March 13, 2012

More on the Future of Cataloging

On Monday, we talked about the future of cataloging.  Here's my thoughts, once again, positioned via the "Judy / Jennifer / Jasmine" persona framework:

  • In 2001, we made a decision.  Instead of allowing the online channel to grow and thrive as an independent entity, we elected to integrate it with our core business, and by doing so, we homogenized the experience, causing the online channel to reflect the core buyer we already possessed.
  • Since 2001, we decided to embrace co-ops as our primary method for acquiring new customers.  The models employed by co-ops selected 55+ rural customers, as they should, given their job is to optimize response within catalogs, catalogs preferred by 55+ rural customers.
  • This dynamic (catalog + website appeals to a 55+ rural customer ... co-ops deliver 55+ rural customers that will shop online after receiving a catalog) fueled a feedback loop that, eleven years later, resulted in a customer file that is fundamentally disconnected from the average consumer in America (a person in her early 40s).
  • Now that we are disconnected from the average customer, anything new and trendy we try, stuff appealing to a customer age 18-49, simply doesn't work when marketed to a 55+ rural customer.  This fuels the feedback loop.
  • Long-term, this feedback loop is unsustainable.
  • Toss in USPS challenges, and short-term sustainability is questioned.
  • The secret to sustainability, over the next decade, is for the catalog brand to follow an age band (50-59 year old customers) instead of following a cohort (59 year old customers that will become 69 year old customers).  This means that the catalog brand must become proficient at speaking to "Jennifer", the current 43ish year old e-commerce / Google maven.
  • As the catalog brand switches from Judy to Jennifer, there will be a consistent reduction in catalog advertising dollars, as Jennifer buys from you for reasons largely independent of catalog marketing.
  • The catalog brand that tries to jump the bridge from Judy to Jasmine is likely to struggle.
  • The catalog brand that sets up a separate, unique brand tailored to Jasmine might experience success.
  • The catalog brand that rides Judy into the sunset may experience nice levels of profitability for a period of time, prior to an erosion of all business metrics.
  • The transition from Judy to Jennifer won't be without struggle.  Jennifer demands free shipping, and likes discounts.  In order to fund these activities, catalogers will have to cut back on catalog housefile marketing activities to Jennifer.
  • It may be possible that the catalog brand can mail more catalogs to Judy.
The wisdom of this pivot is mentioned in this article about L.L. Bean.  I recall working at Eddie Bauer in the late 1990s.  There was a groundswell of momentum to appeal to a "younger" customer.  So, we attempted to do just that!  We swapped out images of durable forty-eight year old men standing in streams wearing jeans with shirt-less twenty-five year old men holding a canoe over their heads.  Well, that got us "younger" from a creative standpoint, but it hurt sales, significantly.  We pulled back.

That was 1998.  You didn't have much choice back then, you were a "brand" that spoke to everybody pretty much the same way.

Today, it's 2012.  You have a nearly infinite number of channels to play with.

The key, of course, is to not stuff a channel that Jasmine likes down Judy's throat.

In the old CRM days, there would be a customer manager responsible for each persona.
  1. A Manager/Director responsible for growing sales among people like "Judy".
  2. A Manager/Director responsible for growing sales among people like "Jennifer".
  3. A Manager/Director responsible for growing sales among people like "Jasmine".
Maybe that's not such a bad idea today.  Put a merchant/creative/marketer in charge of each persona.  Develop independent strategies for each persona, based on the channels each persona utilizes.

It's worth a thought, isn't it?

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