September 19, 2018

The Great Eight

1 - You must know who your AUDIENCE is. Your customer is different from your audience. Your audience represents the pool of prospects who might someday buy from you as well as your current and lapsed customer base.

2 - You must have an AWARENESS program. End of story. Among the 40% of my client base that is catalog-centric, less than 20% have a credible awareness program. Without a credible awareness program, customer acquisition becomes very expensive.

3 - You must have a credible ACQUISITION program. Online brands grow via Google + Facebook + Instagram. Retail brands historically grew via malls ... and we all know how effective malls are today at helping retailers grow via acquisition. Catalogers leverage co-ops, and they're running out of 65 year old customers to prospect against.

4 - Now that the customer has been acquired, you need a solid WELCOME program. Most companies have 4-12 weeks to convert the newly acquired customer to a second purchase before the customer begins the painful process of lapsing.

5 - The ANNIVERSARY program is used to market milestones to your customer, so that you can push the customer into higher frequency brackets. Did the customer buy outerwear last October? Guess what? Your anniversary program must be ready to re-introduce outerwear to that customer next month. It's here that merchandise personalization plays a key role.

6 - Your OPTIMIZATION program is responsible for most of the marketing profit. E-commerce brands focus on email, catalogers focus on catalogs, retailers frequently focus on loyalty programs and credit.

7 - NEW MERCHANDISE is the lifeblood of a company. Without new merchandise, a company has no future. This is one of the demons haunting traditional retail. The marketer plays a key role here, featuring new merchandise to best customers in optimization programs.

8 - WINNING MERCHANDISE. In modern commerce, the number of winning items shrinks each year, due in part to poor new merchandise programs, due to the fact that everybody sells the same stuff which means that ultimately Amazon and Wal-Mart win (among others). The marketer plays a role here as well, getting winning items in front of prospects, turning prospects into customers.

Excellence in The Great Eight is required.

  1. Audience.
  2. Awareness.
  3. Acquisition.
  4. Welcome.
  5. Anniversary.
  6. Optimization.
  7. New Merchandise.
  8. Winning Merchandise.

September 18, 2018

Life Table Explains Lack of Customer Loyalty

I frequently run life tables for 1x buyers, 2x buyers, 3x buyers, and 4x buyers. The trend is fascinating.

Look at the twelve-month repurchase rates by purchase frequency:
  • 1x Buyers = 33%.
  • 2x Buyers = 48%.
  • 3x Buyers = 57%.
  • 4x Buyers = 62%.
This is a very typical dynamic.

When a customer has a 60% chance of buying again in the next year, I determine that the customer is "loyal". When a customer has a 60% chance of buying again in the next year, things change. The customer starts generating profit at disproportionate rates ... and that's the key fact we all need to understand ... we want customers who achieve this lofty level of success.

Now think about this differently ... think about how hard it is to get a customer to a fourth purchase?? Let's look at 24 month repurchase rates, and let's do an exercise after looking at the data.

  • 1x Buyers = 41%.
  • 2x Buyers = 59%.
  • 3x Buyers = 66%.
  • 4x Buyers = 70%.
Ok, let's multiply the rates together, just as an exercise.
  • 0.41 * 0.59 * 0.66 * 0.70 = 0.11.
Now, more customers will become loyal because customers will reactivate after 24 months, but for illustrative purposes this is really important. Just 11% of customers will become "loyal" after being acquired, and it might take between 4 and 8 years for loyalty to happen.

In other words, your loyalty efforts are not going to pay off over the next two years, are they?

This is why Welcome Programs and Anniversary Programs are so darn important ... you have to take advantage of every single opportunity you have, at the times when the customer is responsive.

This is why loyalty programs seldom work for businesses that don't have high-purchase-frequency customers. The odds are simply against loyalty. You have to take advantage of high-response periods, generate as much profit as possible, and then move on to the next new customer.

Credible Marketing Management Systems embed these dynamics into their programs.

