January 17, 2008

The Catalog Marketing/Circulation Department In 2012

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If you are an executive at a multichannel catalog brand, you're probably thinking about how the skills and abilities of your staff will evolve over the next five years.

The traditional circulation department of 1995 featured folks dedicated entirely to the craft of circulating catalogs. Due to technology limitations, staffers focused on managing lists. Mainframe systems allowed analysts to extract customer information. Customer acquisition staffers coordinated list rental/exchange activity. The merge/purge house coordinated all of this activity.

The circulation department of 2008 is a hodge-podge of transitional activities. We can't afford huge increases in fixed-expense headcount, so we try to cover multiple channels with comparable staffing levels.

The circulation department of 2012 is no longer a circulation department.

In 2012, we transition our teams into new roles. Because 70% or more of our sales occur online (regardless of the marketing activity that causes the sale), the online leader is recognized as the leader of the entire department.

We transition our staff for different roles.

Sales forecasting, typically a catalog-based activity, now reports through an online director.

Channels become "strategies", with the nuts-and-bolts work done by software (i.e. campaign management software like Unica Affinium), or done by staffers at various vendors (i.e. CheetahMail, Coremetrics, Experian, Millard, Abacus).

The analyst simply coordinates activities and provides significant vendor oversight. The analyst spends the remainder of his/her time coordinating a potpourri of strategies suggested by business leaders, and communicates the effectiveness of the strategies, collaborating with folks managing the corporate consumer data warehouse.

Jobs disappear and evolve. Traditional catalog jobs are outsourced to the vendor community, allowing internal resources to be allocated to the jobs of the future.

One of the new jobs is the Social Media Strategist. This person tracks "the conversation" happening between consumers and brands. It's pretty easy to do this today. If you are Lillian Vernon, and you want to track what folks are saying about layoffs at your organization, you type in this search term, then track this RSS feed. In the future, you will dedicate one individual to this activity, a person who works hard to improve the relationship between customers and your brand.

Each strategist (e-mail, search, social media, catalog internal lists, catalog external lists, other online media) co-ordinates data feeds that populate the consumer data warehouse. In a potentially frightening version of the future, proprietary consumer data harvested by each strategist are linked to external databases (i.e. Abacus, Google).

Roles and responsibilities evolve. Folks who enjoy traditional campaign management move into the vendor community. Individuals will manage a fragmented and chaotic environment controlled by the customer. The customer will tell the cataloger that she only wants four catalogs a year, and she wants them in February, May, October and November. The customer will tell the cataloger that she only wants twelve e-mail campaigns per year, to be received on the first of the month. The strategist somehow has to coordinate a million dissimilar consumer requests with software solutions that have yet to be created.

Customer control will cause a reduction in sales, so the strategist will harvest online information, hoping to identify the moment when the customer is ready to purchase something. Some version of search marketing is likely to evolve as the primary function of the circulation department during the next decade.

None of us can accurately predict the future. We can see, however, that the skills required to participate in the circulation department of the future will be very different than the skills required to manage the work flow today. We have a responsibility to look into the future, transitioning our staff for future jobs.

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