upcoming July 2007 print issue of Catalog Success, which will also be available on our site at the beginning of the month.)
The biggest problem here isn’t that a mere 22 percent of you have or will join the group; it’s the 63 percent of you who said you don’t know what it is that I worry about. Although we don’t pride ourselves on being a newsmagazine or Web site, we do post catalog/multichannel-related news on our site regularly, and I encourage you to keep up on your industry. If you don’t want to visit our site, then sign up for a Google alert for “catalog.” Know what’s happening in your industry.
At any rate, I suggest you go to the group’s Web site and see if you want to get involved; it might be worth your while. Read my editorial in our print magazine in a few days if you want a second opinion.
On Foreign Customers
The prior poll question was, “Do you do any business with foreign customers?” The largest group of respondents, 40 percent, said they mail catalogs abroad and aggressively market to foreign customers; 25 percent said yes, but only when the orders trickle in on their Web site or toll-free line; 15 percent said they don’t accept any orders from outside the United States; another 15 percent said they don’t accept any orders from outside North America; and 10 percent said they only market outside of the U.S. as far as Canada.
I find these results enlightening. Add them all up and only the one figure, 15 percent of respondents won’t take any orders from outside the U.S. If you’re one of the 15 percent, I recommend you ask around to see what the trick is to doing business successfully outside the United States. Canada’s a pretty easy place to start. Contact Canada Post, the country’s privately held, government-sanctioned postal service, for advice. But in the meantime, 40 percent aggressively go after foreign business, which certainly is a good thing.
Reacting to the Postage Increase
We ran the following poll question shortly after the new postal rates went into effect on May 14: “What changes have you made in your catalog make-up and plans so far to offset the May 14 postage increase?” Although the majority of respondents, 67 percent, said they’d done nothing yet, I’d rather focus on the specific responses: 17 percent said they’d reduced the trim-size of their catalogs, whereas no one said they were switching to a lighter paper weight or that they’d found some co-mailing opportunities.
We probably ran this question too soon after the rate hike, although the lack of activity by late May means that not many catalogers planned ahead. Naturally, it’s not too late to start cutting costs, especially since there’s no hope for any sort of reprieve now that the U.S. Postal Service last week said it wouldn’t allow for a reduction in the 20 percent to 40 percent increases for mailers of bulk flats (catalogs).
Less Conference Travel
Just prior to the ACCM event in Boston in mid-May, we asked this poll question: “On an overall staff-wide basis, what are your company’s plans for attending this year’s catalog/multichannel-related conferences, compared to last year?” A whopping 70 percent said they were sending fewer people, 20 percent said they were sending more people, and 10 percent reported no change from 2006.
I’d like to think that more and more of you are getting your tips from our magazine, this newsletter, our Idea Factory e-newsletter and our Web site, so you have less of a need to attend these conferences, but I think that’s only part of the reason. Attendance at the ACCM was good, not great, this year. It was overwhelming at the Internet Retailer conference held a couple of weeks later, but there weren’t many catalogers in attendance.
This could mean that, while existing catalogers are sending fewer people, conferences are being populated by representatives from newer companies. Fresh blood is always great, but it’s nevertheless alarming to see fewer regulars in attendance.
You may be getting all the tips and ideas you need from our publications and online products. Or, perhaps you feel like you get enough from tapping into all those free webinars many vendors and publishers are offering these days. Our company’s hosted some and they’re pretty informative, for sure. But the in-person networking at conferences is always beneficial to all in attendance.
So, I’d recommend that rather than cutting how many people from your company attend, find cheaper ways to get there. Are your executives flying first-class or business-class? Think about finding your way to the emergency row in coach — same leg room, but a whole lot cheaper. (Hey, I’m 6’4˝ tall, I’ll vouch for that.)
Book your airfare further in advance; find cheaper hotels. You don’t always have to stay at conference-sanctioned hotels. There are myriad ways to make these things more affordable even in the high-price cities they’re usually held in. You just have to dig a little.
More Paid Search
Although the responses we got from our question, “By how much are you changing your budget for paid search this year compared to last year?” were to be expected, it also came as somewhat of a relief. The majority of respondents (75 percent) said they planned to increase their paid search budget by 1 percent to 10 percent this year, compared to 25 percent last year who said their paid search budget would be flat.
The good thing is no respondents said they’d be cutting back. I certainly recommend finding every which way to reduce your expenses. This entails going up and down the line in as many not-so-obvious places as you can to find what can be cut. But when it comes to e-commerce, you must keep investing. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind.