January 21, 2010

Gliebers Dresses: The Return

Welcome to the Gliebers Dresses Executive Meeting. I've been invited back this week, in fact, I've been invited to sit in, in person.

Glenn Glieber (Owner): "So that's the year in a nutshell. We lost $800,000, yet another year where we didn't meet expectations. But maybe we weathered the storm. Maybe we have something to look forward to in 2010. We have a new catalog contact strategy that is off to a good start, thanks to Pepper Morgan, in fact, the new strategy is 15% over plan, so that's amazing! And we're going to ride our loyalty program through mid-year, to see if it can deliver the results that were promised."

Roger Morgan (Operations and IT): "I see we have Kevin in the room today. Did we want to ask him questions now, so that he can leave and then we can focus on more important things like company strategy?"

Meredith Thompson (Merchandising): "Hi Kevin, nice to have you back. We heard you worked on a project for Anna Carter during the past month, is that correct?"

Kevin: "Yes, I worked on an Online Marketing Simulations project with their Executive team."

Roger Morgan: "What did you learn? Did they kill their catalog and now they're struggling to stay afloat? I'll be that's what happened, right? They probably wanted you to talk about our catalog strategy secrets. Idiots."

Kevin: "You know I cannot share those findings with anybody."

Lois Gladstone (Finance): "I'll bet they wanted to know all about our loyalty program, didn't they? They are probably having big problems without having a catalog to support their business. I heard their business last Fall was down 30% to last year. HA! Serves them right. I'll tell you what, we sure weren't down 30% last Fall."

Roger Morgan: "But did you learn anything about how they drive sales without a catalog? I heard from our Woodside Research rep that they're doing some really interesting things with landing pages, something about the way they are leveraging their IT staff to create customized employee stores. I'd love to learn about that."

Kevin: "They did share a lot of their strategies and initiatives with me. Of course, you know I cannot share those findings with you."

Pepper Morgan (Marketing): "I'm following the Twitter feed of their Chief Merchandising Officer. She has a daily special on Twitter ... she introduces one new item a day, and her items do not appear anywhere else on the site except via a landing page that you click through via Twitter. When you check out, you have to enter her Twitter ID in order to be able to purchase the item. It's like she's developed her own marketing program for new items, she's created exclusivity. And heck, she has 14,995 followers. I've never seen a strategy like that. Does that work, Kevin?"

Lois Gladstone: "Their CFO also has a Twitter presence, with 82 followers. And she's hawking merchandise, too. You know, I cannot imagine an environment where you'd let your own employees do their own marketing. What do you do, pay them a commission each time they sell something?"

Roger Morgan: "And imagine the IT nightmares you'd have. You have to enter a Twitter ID on the order form in order to purchase the item? What a terrible customer experience! You make things as easy as possible for the customer, you don't ask them to enter a Twitter ID. Heck, we'd have to put something like that on our book of work, and prioritize it with everything else we're doing."

Meredith Thompson: "Honestly, my time is better spent finding great new fashion merchandise than hawking my own wares. I don't have the time to do what they're doing. I think it is the job of marketing to promote my product. And Pepper's new catalog strategy is +15% to plan, so she's clearly doing her job the right way!"

Pepper Morgan: "I counted over 100 employees who have either a Twitter presence or a blog on the company blog page. It seems like it is an organized yet decentralized marketing strategy they are trying to employ."

Roger Morgan: "It sounds like the desperation of a company that killed a catalog program and is now trying to find ways to recoup the 30% sales drop they experienced. Idiots. Our rep at ResponseShop told us they'd be doing desperate things once they didn't have the multichannel marketing support of a catalog, and now, sure enough, they are doing amazingly desperate things."
Lois Gladstone: "I noticed that they have an iPhone app that takes you to a micro-site that has merchandise that is only available on the micro-site. Isn't that nuts? Aren't you supposed to integrate all channels? Why would you only offer special merchandise for iPhone users? That's arrogant. It seems like they are grasping for straws."

Roger Morgan: "Woodside Research says that mobile commerce will outpace e-commerce by 2021. That's way out in the future. So why would you want to be on the bleeding edge of mobile commerce? I'll tell you what, there's still nothing like receiving a catalog in the mail, thumbing through it, and then carefully ordering merchandise on a secure e-commerce website. Who even wants to shop on a 320x240 pixel screen? What a terrible customer experience! Don't these new marketing gurus know anything about how actual customers shop? Did Anna Carter adopt a marketing strategy from the blogosphere? Geez. That's desperate. Those vendors and bloggers don't have any skin in the game. It's easy for them to tell us to do something, they don't have p&l responsibility like we have."

Meredith Thompson: "And Pepper's new strategy is up 15% to plan, so the key to catalog marketing is all about finding the secret sauce. I think marketers spend too much time on the shiny new toy, and not enough time optimizing existing marketing channels."

