Which is First? The Chicken (Product) or the Egg (Marketing)?
First, some comments on reader comments from last week’s blog:
To Lauren and Michelle: You made some excellent points on the difficulties of working within an organization whose top managers aren’t direct marketers. No doubt, retailing and direct marketing are very different disciplines. It’s analogous to being a surgeon: you can be a great heart surgeon, but before you attempt brain surgery, you better get some training.
To Robespierre: Although I’m not a merchandise person, I’ll address some merchandise issues in future postings.
As for this week’s blog, I divide catalog marketing into three main arenas: product, marketing and operations. All require very different skills.
In my experience, the people engaged in these disciplines each chiefly believe that they’re the key drivers for the success of their individual companies. To product people, there’s no business without the product. To marketers, you have no business unless there’s a way to bring those products to the end consumer.
Hence, you always have something of a cold war between the product and marketing sides of a catalog business -- a sort-of battle to be the dominant element in the business.
(Of course, it’s really the data people who control the business. Just ask any I.T. person! Kidding, well sort of.)
Personally, I fall squarely into the marketing camp. I work a lot with product people looking to develop catalogs and direct marketing at their companies.
I always get the same reaction when I tell merchants that to me, it doesn’t matter what they sell. I usually say something like, “as long there is a market, and you can make the metrics work, you could sell ice cubes direct.” This always earns me a cross look. After all, they’ve put their blood, sweat and tears into developing some incredible products, right? In my career, I’ve sold everything from custom-made shirts to psychic services direct and I know this to be fundamentally true.
So to answer Robespierre’s question about what products work best in a catalog, look for products to market that you are passionate about. Sure there are product categories like apparel that lend themselves to catalog marketing. But some very successful catalogs mine a small yet powerful niche market. Find something that isn’t readily available elsewhere and has some uniqueness to it. Then make sure you can purchase it and sell it with the right margin that can sustain a catalog business. Look for enough products that have an affinity to each other so you can have depth and breadth of product lines in your catalog.
Or maybe if you don’t have many products, find something unique, and then market it direct, build up a database of customers and then expand your product line as you grow -- the classic kitchen table mail order entrepreneur approach.
As always, please feel free to fire off a comment by using the form below.
Jim Gilbert has been creating direct marketing programs that drive superior ROI for almost 30 years. Fluent in consumer or B-to-B, creative, operations, and analytics, he marries the strategic and tactical sides of direct and social media marketing in a seamless fashion that gets results. He's CEO of a multidiscipline direct marketing agency, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Inc., which focuses on direct mail, catalogs, DRTV, telemarketing, print, alternative direct marketing media and social media marketing. Jim has been involved in start-ups, expansions and turnarounds, and is an expert in helping multichannel marketers get to the "next level." He's a former adjunct professor, teaching direct marketing at Miami International University, and is President of the Board of Directors of the Florida Direct Marketing Association. Jim loves to talk direct marketing, and has done many lectures on direct and social media marketing.