Why and How Creative Should Talk to Circulation
Catalog creatives generally feel like they live in a different universe than circulation folks. However, both share the same catalog goals and you'll find you can achieve those goals faster and better by communicating with each other. Here are some tips on how and when to talk.
Before You Begin Your Next Design Cycle
1. Ask if buyer demographics have shifted. Your circulation team typically gets demographic reports from the list modeling companies. Ask to see those reports, and also ask your circ team to help interpret that (often obscure) data for you. Has your audience shifted to older or younger, richer or poorer? You can improve results by targeting your copy and design to the new demographic shifts. For example, older audiences often do better with bigger fonts, more explanatory photos and clearer page organization.
2. Ask when the catalog in-home dates are planned for. Don't assume this year's in-home dates will be the same as last year's. To maximize response, you'll want your cover themes and look to be aligned with any holidays and to follow the progression of each season.
3. Ask them to share any test results. Did you do any creative tests of copy, design, photography, page density? Knowing the results is critical. And don't settle for an answer like "Test A won" or "Test B lost." Ask how the results broke down by recent buyers, old buyers, nonbuyers, new prospects, etc. You also want segmented results by high-dollar and low-dollar buyers. This data is critical for informing your creative direction.
4. Ask about overall results from your housefile. Your circulation folks have a lot of information you may not be aware of. One thing circ people look at is counts of how many customers have bought during the past 12 months. If those counts are shrinking, it usually means that fewer customers are repeat buying now than in the past. Knowing that allows you to work on ways to use creative to encourage repeat purchases as frequently as possible.
5. Ask about results from new prospects. Are prospects converting into buyers at lower rates? If so, you can work on ways to convince more prospects to buy. Are you giving them enough product information in your copy or photos? Are you telling them why your brand is better than its competitors?
6. Ask if prospecting volume or direction is changing. If a lot of new types of lists are being tested or old familiar lists are being omitted, you need to tweak your prospect catalog's creative to appeal to the new mix of shoppers. If you prospect using the same catalog version as buyers get and there's a big increase in prospecting, you may want to reorient the pagination and features to better emphasize proven best-sellers and more entry-level-priced products designed to appeal to prospects. Conversely, if there's a big cut in prospecting, you may want to put more emphasis on new products to stimulate lapsed buyers’ interest.
Before You Do Any Major Redesign or Rebranding …
Be sure to tell the circulation folks. If there will be major creative changes, that may also mean the updated catalog will attract an audience with shifted demographics compared with before — e.g., younger or older, urban or rural, and so forth. Therefore, the circulation department may need to test a new set of prospect lists, or it may need to change the mix of housefile names in order to better align the overall mail plan to the new creative direction in a way that maximizes revenue from the shifted audience.
When creative partners with circulation, it's a win-win for everyone. And it's fun and interesting, too.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.