August 30, 2015

Reinventing Lands' End: A Discussion With "Catalog" Craig Paperman

Let's try a different approach when discussing the branding changes happening at Lands' End. We'll have a discussion with a fictional catalog marketing expert - a person named "Catalog" Craig Paperman. Heck, we can bring Craig back into the mix for other catalog-centric discussions. It might be fun.

Are you ready?

"Catalog" Craig Paperman: This might be the dumbest thing I've ever seen.

Kevin: What's that?

Craig: The new Lands' End catalog. What a flippin' disaster.

Kevin: Why is it a disaster?

Craig: Branding spreads? Low product density. Models thirty years younger than their core customer. It is as if they've lost their mind.

Kevin: Looks like the dog deflated the soccer ball.

Craig: It is the dumbest thing I have ever seen in cataloging. Guaranteed. Period.

Kevin: You're offended, aren't you?

Craig: I've been in catalog marketing for almost forty years. I wrote COBOL code to accept credit cards in 1980. Those were the days. I've seen every possible variant of a branding strategy invade catalog marketing. None of them work. None. Somebody who is fully disconnected from the real business of catalog marketing has a vision, they put their vision into practice, avoiding best practices in an effort to be "aspirational", and next thing you know sales drop by 20% and the Executive team is thrown out of the building and the former CEO is on CNBC telling pundits all the reasons why employees refused to change. "It's their fault".

Kevin: But they're saying you can still buy the same merchandise you've always loved. Just go online and buy it.

Craig: But the catalog IS Lands' End. It is who they are.

Kevin: It isn't.

Craig: It is!

Kevin: The catalog is who Lands' End was. Back in 1980. In the days of COBOL.

Craig: Oh stop it. Catalogs are a powerful tool in the omnichannel marketing mix.

Kevin: If catalogs are so valuable, then why did Lands' End, maybe one of the two or three greatest catalog marketers of all time, observe a sales decline (click here) in the past fifteen years and see their market capitalization cut in half, even though they kept mailing catalogs and they dove head-first into discounts and promotions and expanded into retail? They did everything pundits like you told them to do, and it backfired.

Craig: The economy didn't help.

Kevin: That economy helped Amazon. eBay. Newegg. Warby Parker. Zappos. 

Craig. Stop it.

Kevin: But you see my point?

Craig: Somewhere outside of Building 5 in Dodgeville, there is an Inventory Manager who is throwing up into a dumpster trying to figure out how to forecast sales from a branding strategy where one item is featured on a full page spread, worn by an angst-ridden thirty-one year old model suffering under the appalling pall of grey skies. How do you forecast that? Do you take 10% of last year's demand figure?

Kevin: I wouldn't want to be the marketing sales forecasting manager. If business doesn't meet expectations, it's going to be her fault.

Craig: The new CEO doesn't know anything about catalogs, and she doesn't know anything about classic adult apparel. She's out in front of her skis.

Kevin: Might she have skills that are more valuable than traditional catalog skills? Might her prior experiences be exactly what Lands' End needs at this point in time? Who are you to decide what Lands' End needs?

Craig: If she had half a brain, she'd never ruin a catalog by turning it into a festival of urban Millennial branding.

Kevin: But Lands' End has thousands of employees who know every aspect of catalog marketing inside-out, right?

Craig: Absolutely! They're the best.

Kevin: And yet, the very best minds in the industry couldn't grow the business in the past fifteen years. So what good was all of that knowledge?

Craig: Sears ruined them.

Kevin: Why is it always somebody else's fault? Is it possible that catalog experts struggle to deal with a world where more than half of all online traffic is from mobile devices?

Craig: I have clients where 15% of the orders are mailed to the call center with a check. I'm not sure where you get these mobile stats from.

Kevin: Please wait four to six weeks for delivery.

Craig: Look at the home page.

Kevin: There's not a lot of product there.

Craig: Who in the name of Dick Anderson is Cara, and why should I care about her?

