October 24, 2010

Dear Catalog CEOs: Selling

Dear Catalog CEOs:

These days, it's really hard to find nuggets of valuable information.

Too often, we navigate slush like this:
  • "In these challenging economic times, leading brands are reaping the benefits of integrated promotions. There are just three steps to success. First, identify product that resonates with your target customer. Second, create promotions that enhance the brand experience for the consumer. Third, deliver outstanding customer service."
So it came as a complete surprise last week when this particularly lucid comment from Sarah Fletcher of Catalog Design Studios landed on my desk. She's talking about the potential sale of Orchard Brands:
  • "You can't just present merchandise, you have to actively sell it. It isn't enough to send out catalogs and assume they will be read. You have to really engage the customer."

If we were actively selling, we wouldn't observe cases where 87% of the demand is generated on 39% of the pages. We'd be selling, and the customer would demand more pages, because the customer would be enthralled with our message, our presentation, our merchandise.

That's just not the case anymore. I recently saw a test where 90% of the demand was generated on just 8% of the pages ... the business tested a huge book vs. a very small book ... and found that almost all of the demand happened because of the incremental contact ... incremental pages had almost no impact on customer response.

That can't happen when the customer is enthralled with the catalog.

We really don't sell anymore. We love our channel. We love the idea of putting spreads together. We're obsessed with free shipping and 20% off. We beat the living daylights out of Abacus for not improving our response rates from 1.0% to 1.1%. We align channels. We ignore e-mail marketing. We obsess about catalog delivery ... if I had a dollar for every time a business leader said that a catalog wasn't performing to expectations because delivery was slow, I could, well, you get the picture.

Heck, we've even outsourced selling to our customers ... we obsess about "user generated content" and "customer reviews". Since when did the customer become a better copywriter than, well, than a copywriter?

Why did we let that happen?

It's time to sell again. We can't just mail catalogs and hope the customer goes to Google and then pay Google to be our "traffic cop advocate".

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