February 25, 2009

Mulder and Scully on Cataloging

Let's assume that the main characters on "The X-Files", Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, are investigating the dynamics behind catalog marketing.

Mulder: "Hey Scully, check this out, this customer says she ordered at PC Connection after reading a tweet about a 20% off promotion."

Scully: "Mulder, a matchback analysis clearly indicates that this customer received a catalog thirty days ago. The catalog had to have caused the customer to order, right?"

Mulder: "That doesn't prove anything."

Scully: "It proves everything, Mulder. Why do you think that the customer was even out on Twitter searching for PC Connection promotions?"

Mulder: "Is it even possible that word of mouth and popular sentiment on Twitter and brand equity and natural search influenced this customer more than a catalog mailing?"

Scully: "Mulder, we know scientifically that customers who shop multiple channels are the most valuable customers. We proved that the order curves for the online channel are nearly identical to the order curves for the telephone channel. We proved that catalog marketing caused a customer to give us her e-mail address. We proved that paid search doesn't happen without a catalog driving the activity. We proved that co-op names perform better than list rental. We know that Twitter doesn't scale, we know that blogs don't drive high-converting traffic. We've covered this ground over and over again. You were at the Catalog Conference last year, you saw the proof!"

Mulder: "What if everybody is wrong, Scully? What if all of this is just a big conspiracy perpetuated by the Direct Marketing Association?"

Scully: "This is all one big conspiracy?"

Mulder: "I'm just asking the question. After all, the DMA sponsors the Catalog Conference, the conference where you claim you saw the 'proof'."

Scully: "It's a stupid thesis, Mulder. You're suggesting that the Direct Marketing Association is one big shadow organization pulling strings from behind the scenes?"

Mulder: "Just like when Smoking Man was conducting experiments on my sister. You didn't believe that, but it was true."

Scully: "Mulder, this would imply that EVERYBODY is in on it. This means that printers are in on the conspiracy."

Mulder: "Sure, they want to perpetuate the devastation of the rain forests, hoping to colonize South America".

Scully: "And what about Catalog Choice? They're in on it?"

Mulder: "They're the counter-insurgency, giving the impression of a force of good battling the evil of the industry".

Scully: "Mulder, you don't have a shred of evidence to prove any of this!"

Mulder: "I don't?"

Scully: "You don't! Science exists for a reason. It is science that offers a roadmap to the future. If a cataloger proves that 90% of e-commerce orders happen within 30 days of mailing a catalog, then the whole catalog ecosystem --- Abacus, Quad Graphics, Millard, Strategic Paper, Experian, the USPS, LENSER Marketing, CheetahMail, even Alan Rimm-Kaufman and Amy Africa and Google, the whole lot of them are responsible for generating the order. And they all deserve to be rewarded for that.. How the heck do you think customers decide to order something? Do you think they just think up interesting things to buy out of thin air? Or does offline advertising create demand, causing customers to desire to buy something?"

Mulder: "You're attractive when you passionate about something, Scully. And don't get me started on Google. Google was invented in Roswell, NM, in 1948 in an alien spaceship."

Scully: "Mulder, can you be serious for just one minute? We establish best practices for a reason. We know that we have to mail twenty catalogs per year to obtain the desired forty percent annual retention rate. And our business partners help us do just that."

Mulder: "I suppose you couldn't obtain the same result with nineteen catalogs? Couldn't you conduct an experiment, mailing one group of customers twenty catalogs while mailing another group of customers just nineteen catalogs? Isn't that what science is all about, Scully?"

Scully: "I suppose you're right."

Mulder: "And if I'm right, couldn't you run an experiment testing eighteen catalogs instead of nineteen? And if the results are positive, then try seventeen instead of eighteen?"

Scully: "If I follow that logic, then eventually we might not be mailing any catalogs anymore. Then what? What does that make us?"

Mulder: "Zappos?"

Scully: "But that's just plain silly. Zappos has other ways of generating business, like monopolizing the bins at the security checkpoints in airports with Zappos advertising."

Mulder: "Maybe the security employees are actually Zappos employees. Maybe Zappos is a front for the Department of Homeland Security."

Scully: "C'mon, Mulder, knock it off".

Mulder: "Ok, Zappos isn't a front for the Department of Homeland Security. But Julia Child turned out to be a spy, would you have believed that two years ago?

Scully: "Back to the facts in cataloging. We need to focus on established best practices. Lands' End scaled back on catalog mailings in 1999, and look at what happened to them!"

Mulder: "Nordstrom stopped their catalog marketing program in 2005, and look at what happened to them!"

Scully: "I want to believe, Mulder."

Mulder: "Then conduct the experiment, Scully. Conduct the experiment".

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for evoking your inner Chris Carter. This is just great.


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