Kevin: You care about her, because in the small print at the bottom of the image, it says "Vogue Market Stylist content is advertiser-sponsored and used solely for advertising purposes."

Craig: You mean I cannot find a squall jacket because I have to pay attention to a paid ad? On the home page?

Kevin: Use the search box, you'll find your squall jacket.

Craig: I am 62 years old. Cara and her advertiser-supported lifestyle have nothing to do with my desire to purchase a squall jacket.

Kevin: Use the search box. You'll arrive at a landing page that has what you are looking for (click here).

Craig: But this cuts to the heart of the problem. The CEO at Lands' End cares more about a paid ad featuring Cara than she cares about me, the long-time catalog shopper.

Kevin: In twenty years, you won't be buying from Lands' End. The CEO has to think about protecting the future health of the business, don't you think? She has to try to protect today while pivoting to the future. That's not an easy task. There isn't a Woodside Research Report titled "Eight Easy Ways To Pivot Out Of An Old Business Model".

Craig: I plan on buying from Lands' End when I am 89. Mock turtlenecks are very popular among octogenarians. Why not keep the business model, as-is, and simply try harder to be successful?

Kevin: You want the CEO of Lands' End to walk the business back to the path they were on two years ago, when it was easy for you to find your squall jacket, presented in a masculine tone?

Craig: Yes! Thank you.

Kevin: The very same strategy that led to fifteen years of flat growth and a 50% reduction in market capitalization?

Craig: Take a look at the Men's landing page. Do you see the old dude on the far right? That's me! That's the classic long-time, loyal Lands' End shopper. Do you see how they are pushing me right off the image? That's not just a metaphor. The CEO is actually pushing me off to the side.

Kevin: Oh come on!

Craig: I don't want to sit in a luxury box with three Millennial bros who are too busy sipping artisan micro-brews to care about what is going on around them. 

Kevin: That's not very nice.

Craig: I want a world where Garrison Keillor pads his retirement account with Lands' End advertising dollars while telling me a compelling story about Lutheran angst and hot dishes served in a fictional city in Minnesota. I sure don't want a world where Vogue pays Lands' End to have Cara lecture me about the latest fashion trends. It's been twenty-five years since Madonna told us to care about Vogue.

Kevin: So what is your solution? You've done a lot of complaining, but I don't hear a solution.

Craig: Get back to the basics. Classic merchandise targeted to the classic catalog customer.

Kevin: The strategy that caused sales to stall for fifteen consecutive years? That's what you want? The strategy that is causing most catalogers to struggle so badly that they're being rolled-up by private equity into holding companies that leverage fixed costs across brands while catering to a retired Baby Boomer? You want a world where, in ten years, five private equity firms own five thousand catalogers that all sell to the same 72 year old customer?

Craig: I just don't think you have to nuke a business.

Kevin: What is your solution?

Craig: This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen. It won't work.

Kevin: What is your solution?

Craig: Can you imagine the back-office conversations long-time employees are having? 

Kevin: What is your solution?

Craig: Gary Comer must be rolling over in his grave.

Kevin: If you are so upset, why not email the CEO - she freely offers her email address and wants feedback (

Craig: This must read like a comedy episode to the folks at L.L. Bean.

Kevin: So you don't want to actually give her your feedback, you'd rather just complain to me?

Craig: And you cannot possibly use a catalog to advertise all of your brilliant changes. That's silly. You are mailing the catalog to a 62 year old customer to tell the customer that you're going to appeal to a 37 year old customer in the future, while not communicating directly with the 37 year old future customer, and then you de-emphasize what the 62 year old wants to buy, causing sales to decline, and then you'll chew out the poor marketing sales forecasting manager because it's her fault the business didn't meet expectations. It's lunacy.

Kevin: What happens if the strategy works?

Craig: It won't.

Kevin: It could.

Craig: You know it won't work.

Kevin: But business as usual isn't working.

Craig: They've lost their minds.

Kevin: What is your solution?

Craig: I can't wait to hear everybody at NEMOA bash Lands' End. It's going to be a great conference.

Kevin: #OhBoy.

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