September 17, 2018

Life Tables and Dormant Customer Programs

Look at what happens after the customer has been inactive for thirteen months. 
  • Probability of buying in month 14 = 0.8%.
  • It gets worse, a lot worse, from there.
When the incremental monthly rebuy rate dips below 1.0%, I determine that the customer is "dormant".

Any credible marketer has a "Dormant Customer Program", heck, you have one, right?


I know you have one. You offer 40% off plus free shipping and you call it good. So yes, that's a Dormant Customer Program.

Vendors might call 'em "Reactivation Programs". Whatever. What matters is what you do with the program. Hint - the program should be so much more than slapping a discount or promo in an email marketing campaign.

Figure out what the customer previously purchased, and market adjacent products to the customer. Test different creative treatments and messaging. Do anything but be boring.

Turns out this life table methodology is pretty important, huh?

September 16, 2018

Life Tables and Anniversary Programs

We ended last week by talking about Welcome Programs.

Another important program is your Anniversary Program.

You have an Anniversary Program, right?


For the past twenty years, my website hosting provider employed their version of an Anniversary Program. Once 10 months have elapsed since my annual purchase, they send me an email and offer me 12 months of service for the price of 10. Done! For twenty consecutive year we've played this dance.

Look at the two "red" rows in the table ... labeled "12" and "24". These are at twelve months and twenty-four months after a first purchase. Notice that the incremental rebuy rates in those specific months are much higher than in surrounding months. This means that the customer is exhibiting "seasonal buying habits".

Seasonal buying habits happen all the time.
  • Christmas.
  • Spring (for gardening companies).
  • Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.
  • Web Hosting Companies (as mentioned above).
Way back in the day at Lands' End, we had swimsuit buyers ... they'd buy in February (for spring break), then in March - April (south), then in May - June (north). Well, that's part of your Anniversary Program, right? You use email marketing to speak to the customer as the anniversary of a prior purchase happens, marketing the family of products that the customer likes to buy during an anniversary period, right?

When I worked at Eddie Bauer, we had big anniversary periods in Outerwear in October. Once again, when you know that is the case, you use email marketing to take full advantage.

The life table clearly illustrates the need for Welcome Programs and Anniversary Programs. Please take advantage of what you learned here.
  1. Run life tables for first-time buyers.
  2. Use email marketing to take full advantage of your Welcome Program and Anniversary Program. It costs you nothing ... and the data strongly suggests that the stakes are high. Again, the cost is virtually nothing ... and the rewards are "something".
Do something!

September 13, 2018

Life Tables and Welcome Programs

Look at the first four rows of our life table (values of 0/1/2/3).

These are the first 12-15 weeks after a customer buys for the first time. And as it turns out, these are 12-15 really, really critical weeks.

In total, the customer has a 22.6% chance (in our example) of buying for a second time. Now go all the way to the bottom of the table, at the 30th month. The customer has a 41.1% chance of buying again after 30 months.

This is important. It means that more than half the customers who are going to repurchase (likely ever) do so within three months.

Now if you knew that half-ish of the customers you just acquired were going to buy for a second time in the NEXT THREE MONTHS, wouldn't you do something about it?

And no, this doesn't mean you are "taking care of business" by doing your normal marketing activities.

This is why Welcome Programs are so darn critical. So. Darn. Critical. You have this limited window when you have to convert the customer before the customer just kinda fades away.

Goal and Objective #1 for 2019: Develop a credible Welcome Program that cross-shops the first-time buyer into other merchandise categories and potentially other channels. Increase the three-month repurchase rate by five points.

September 12, 2018

The Life Table

You probably run Life Tables for your customer file, right?


They've been around forever (click here for a reference from Wikipedia).

A life table calculates the probability of a first-time buyer (or any buyer cohort) purchasing again.

In e-commerce (and especially in catalog marketing), the table has particular relevance, especially among first-time buyers. Typically, the table takes the shape of the table illustrated here.

See the column where it says "Months After 1st Purchase"?? If a customer purchased for the first time on September 8, then the row with a "0" shows how many of the customers purchased for a second time in the remainder of September.

