April 28, 2013

Dear Catalog CEOs: Online Education

Dear Catalog CEOs:

I recently viewed a roundtable discussion about the future of education, six people, all over the age of 50, predicting the future.  The core of the discussion was this:

  • Online education is the future.
  • Online education, and simulations, are fun!
  • We're embracing the future of education.
  • Nothing replaces the experience of a campus-based experience.
  • Nothing replaces in-person discussions with a professor.
  • In a blended model, with online and on-campus, the results (high grades) are potentially much higher.
  • You need a teacher to generate the motivation factor for students.
  • Great teachers are necessary, they must inspire the student.
  • The future is the integration of online education with the teacher, and the campus experience.
What does this sound like?


Catalogers, of course, went through this evolution ... ten years ago ... then called multichannel.  Just integrate the online experience with the offline experience, and the customer will reward you with riches.

Did it work?  The winner was Amazon.  No catalog.

If you are the incumbent, you seemingly have no choice but to sell a vision of the future that tethers old-school tactics to new technology.

There are many great things about being a cataloger in 2013.  I'd much rather be a cataloger in 2013 than in 2003.  A decade ago, there were no rules, so every expert under the sun was telling you what the "new rules" were.  Today, there aren't many people telling you what you have to do.  You have a ton of latitude to be creative.  What a blessing!

In the roundtable discussion, Tom Friedman said that the panel was selling "Altavista" in the late 1990s.  In other words, the panel was discussing a solution, while the real solution (Google) would eventually arrive, and be different.

This is what is great about cataloging today.  In e-commerce/retail, omnichannel is Altavista.  E-commerce/retail is being distracted, strategically. 

In cataloging, you've been through this transition ... so you get to focus on merchandise and demographics, the stuff that is important.  The payoff of this strategic focus is coming.  Get ready!