What Will Catalog Marketing Look Like in a Post-COVID-19 World?
The coronavirus has been a life-changing event. We've never experienced anything like this before. Baby Boomers were young when polio was nearly eradicated with the Salk vaccine in 1955. At that time, very little was known about polio, which paralyzed and often killed young children. Science has greatly advanced since then. Even so, until we have a proven vaccine, the spread of COVID-19 will continue and the so called “new normal” will evolve and become even more of a reality with every day that passes.
COVID-19 has brought about changes in ways we never imagined. Changes in the way we shop, how we work from home, homeschool our children, entertain ourselves, and so much more. What we wouldn't have imagined prior to the coronavirus is becoming the new normal today. Some of the changes we've made will revert back to the old way of doing things once the virus passes. Many of the changes will remain at least for an extended period of time.
Many consumer catalog and online businesses have seen a significant increase in response to the way people shop during the coronavirus — i.e., “The COVID factor.” The increase varies by product category. Those companies selling food and gifts, for example, have been challenged to keep up with the demand. Some of the order/revenue increase is coming from prospects. However, much of the increase that consumer goods companies are experiencing is coming from their own buyer or housefile. We've seen an increase in the rate of response and revenue per catalog from various buyer files.
People have stayed home to be safe during the coronavirus. They're going out for dinner and entertainment much less, and therefore they have more discretionary income to spend shopping online or via catalog. Most likely some of this impulse spending will continue and some will stop when COVID passes. If you sell COVID-related items, most of this is likely to end once the threat is over.
When everyday seems like Christmas for many print and online consumer businesses, what can they do to keep this surge going long after COVID-19 has passed? Consumers are likely not to rush back to bars, restaurants, retail stores, etc., even when there's a medically accepted vaccine. Many will remain cautious, adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Others will be set in new ways of functioning. They have adapted to a new and safer or more cautious way of living their everyday lives. The transition back to pre-COVID ways of doing things won’t be like flipping a light switch.
Taking care of your customers should be the No. 1 goal before, during and especially after COVID. This starts by building trust with your customers. The consumer wants to trust the price they're paying is the best value, where the product is sourced (preferably USA), reviews they're reading, shipping/delivery times are accurate, etc. Stay in touch with your customers. Understand what they want and measure up to their expectations. Make their shopping experience everything they expect and more. Read your own customer reviews to learn what they're saying about your business, and adjust to accommodate issues (i.e., turn issues into opportunities).
As we exit COVID-19, be sure to analyze your one-time-only buyers. Those who have purchased for the first time during COVID, and especially people who purchased a COVID-related product only, might not have an affinity to your merchandise long term. Stay on top of their repeat rate and be careful not to overmail these customers, especially one-time-only web buyers. Just because they're in the zero to 12-month recency bucket doesn't guarantee lifetime value.
If you've ever considered a customer loyalty program, now might be the time to get it started. Customer loyalty programs recognize people who are buying by rewarding the customer. These programs cause the customer to feel good about purchasing from your brand and strengthen their bond with it.
If you've done well through COVID, a good strategy is to spend more on digital campaigns. Be more aggressive with your marketing. Consider adding another housefile drop (it's hard to overmail your customers). Start promoting the holiday season earlier than normal with strong promotional offers.
If you're currently not producing and mailing a print catalog, now is the time. Or, if you are mailing already, the time might be right to develop a spin-off catalog. Conditions are good because those working from home have more time, more discretionary income, and are learning to rely more heavily on the convenience of digital and catalog shopping.
In closing, the most important takeaway from this post is to focus on the customer. If you take care of your customers from all aspects and deliver more than they expect, your new customers can be customers for life.
Related story: Welcome to the Connecting Print & Digital Directly Blog
Steve Lett graduated from Indiana University in 1970 and immediately began his 50-year career in Direct Marketing; mainly catalogs.
Steve spent the first 25 years of his career in executive level positions at both consumer and business-to-business companies. The next 25 years have been with Lett Direct, Inc., the company Steve founded in early 1995. Lett Direct, Inc., is a catalog and internet consulting firm specializing in circulation planning, plan execution, analysis and digital marketing (Google Premier Partner).
Steve has served on the Ethics Committee of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and on a number of company boards, both public and private. He served on the Board of the ACMA. He has been the subject of two Harvard Business School case studies. He is the author of a book, Strategic Catalog Marketing. Steve is a past Chairman of both the Catalog Council and Business Mail Council of the DMA. He spent a few years teaching Direct Marketing at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
You can contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.