If the customer did not buy in the remainder of September, then we move down to the row with a "1" ... this represents what happens when the customer is marketed to in October. If the customer does not buy, we move down to the next row, and so on.

Tomorrow we'll talk about the data in the table - and how you use the information.

September 11, 2018

Low-Cost Customer Acquisition

Sure the video represents a tender moment in Yankees / Red Sox history (click here), but notice who is sponsoring the section of the wall where the tender moment happens.

September 10, 2018

Marketing > Discounts

One of the smartest things I ever heard happened about twenty-five years ago.

Business wasn't great - and I'm sitting in a meeting where an Executive wants to take 20% off and "move some merchandise".

Another Executive looks at the first Executive and says, "We need to market our way out of this." The room (of course) is filled with blank stares. What is this person talking about?

Think of it this way. You could take 20% off and you'll move merchandise. You'll also train customers to not shop at full price again. Short-term gain, long-term gain. .cc: Macy's.

You can take the profit dollars you lose running discounts/promotions and instead invest in marketing. Greatly increase what you're willing to pay Google/Facebook to acquire customers. Run some TV and Radio spots. Sponsor podcasts. Hound customers all over the internet with retargeting tactics. But the goal is to overspend on these tactics ... you'll lose money (just like you'll likely lose money running discounts/promos) but you will generate new customers who will pay you back. And if you love catalog-centric business models, add mailings - you'll generate sales you wouldn't otherwise generate.

In other words, instead of giving away margin dollars, give away marketing dollars. Either way you lose money, but the latter allows you to grow your business at full price.

Smart, huh?

September 09, 2018

Another Discussion With Catalog Craig Paperman

Kevin: Craig, you look like the delivery of your September catalog is slow, is everything ok?

Craig: I'm still thinking about your visit to our brand last week.

Kevin: It was a good meeting, wasn't it?

Craig: I have no idea why the marketing team invited you. I didn't invite you.

Kevin: Then why didn't you just cancel the meeting?

Craig: I don't like to micro-manage my team.

Kevin: Alright.

Craig: One thing I learned in the meeting is that you don't accept criticism well.

Kevin: Why do you say that?

Craig: You had a lot of ideas in the meeting. But you seemed to get frustrated when we told you why the ideas wouldn't work.

Kevin: Give me an example.

Craig: You told us to only send prospect catalogs with winning merchandise. That's a bad idea.

Kevin: I've seen it work over and over and over again.

Craig: See, you don't accept criticism well.

Kevin: You are criticizing an idea that has worked repeatedly for catalogers for thirty or more years.

Craig: Again, you are being defensive. You don't accept criticism.

Kevin: Your team paid me to give you ideas. This is as simple an idea as you are ever going to find. Just execute it and enjoy the sales and profit.

Craig: Look at you. You keep harping on the topic. The idea won't work. Give me an idea that will work.

Kevin: You could do something simple like personalize your email campaigns.

Craig: That's stupid.

Kevin: No, it's something that many companies do to increase sales by about 20% in their email campaigns.

Craig: See, you don't accept criticism well. 

Kevin: But it is so easy to do, just personalize via customer merchandise preference. It takes almost no work and you generate sales and profit. Isn't that why you are in business in the first place?

Craig: Personalization isn't appropriate in an omnichannel environment. We're supposed to offer a unified message. There's nothing unified about a thousand different messages in email campaigns.

Kevin: Isn't it best to do what is right for the customer?

Craig: Again, you cannot accept criticism. You keep pushing back. Why not just accept that you are wrong and that we're right? Just concede the argument and we can move on.

Kevin: There's nothing to concede. Just execute a simple tactic and pick up the dollar bills that float down from above.

Craig: You are a public voice, and if you are going to be a public voice, you have to accept criticism.

Kevin: I want to make sure I understand your thesis. Most companies execute the simple tactics that you aren't executing. They're making money doing it. Your response to the ideas is to criticize me and then suggest that I'm not not capable of accepting your criticism?

Craig: I know it's frustrating to be on the wrong side of an argument. But you can be gracious and admit you are wrong. I mean, your ideas wouldn't work at our brand. We're unique, and we're special.

