March 18, 2012

Dear Catalog CEOs: NEMOA Direct X-Change

Dear Catalog CEOs:

Hopefully, you attended NEMOA this past week.  You see, no other conferences covers what catalog marketing has become, none.  Many conferences are on the bleeding edge now, covering topics that are sexy and interesting, but not yet generating sales volume.  NEMOA covers reality.

That's not to say that the content is out-dated, nope, the content is very practical.  I attended a session hosted by Carliss Million (Lorel Marketing Group) and Bret Moore about rebranding efforts at Suregrip ... this session was sensational, illustrating the ROI improvement as well as the creative/digital efforts required to move a brand into the future.  I heard rave reviews about a session from Jennifer Kwiatkowski of Plow and Hearth about modern contact strategies.  I attended a good session from Kent Phillips of SmartPak, and Phyliss Mosca of Ulla Popken did a very credible job of explaining "Jennifer-based strategies" as I'd call them (video, blogs, forums, brand-building, relating to the customer).

Conference attendance was spectacular, FYI.

My talk was all about Judy, Jennifer, and Jasmine ... email me and I'll get you the slides.

If there's one thing that the audience told me about Judy, Jennifer, and Jasmine, it was this:
  • "Judy, Jennifer, and Jasmine make more sense to us than channels do."
In other words, the audience could understand why Jennifer would use search, that made more sense to them than "the search customer" made to them.  This is important.  We spent the past decade babbling about channels like they mean everything.  If anything, the theme of this conference wasn't about "channel", but instead, it was about "customers".

And that, my friends, is a huge change of pace.  We all know how those who support us tried to offer channel-based products and solutions for a decade or more.  At this conference, business leaders appear to have made the leap, talking about customers instead of channels.  Later in this article, I'll explain why I think this is happening.

It is interesting to note the generational differences at this conference.

I had members of the "Judy Generation" tell me that tablet-based content doesn't work, or tell me that social media doesn't work, or tell me that mobile isn't the way they shop.  These folks adored their catalogs, heck, they adored catalogs in general.  There's nothing wrong with that.

I met bright people, like Courtney English at CoffeeTable.  Go check out the company she works for.  Yes, I realize that tablet-based commerce will only account for a few percentage points of your annual net sales, but come on, isn't it time to experiment and learn?  Like many in the "Jasmine Generation", Ms. English spoke fondly of Pinterest, of fashion blogs that curate assortments for her ... these are concepts that are foreign to Judy ... but these are concepts that are critical if you want sales from Jasmine.  It is my opinion that every catalog exec should spend a few hours each week learning from employees who are part of the Jasmine Generation.  Form a committee of a dozen employees under the age of 30, and mine their shopping brains for tips and hints about the future of commerce ... you're going to be amazed by what you learn ... I know I am amazed by what I keep hearing!

One of the smartest comments came from Rod Ford of Cognitive Data.  He spoke of the technological capability of the vendor community to execute one-to-one communications to "segments of one".  He mentioned that we, as business leaders, are unable to execute business strategies at a level that technology is able to execute for us.

Folks, this is an important point.  We have an analytics community that is driving us to, what one individual called "Connected CRM, or CCRM".  There is no doubt that this style of business management is more profitable, and will generate more sales than business as usual.  And there is no doubt that 99% or more of the employees in a company lose significant control over the customer experience as we go down this path.  This isn't fun for the 99%, it creates a 1% vs. 99% argument ... and I think you're probably familiar with that one.  I think this is why I continue to hear executives talk about "the customer", relating to the customer via social media or through brand-based strategies, strategies where the executive takes control back from technology.  I spoke with maybe two-hundred attendees at NEMOA last week, most of the executives I spoke with indirectly referenced a desire to relate to customers outside of technology.

This is going to be a tug of war, on two fronts.
  1. For business leaders, there will be a war between technology leading the customer, and brand/social/merchants/content/curation leading the customer.
  2. For customers, there will be a war between technology telling the customer what the customer wants (the "Jennifer Generation") and human beings curating for others (the "Jasmine Generation").
If your company caters to Judy, it's business as usual, with the noticeable caveat that Judy is going to retire in the next five years, and then what the heck do we do?

If your company caters to Jennifer, technology is facilitating Jennifer's ability to get the best deal at the best price.  Amazon and classic e-mail marketing (20% off plus free shipping all day every day) already won this battle.  We are going to have to adapt to the world that Amazon (and our zeal to make email marketing "work") helped create for Jennifer.

If your company caters to Jasmine, you make a subtle pivot into having smart social media folks curate every-day low prices and style for Jasmine, combining technology with a humanity that is missing from the Jennifer experience.  Curation is not included in the catalog marketer's vocabulary, is it?

That's the general theme I took from Direct Xchange by NEMOA.  What did you take from the conference?  And if you are a Catalog CEO / Executive, what caused you to not attend, or what would have to happen to cause you to attend in the future?

P.S.:  Speaking of technology, I mentioned Ulla Popken one time in this post ... and before even publishing the post, the first article I read on the internet contained a display ad from Ulla Popken.  This is exactly what I am talking about ... the 1% (math folks) continue to take control over the customer experience ... I'm not saying this is good or bad, but I am saying that my image of Ulla Popken is now fused with remarketing via Mashable.  We don't yet know if this is good, bad, or meaningless, but we should be thinking of the significant importance the 1% play in impacting a business.

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