May 07, 2009


I spoke at the ACCM conference in New Orleans this week.

New Orleans is a city that was decimated by Hurricane Katrina.

The Catalog Industry was decimated by the Internet and aging Baby Boomers. Some suggest the economy and the postage increase of 2007 decimated the industry, but the trend was evident long before these two events happened.

The exhibit hall was sparsely populated, and while the folks working there were enthusiastic, it was obvious that the exhibit hall is a different place than it was in 1997.

And many of the sessions were, at minimum, useful.

What was missing was "the vibe". And people.

Attend one of these things ten years ago, and you "met everybody". All of the folks you used to work with, all of the folks you wanted to work with, they were all there. Now granted, most of the meetings didn't "push the peanut" --- you didn't need sixteen people in a room to learn that your exchange balance was 24,994 names in the wrong direction. But at least there was a vibe.

I'm told that I'll see all of you at Internet Retailer next month. We'll see. This year, almost none of the crowd I ran with over the past twenty years was in attendance.

I attended a session hosted by four industry experts, a session on Multichannel Marketing. The attendees enjoyed the information --- twelve people in total, maybe half were consultants, based on a raise of hands at the start of the session. That was sad (my session had about 40 folks, plus/minus).

If you take the time to put together a presentation, fly 1,500 miles, pay your own airfare and hotel, you want to share your information with more than twelve people.

In so many ways, the message of the conference, 360-degree marketing and Multichannel Marketing, is not aligned with the world of real marketing practiced in 2009. There were 48 sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, five were on social media, web analytics, and search. Five.

The concept of Multichannel Marketing is nice, in theory. In reality, there so little proof that sales and profit increased because of having a well executed and integrated multichannel strategy. You can prove that individual campaigns demonstrate improved performance. But you'll have a really tough time proving that annual retention rates, orders per retained buyer, items per order, or price per item increase. If it were easy to prove this, we'd see the metrics everywhere, wouldn't we?

This topic came up time and again during the conference. Almost none of the speakers talked about mail and holdout groups (techniques that prove that there is incremental value to multichannel marketing), and those that did talked about cutting marketing, not adding channels --- the opposite message that the conference leaders might be looking for.

The DMA and Multichannel Merchant are at a key inflection point. Marketers have gone in a different direction than the agenda these organizations promote. Do these organizations want to support catalogers? If the answer is yes, then the organizations might consider using the term "cataloger" more often --- not multichannel, not 360-degree marketer, but "cataloger". And if most "catalogers" have moved on to Internet Retailer and conferences, then the DMA and Multichannel Merchant need to consider what audience this conference serves.

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