May 03, 2011

Printers, Paper Reps, Print Production, and Innovation

A couple of times a month, I get into the topic of small catalogs with potential clients.  I'll get a call from a CEO or EVP who is fed up with rising paper costs, and is terrified about what will happen to the USPS.  The caller asks me what to expect from a demand standpoint if pages were reduced, from 96 to 88, for example?

That's the point where I mention that the caller could get 80% of the demand on 35% of the pages ... in other words, the caller could mail a 36 page catalog of best products, harvest the majority of demand, and be much more profitable, allowing the cataloger to mail twice as deep into the file or into prospect lists, growing total demand and orders vs. a 96 page catalog.  

I only bring this up because I've seen it happen, many times, successfully ... 12 pages, 24 pages, 36 pages, all sorts of different page counts.

I would not recommend smaller, quirky page counts unless I've measured an increase in sales and profit that exceeded a typical 64 page, 96 page, 128 page, or 192 page catalog.

After asking the question, I brace myself for the response ...

... "but our printer tells us there are efficiencies that make a thirty-six page catalog too expensive to mail.  And our paper rep can get us into other products that reduce costs.  So I would never do that.  Let's keep this real, Kevin.  Please tell me what happens if I go from 96 to 92 pages, or 96 to 88 pages?"

In a rational world, would operational considerations dictate the best marketing strategy for a customer? In a rational world, wouldn't you be willing to eschew best practices in favor of testing a different strategy?

Mind you, printer/paper reps aren't forcing you to do anything.  They are simply offering incentives for you to do what is best for them.  These aren't mean people, they're kind people, they're trying to help you save a few bucks.

But it's not about them, it's about what is best for your customer, and your shareholders, right?

Over and over again, I watch print production teams at leading catalog brands hold back innovation, while genuinely doing what they think is best for the business.  It's not really their fault, it is their job to save money, so they are going to side with vendors, who are also doing their job, by trying to save you money.

It is time for us to demonstrate some leadership.  Paper and postage are going to kill us, next week, or next decade ... the day of reckoning is unavoidable.  We won't acknowledge this, but we know it to be true.  

Might it be a good idea to identify ways to bridge current business to future business?  You're willing to test a dot-whack, why not test something more progressive?