November 29, 2017

Cataloger DNA

Here is the equation I am working with ...

Brand = DNA + Actions + Customer Expectations.

What are the Customer Expectations of a Catalog Brand?
  • Millennial = Catalogers are Fossils.
  • Gen X = Mostly Irrelevant unless the merchandise is unique.
  • Baby Boomers = 35 years of trust. The customer expects the catalog brand to be consistent.
So customer expectations set up catalogers for long-term struggles, right?

Actions? We're not changing actions yet, after changing actions (social / mobile) and not obtaining positive results. We were burned, and we've been accordingly cautious to change our actions. If anything, we've gone backwards ... co-mailing catalogs so that we stuff the mailbox with four hundred pages of content no customer ever has time to consume.


Believe it or not, Cataloger DNA is changing:
  • Talent (hint ... young Professionals) that would have normally moved into the online marketing team instead went to competing e-commerce companies. Walk into Stitch Fix someday and compare what you see to walking into a Catalog Holding Company.
  • Consolidation by Private Equity / Catalog Holding Companies. This leads to a very different dynamic where individual brands are harvested for profit, leading to different staffing needs. It also leads to a situation where strong financial management is possible, and that changes the DNA of a creative/merchant led brand.
  • Trust in magic potions and co-ops eroded, resulting in the acknowledgement that the catalog ecosystem can no longer be trusted to deliver growth/profit. I hear this all the time ... I should have heard it in 2007 (when I began talking about it after seeing the problem repeatedly) ... but it took 7-8 years for DNA to change. DNA has now changed.
  • Looking to the future ... I've been on many calls and have been in many meetings where Leadership requires a new path. Lots of heads nod up-and-down, not much happens after that, but the DNA is being changed because 5 years ago heads didn't nod up-and-down.
Is it too late to change?
  • Yes and No.
It's too late to become a true e-commerce company. Merchandise and Customer File interact, separating the cataloger from true e-commerce companies.

And you sure don't want to be a multi-channel / omnichannel brand. That whole thesis led to the utter desolation of companies like Macy's and JCP and Sears and isn't doing Chicos and others any favors, is it? Multi-channel nonsense doomed catalogers to a Baby Boomer customer. It's bad news, no matter how you look at it.

But the cataloger doesn't have to become a true e-commerce brand. The cataloger doesn't want to become a multi-channel / omnichannel brand.

The cataloger just wants to move into the future.

Think about it this way. Downtown America used to thrive. Then a hybrid of Interstate Highways and Wal-Mart decimated Downtown America. It took time for Downtown America to come to terms with what happened. The DNA had to change. Once the DNA changed, actions changed. When actions changed, Customer Expectations changed. Look at your average downtown today, and compare it to the 1980s. It's a different landscape.

That's where catalogers are headed ... something different. It's coming. We'll talk more about this tomorrow.

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