Branding on a Shoe String
June 1, 2001

Pop over to the business section of your local bookstore, and you’ll find the shelves lined with dozens of books about branding. In addition, articles about branding abound in the business magazines, and a small army of consultants stand ready to lead focus groups, compile surveys, write reports, and make recommendations for branding your catalog. But if you’re like most of the start-up catalogers with which our firm, Olson, Kotowski & Co., has worked over the years, you’re probably chronically short of two things: time and money. Fortunately, forging a unique brand identity isn’t all that difficult or expensive—if you apply a little

Nordstrom: Following, Bending & Breaking the Rules
June 1, 2001

In the early 1990s I gave a talk to the Minneapolis Direct Marketing Club. On the way to the airport, my old and dear friend Kathy detoured to let me prowl the vaunted Mall of America, that gloriously glitzy testament to the shop-’til-you-drop mentality: the largest indoor mall in the world, complete with an amusement park in the center. As we passed the jewelry department of Nordstrom, I spied a ring in the window that seemed right for my wife, Peggy. We went inside and were greeted by a sales clerk named Janice, who sold me the ring. Later that day I presented

War Stories: Color House Tales
June 1, 2001

Midnight. Six people are huddled around a sink in the women’s restroom. Except for me, all are men. In this vast printing plant—ablaze with sulphur, neon and mercury lights—one pathetic 60-watt bulb is the only incandescent light we can find. Is my Christmas catalog cover green in ordinary room light (as intended) or silver? My sales rep peers through the gloom at a just-printed sample in my hand. “I could convince myself that’s green,” he says. Color-correct lights aren’t always the best for viewing color. They do ensure that everyone in the industry views proofs and printed samples under similar lighting conditions.

Testing Creative for Higher Response
May 1, 2001

Direct mailers test creative in the mail, always trying to “beat” the control package. In our business, each new catalog needs to look sufficiently different from the last, while still adequately portraying brand image. You need to keep things fresh, but you also have to guard against pushing your brand too far. If you’re only in the mail once with a cover, how do you achieve this? At Crutchfield, an home and car electronics catalog, we test our covers by showing them to panels of different customer segments before we test them in the mail. By doing this, Crutchfield gets timely “winner”/”loser” information on the best cover

Apply the Rules You Already Know
April 1, 2001

Here’s a breakthrough idea for enhancing your Web site to make it perform more effectively: Apply the catalog rules you already know! After all, catalogs are a visual medium and so is the Web. When you’re selling products, the product picture and other graphic elements are kings. Though good catalogers already know the key rules of catalog design and merchandising, for some reason these rules are not being applied consistently to even the best Web sites. Let’s focus on a few of the key catalog rules you should be applying to your e-commerce site. Maximize Your Hot Spots. We know that a print

War Stories: Press Checks Across America
April 1, 2001

The dashboard clock glowed 1:17 a.m. Driving snow covered the expressway so completely that only the tracks of the car ahead identified the road. A truck blasted past, and I dropped in behind, hoping he knew the road better than I. My rental car’s wipers and defroster were overwhelmed—I was craning to see through a three-inch diameter clear spot in the glass. Should I pull off? No, I’d miss my press check. Thirty miles to go. A “press check” is when you fly to the catalog printing plant, examine the first press sheets off the press, and have the press crew make whatever

Selling Sports Equipment
April 1, 2001

When teenage slackers want to get hooked up with the “dopest” gear, they have quite a selection of catalogs from which to choose. One newcomer is attracting attention. is created with flippant copy, detailed product specifications and hundreds of branded skating products. The mission of is to produce stellar Web site editorial, photography and entertainment that is leveraged to create a direct mail piece that has long shelf life and the ability to sell. Monsterskate is the sister publication of and, which serve surfing and snowboarding customers, respectively. is the company’s flagship publication. “ started in January

Just Puttering Along
April 1, 2001

According to estimates, there are about 650,000 active licensed pilots in the United States, including about 100,000 who work for airlines. So, by any measure, the market for catalog companies selling supplies to individual, recreational or hobbyist pilots is not very big. But this market, known as “general aviation,” is potentially lucrative, owing to the upscale demographics of the target group. How well are general aviation catalogs marketing their wares? How good is their overall strategy and positioning? We shared a number of general aviation equipment catalogs with renowned direct marketing guru Estin Kiger. We wanted to get his viewpoint on what these

Case Study: Brooks Brothers on the Cutting Edge
March 1, 2001

Just before I sat down to write this, The New York Times reported the death of yet another beloved—albeit little known—boutique institution, Gorsart Clothes. The downtown Manhattan men’s clothier had served the Wall Street community since 1921. In the words of Times writer Sherri Day, The last straw may have been the advent of casual Fridays—and Thursdays and Wednesdays—which eliminated much of the need for the crisply tailored suit and the power tie. Where Gorsart was unable to change with the times, another great New York men’s clothier, Barney’s, changed too much—only to be taken over by its creditors in 1996. Founded in

E-catalog Model Technology
March 1, 2001

It began on the Lands’ End Web site as a high-tech variant of paper dolls. Now, 3-D models are a popular feature of many online catalogs, including J.C. Penney, Eddie Bauer and The Sharper Image. The 3-D model enables shoppers to configure an electronic, rotating mannequin that resembles themselves. Everything from face shape to waist measurement to hairstyle is changeable. The model is designed to help consumers make apparel decisions by showing how a garment fits, falls and flatters. It also shows how a garment will work with particular hair and eye colors. Most of the sites with online models offer a complementary