Kevin: I shared twenty different ideas with your Leadership Team. Your team didn't want to execute any of them.

Craig: And that's because they are bad ideas.

Kevin: I said you needed more new merchandise. I have data to prove that you are starving your customer of new merchandise. So how is my idea a bad idea?

Craig: Because our merchandising team knows that our customers love trend-right merchandise.

Kevin: What does that even mean?

Craig: See, you just cannot accept constructive criticism.

Kevin: I'm trying to help you.

Craig: Try harder!

Kevin: You could save money by mailing online buyers less often.

Craig: That's silly. We're a cataloger. We send catalogs. Period. Bad idea.

Kevin: With the money you save you could find new customers using other tactics.

Craig: We're not going to be like 4imprint and advertise on SiriusXM. That's a dumb idea.

Kevin: I didn't tell you to do that.

Craig: Again, you cannot accept criticism. It's a bad idea.

Kevin: Saving money so that you can spend more money acquiring customers, even via catalogs, that's a bad idea?

Craig: Um.

Kevin: Your vendors would love to help you spend more money elsewhere. They'd love to track your website visitors and then have you put a postcard into the mail instead of a catalog while saving money and then using the money to spend with the catalog co-ops. You win, your vendors win. 

Craig: Bad idea, nobody is going to respond to a postcard.

Kevin: Then send a 48 page catalog with only winning items.

Craig: Bad idea, as pages increase postage is free.

Kevin: But paper and printing aren't free.

Craig: Nevertheless.

Kevin: Ok, then send an 80 page catalog with a personalized assortment based on what the customer viewed online.

Craig: Then we aren't saving any money and worse, nobody can forecast inventory levels properly if everybody is receiving a different merchandise assortment.

Kevin: And yet e-commerce brands somehow forecast inventory well and they don't have catalogs and square inches to use as a planning tool, do they?

Craig: E-commerce brands have nothing to do with us. It's clear from this discussion that our business is too complicated for a simpleton consultant like yourself to offer any valuable insights.

Kevin: Are you kidding me?

Craig: See, you don't accept criticism well, do you?

September 06, 2018

Tactic: Catalog Effectiveness

The typical New England Catalog-Centric Brand behaves different than other catalogers behave ... not better, not worse, just different. They like to hear ideas, buckets-full of ideas, and they like to accept-reject ideas as they are being presented. It's just different than what you run across in other areas of the country.

So today I'm going to offer a series of tactics tailored to the New-England-Based Catalog Brand. Based on my Principles, if I were CEO, here's a series of tactics I'd implement, tactics that fit in with the 67 year old consumer that the New-England-Based Cataloger craves.

Tactic:  The company would become the market share leader of rural 67 year old consumers. Embrace the market that shops from catalogs, period. Own it. Having a website does not make a cataloger an e-commerce brand. You are catalogers. Period. Be a cataloger. Or abandon catalogs and move fully into the 37 year old demographic and move into the future. But that's not going to happen. So be who you are. 

Tactic:  The company would become the Awareness Leader among rural 67 year old consumers. If eight 67 year olds gather at a Farmer's Market in Bennington, my brand would be right there with 'em. We'd sponsor every single activity that aligns with a rural 67 year old consumer. Period.

Tactic:  The goal of the Awareness Program is to get the customer to sign up for email marketing and/or Instagram. Via Email and Instagram, my Awareness Team would tell a story. Think about this like Days of Our Lives or General Hospital. Those are old-school "Serials" ... daily stories. In fact, my Awareness Program would partner with Days of Our Lives and General Hospital (and Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune and Every Darn Aurora Teagarden airing on Hallmark). The Email Awareness Program would be separate from the Existing Customer Email Program.

Tactic:  The Awareness Program would saturate every single Over 55 community in the United States. If a theater in Sun City AZ was performing CATS, I'd underwrite the performance. If the Abba cover band is performing, I'm underwriting it. I'd underwrite golf carts so that my brand was on every single golf cart at the Pickleball court ... like the Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer of 25 years ago. I would start by hiring a half-dozen employees and task them with "owning" this community of prospects.