Roger Morgan: "I heard that we're going to be eligible for all sorts of paper discounts this year as well, so if catalog marketing becomes a bit cheaper, we can leverage it to a greater degree."

Lois Gladstone: "Kevin, why would Anna Carter's CFO be on Twitter? It doesn't make sense."

Kevin: "Again, I cannot share their strategies or their reasons for executing different strategies."

Roger Morgan: "Well then why are you even here?"

Kevin: "Let me ask you a couple of questions, Roger. First, you've been here throughout the entire downturn that Gliebers Dresses experienced. What percentage of the downturn would you attribute to your strategies, to company strategies, to the economy, and to the shift from print marketing to digital marketing?"

Roger Morgan: "I doubt my strategies play a role in our sales, I'm only the operations guy. I think our problems are half due to the economy, and half due to the shift from print marketing to digital marketing."

Kevin: "Ok, well, you cannot control the economy, so then the stuff that is within your control is, in your opinion, due to the shift from print marketing to digital marketing, right?"

Roger Morgan: "I guess so."

Kevin: "So let me ask you another question. If the shortfall in business is due to a shift from print marketing to digital marketing, do you not have a responsibility as a Vice President at a major company to try digital marketing strategies, in the hope of finding something that might work? Is it not your job to mitigate the decrease in sales with a new strategy?"

Roger Morgan: "Of course it is. That's why we have a book of work. That's why I prioritize all projects, focusing on those that have the best ROI."

Kevin: "Why don't you tell us what the top three projects are, based on your estimation of ROI?"

Roger Morgan: "Let's see. The top three projects right now are to eliminate invalid free shipping codes found on rogue sites on the internet, then to enable employees to get 15% off of all merchandise purchased in employee orders instead of the standard 20% they've always had due to a new expense control project, and third is to log the number of minutes employees in the contact center spend talking to customers to see if we can trim expenses in some clever way."

Kevin: "If in your words the biggest issue within your control as a business is the shift from print to digital, then why have you prioritized the three projects you mentioned as most important, given that not one of those projects deal with the shift from print to digital?"

Lois Gladstone: "I don't see how this line of questioning benefits any of us. Roger does a good job."

Kevin: "I'm sure he does a good job. But none of the three most important priorities on Roger's book of work have anything to do with selling merchandise in a digital marketing environment. If your company is being hurt by the transition from print to digital, as Roger suggested, shouldn't the top three priorities have something to do with facilitating a digital customer experience?"

... silence ...

Kevin: "What I can tell you is that there are companies out there who are fully embracing this transition. There are companies that use web analytics to measure website performance in real time, and make strategic merchandising changes on the fly. These companies are re-wiring their own neural systems to handle the complexities of modern digital marketing. What they are doing isn't easy, and is fraught with failure. But they are trying. They prioritize digital projects over analog projects, forcing themselves to manage a future they don't yet understand."

Lois Gladstone: "Those are good points, we'll take them under advisement. But I look at what Anna Carter is doing, and I just think they are grasping at straws. I think with Pepper's new catalog strategy, and the 15% increase we're seeing, that we can just double-down and try harder and make 2010 work. Then we'll address 2011, we'll keep making incremental improvements. Customers love catalogs. I was at Applebees last week, and there sat a couple, probably in their early 60s, each reading catalogs while waiting for dinner. The wife wanted a new sofa, the husband said something about buying new shoes. See, that's what we're talking about here. We can grab market share among a receptive audience."

Roger Morgan: "EXACTLY! Kevin, I think we're done with your questions for today. You can leave now. Folks, let's move on to the strategic portion of our meeting. Let's talk about the change from 20% off of company merchandise for employees to 15% off. Lois, how much profit will this generate in 2010, based on your estimates?"


  1. Anonymous9:33 AM

    Wow Kevin, as always entertaining to get back to Glieber's, and I hope you save some good stuff for the inevitable and anticipated book. However, either this is a only dream sequence or you've mastered the art of tact better than I can with my clients. I've decided it's business suicide to be anything close to this honest.

    Sometimes it seems the best you can do is to nudge the client in the right direction and hope that eventually something clicks and they get it.

    Still, you've nailed what many consultants only wish they could say.

  2. It is great to be a fly on the wall for your conversation. Please do this again, I gained a ton.

  3. The catalog has traditionally been a channel to drive consumers either to a store, phone, or now online to purchase. I believe the catalogs purpose has always been to translate the in-store experience in print. The web has taken over as the predominate channel, because of its lower production cost, but as you have demonstrated it's getting more expensive and difficult to convert customers. Very few retailers have changed the shopping experience online and until it mirrors closer a brick n' mortar experience retailers will fight an uphill battle. It's a pain in the ass to shop for apparel online and until the process is dramatically improved catalog Cos. will struggle with this transition from print to web.


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