January 24, 2009

Ok, You're A Catalog Person

Anonymous recently left us a comment. He mentioned that he formerly worked for a Big Box Retailer, and is now applying for e-commerce merchant jobs, without success. The e-commerce folks want a merchant with e-commerce experience.

Another person named Anonymous responded to our article about "The End Of An Era In Catalog Marketing". When asked why nobody commented on the article, this individual said "How do we begin to imagine changing our business model in the midst of such uncertain economic times? How can we be certain that the 'new' methods we need to develop will outperform the dying model we prefer to cling to? I guess we would rather sink slowly than jump into a whole new boat."

Ok, you're a catalog person --- or a former retailer. The world changed. You used to work on important offline issues, generating demand that made the e-commerce people look brilliant. Now you are scorned by eco-friendly types, your marketing efforts are 2/3 as productive as they were five years ago, the USPS hammered you two years ago --- accelerating the free fall, the e-commerce folks have shut you out, and your company is shedding jobs right and left.

This trend repeats itself, over and over again. The credit card and contact center combined to end sending orders to the brand via the mail. Targeted, 80 page specialty catalogs nibbled the edges off of the 600 page Spiegel, Wards, or JCP catalog, ending that business model. E-commerce is in the process of ending catalog marketing as we know it. And some day, Hologram Marketing will destroy e-commerce --- we'll view e-commerce websites as quaint artifacts --- the e-commerce folks will tell us that paid search and e-commerce combine with hologram marketing to form a multichannel "solution" that most valuable customers adore. Search marketing will implode while a new service provides us with real-time search via a hologram personality right in our own home.

Ok, you're a catalog person. What do you do today? Others struggle with these concepts in the music industry. And the issue is more dire, more immediate, in the newspaper industry.

First of all, the catalog industry isn't going to die next month ... or next year. There will be a niche for the next ten or fifteen years that supports the rural customer living in Vermont or Wyoming. And if you're willing to ride that wave, go right ahead, there's nothing wrong with that.

Maybe you're like me. You're in your early 40s, and you're realistic about the fact that you have a 30 year career ahead of you without the promise of a viable Social Security program or a 401k swelling from the myriad benefits of an ownership society. And the same dot.commers who we watched implode in the late 1990s now refuse to hire us in 2009 because we're considered "old school".

For this individual, there are challenges and opportunities.

You can take a step back, and learn e-commerce from the bottom-up. Maybe you give up the Director or Manager title for a Manager/Analyst title, and you learn.

Or you can "sidestep" e-commerce. That's what I did. I was mocked by the e-commerce folks for being "old school". Once it became obvious to me that cataloging was dying, back in 2002, I worked hard, developing skills that apply to any "channel".

Multichannel Forensics was actually created in 2003 and applied in real-time at Nordstrom in 2004. The key elements of the methodology were documented in a book written in 2005. A blog was started in 2006, the Multichannel Forensics book was available in 2007, a consulting practice started in 2007, and the whole thing is now sustainable in 2009, even though many in the catalog establishment criticize it and many in the e-commerce establishment don't understand it.

In other words, you create a plan, and you adapt the plan as times change. And by having a plan, your future is sustainable.

For me, it became obvious that you don't beat e-commerce, you don't force a dying business model down the throats of others, and you don't force those who are loyal to a dying business model to change. You simply move sideways.

At Nordstrom, I was outside of the e-commerce ecosystem. My skills weren't relevant. So I had to find skills that mattered. Forecasting the future mattered. Social media, while not a sales driver, mattered as a new skill set. Understanding customer behavior mattered. Measuring ROI mattered.

Combine all of those skills, and you've got The MineThatData Blog, you've got Multichannel Forensics. You've got something that catalogers and e-commerce brands and retailers and social network businesses can use.

Ok, you're a catalog person. It's not all gloom and doom. Ride catalog marketing as far as you can. Or start developing your e-commerce skills, or build your social media skills. Or start testing micro-channels like there is no tomorrow. Or invent hologram marketing, or build mobile marketing from scratch.

Don't be worried or frightened.

Have a plan. And adapt as the industry adapts.


  1. Anonymous6:43 PM

    You have written many excellent and relevant posts in the past Kevin, but this one takes the prize.

    You have expressed why I position the direct marketing discipline as an ongoing and evolving skill that applies to ALL channels.

    Here are a few of the questions I attempt to answer for every client I take on.
    -Who are our customers? What problems are we solving or what new ones can we solve for them? Why do they respond to some offers and not others? How do we build a relationship with them? Are we respecting their privacy? Do we go beyond the call of duty to build their trust.
    - What testing opportunities will yield the biggest bang for the buck? What tests can we omit so we can spend our limited resources on the potential breakthroughs.

    Direct marketers have looked at hundreds or even thousands of results. They know that customer behavior trumps what they say they want or would do when asked the difficult questions about products or creative executions.

    The list is endless.

    But ultimately, the best direct marketing strategists are students of the customer psyche.

    Deep knowledge of the clients' customer keeps direct marketers relevant because they translate marketing theory to profits. They always tie the marketing budget to financial results.

    Creative direct marketers who are open to new ways of doing things with an eye on the sales goals will always find a place in our capitalistic society.

  2. Yup, always good to be a student of customer behavior!


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