September 23, 2012

Dear Catalog CEOs: Catalogs

Dear Catalog CEOs:

You know, it's odd to write about catalogs to Catalog CEOs.  But it is time to do so, because something is in the air these days.

Let's address some of the comments I'm hearing.

Comment:  "We want to start a catalog".  Translation:  "We want to have fun advertising via print."  Not many people want to do the hard work associated with true catalog marketing.  Catalog marketing requires a thorough understanding of product productivity, of the behavioral difference between 59 year old women in New Hampshire and 27 year old woman in San Jose.  It is hard, HARD work to generate a return on investment in catalog marketing.  Few people are salty enough to put in the effort.  If you want to see how much effort is really needed to do this well, from scratch, go talk to the folks at Chasing Fireflies.  You'll run screaming after seeing how much work it really takes to do this well.

Comment:  "We want to make a statement".  Translation:  "We want to win an award and be spoke of kindly on Facebook".  Catalogs are not about making a statement, they are about selling merchandise.  There's nothing wrong with beautiful imagery, if you have the money to publish beautiful imagery, by all means, have at it.  Real cataloger marketing experts fret endlessly about telling a compelling story that causes a customer to buy something.  Getting a customer to buy something is a bit of a lost art.

Comment:  "Our catalog should be part of an integrated, omnichannel experience."  Translation:  "We just read a research report, and a survey of 88 marketing executives suggested we need an ominchannel catalog experience to be competitive."  There is no better way to kill the productivity of any marketing channel than to fully integrate the marketing channel with everything else you do.  You homogenize what makes the marketing channel important.  Catalogs work among 59 year old women in Vermont.  Social Media / Mobile works among 27 year old women in San Jose.  You don't force Social Media / Mobile on the 59 year old in Vermont, you don't force the catalog on a 27 year old woman in San Francisco.  The sooner everybody learns this lesson, the better off we'll all be.  When you try to be all things to all people, you don't stand for anything.  If anything, catalog marketing is becoming a niche designed to serve rural baby boomers who are entering retirement.  Focus on that audience if you want to start a catalog --- and then, more importantly, find product that resonates with a rural baby boomer entering retirement.

Comment:  "We need to get our catalog on Catalog Spree, to be competitive."  Translation:  "We have no idea what the needs of the our customers are on a tablet, so let's just cut and paste marketing efforts".  I'm here to tell you that catalogs on an iPad are probably not the future, though I'd be happy to be wrong.  A unique form of commerce on a tablet will happen, we just can't envision it yet.  Be honest, what problem does a catalog on an iPad solve?   How is that experience better than the physical experience of having paper in hand?  How is that experience better than e-commerce?  Is the tablet user your core buyer --- in other words, is the tablet buyer Judy, 59 years old, living in rural Vermont?  By all means, test tablet commerce and collect all of the business intelligence you can, that's a great use of a catalog on an iPad.  But it isn't going to be the future.  If it were the future, 5% of your annual sales would already be happening on tablet devices, right?

What are the comments you are hearing about catalog marketing?  Share them in the comments section of this post.

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