Tactic:  When a prospect clicks through an Awareness Email Campaign for the second time, kick out a Hotline Catalog that features 32 pages of the BEST WINNING ITEMS available.

Tactic:  My traditional co-op catalog program, search program, and Facebook programs are all calibrated to converting a Prospect to an Acquired Customer. Focus on BEST WINNING ITEMS anytime you are spending money.

Tactic:  When a prospect purchases for the first time, the prospect is entered into a Welcome Program. The next eight (8) weeks are CRITICAL to the development of this customer.

Tactic:  The Welcome Program includes an Email Program that cross-shops the customer into adjacent product categories ... since we all know that customers buying from multiple product categories are more valuable than customers buying from a single product category after controlling for recency, frequency, and monetary value.

Tactic:  The Welcome Program includes a special Hotline Catalog Program with customized catalogs. Based on what you purchased, Hotline Catalogs are kicked-out ... 32 (personalized) pages with BEST WINNING ITEMS in adjacent categories and HOT NEW ITEMS that the customer should consider. Marketing and Merchandising would partner on the HOT NEW ITEMS to feature. Each catalog would be different, based on the first purchase and prior clickstream activity. Your printer and analytics partners can handle this task. Your printer WANTS to handle this task.

Tactic:  The Welcome Program assembles clickstream data and combines it with purchase data to personalize the Email Welcome Program eight week stream.

Tactic:  The Welcome Program offers and OUTBOUND CALL to all customers who purchase via the call center. This call happens 10 days after a first purchase, and the call center employee is tasked with making sure that the first order was executed perfectly. The call center employee is given a list of 10 items that your vendor cross-sell algorithms think the customer would love. If the call center employee gets the customer to purchase an item, the call center employee gets 25% of the value of the item in cash. If the item is $60 with a $30 gross margin, the company gets $15 and the employee gets $15. I've got a hunch that the call center employee is going to care (deeply) about earning $15 every 15 minutes.

Tactic:  Loyal Customers move into my traditional catalog cadence. 24 mailings a year to call-center buyers and 8 mailings a year to online buyers. Every dollar I save via Online Buyer Optimization (i.e. fewer catalogs to online buyers) funds my Awareness Program. The Awareness Program fuels Customer Acquisition, and Customer Acquisition fuels the Welcome Program. The Welcome Program feeds my Loyalty Program, where I earn all of my profit.

Tactic:  All Email Marketing to Loyal Customers focuses on NEW MERCHANDISE. Period. These customers need to be dazzled, and they don't need to be dazzled with 30% off and free shipping. How else are you going to get New Items to become Winning Items?

Tactic:  Loyal customers get a quarterly mailing of 32 pages focusing ONLY on NEW MERCHANDISE. Your creative team is tasked with telling a compelling story that causes the customer to have to buy new merchandise.

Tactic:  Bring together all of your vendor partners, and task them with working together to create 100 actionable "persona" segments based on External Data, In-House Clickstream Data, and Purchase Data. Based on the 100 "persona" segments, ask your vendor partners to adjust their solutions to your Awareness / Acquisition / Welcome / Loyal / Lapsed framework. Demand that your printer and paper rep and social media agency and merge/purge house and boutique agency that features clickstream solutions all work together on your Loyal Customer and Lapsed Customer initiatives. Given them some flexibility so that they can test ideas that you wouldn't normally author, and reward them financially for the ideas that generate incremental sales/profit.

Tactic:  All salaried employees are paid bonuses when they exceed NEW CUSTOMER and NEW WINNING MERCHANDISE goals. These are the two goals that matter most, so reward all salaried employees for exceeding the goals, ok?

Tactic:  Give a small category to a team of < 30 year old marketers, merchants, inventory managers, and creative professionals. Give them a budget and tell them to do whatever they think is right to grow the category. Given them two years to achieve great results. If their ideas work, expand the program while promoting these individuals into positions of greater responsibility.

That's where I'd start.

If you are a New-England-Based Catalog Brand, how many of these tactics are you going to adopt? Again, this is just a start. Get 100 salaried professionals aligned under this framework and you're gonna have a thousand different ideas that yield fifteen things that succeed and the momentum takes your brand in a whole new direction.

September 05, 2018

Tactic: Awareness Programs

You probably have a Customer Acquisition Team and a Customer Retention Team.

The Acquisition Team focuses on Google and Facebook (and if you are a cataloger you have an over-dependence upon catalog co-ops). That's it. It's people looking for ways to spend money to find customers.

A credible Marketing Management System divides Acquisition into two critical pieces.
  1. Awareness.
  2. Capture.
Awareness is about teaching prospects who you are and why the prospect should care about you.

Capture is "capture" ... when demand has been created, you are there to capture it ... via Google, or Facebook, or a catalog via the co-ops.

I want you to spend a few minutes this morning thinking about what you do to create Awareness. And you cannot use the following words / phrases.
  • Social Media.
  • Facebook.
  • Google.
  • Retargeting.
  • Catalogs (if you are a cataloger).
  • Public Relations.
If this exercise stumps you, you do not have an Awareness program. And if you do not have an Awareness program, you have a tactic to begin executing on Thursday Morning ... you will create your very own Awareness program, and you will begin the process of educating the public who you are and you will convince people to care about you.

Yeah, I know, that sounds like hard work.

It's work we've abandoned since Google came on the scene.

September 04, 2018

Link To The Entire Hillstrom's Marketing Management System Series

For those who want all the slides together in one place, please click here and download the entire presentation. Next week I'm moving on to adjacent topics, so this is a good time to collect the information if you are interested.


Tactic: New Merchandise and Email Marketing

Here are the recent email campaigns from a brand most of you know:
  • Hundreds of New Items Added to Clearance!
  • I've Traveled Over 100,000 Miles With This Bag - $125 Today Only
  • Flash Sale
  • 30% Off Site-Wide Ends Tonight
  • Catch This Sale Before It Floats Away
  • Sink Or Swim 30% Off Ends Tonight!
  • Need New Luggage? We Can Help, Luggage Is 30% Off Today Only
  • Finally This Best Seller Is Back In Stock - It's Also Up to 40% OFF Today Only.
Admit it ... this is a tepid pile of mediocrity. They're excited about new items added to clearance? That's a catastrophe! That means that the merchandising team just dumpster-fired stuff they previously cared about, and you are supposed to get excited about that. Then 30% off, then 30% off ends, then it's 30% off again, then after you've bought stuff at 30% off they offer you a best seller at 40% off (if it is a best seller, why discount it more deeply than everything else)?

Instead of spending three weeks (above) begging customers to purchase something at a discount, why not promote your new merchandise at full price coupled with a credible story? What do you have to lose? It's common for 1 in 700 recipients to buy something from an email campaign, so there's essentially zero risk. Zero! If you fail and 1 in 800 recipients buy something, almost nothing has happened. If you succeed? You've learned something.

A credible Marketing Management System cares deeply about New Merchandise, and cares deeply about the intersection of Marketing and Merchandising. Make every one of your email campaigns about promoting (via story - not discounts) the new merchandise that your Merchandising Team cares deeply about. Period. Educate your customers, don't gravel for business.

Again, you have nothing to lose. 1 in 700 buyers is not success.

September 03, 2018

Show Me The Tactics!!

I've spend a month sharing my Marketing Management System with you.

There's common feedback when you do this stuff.
  • That won't work at my company.
  • What you are discussing is too theoretical.
  • Show me a tactic that will work at my company.
Starting tomorrow, I'll discuss some tactics, ok? It'll be related to this Principle.

August 29, 2018

Love Vendor-Centric Marketing Management Systems?

If you are tired of Principles and employ a Vendor-Centric Marketing Management System, then give this article about Best E-Commerce Design a read (click here).

You can be successful running a vendor-centric Marketing Management System. Companies do it all the time. The challenge you have to overcome is simple ... sameness. If everybody is employing similar tactics, then the value of the tactics degrade. You need merchandise productivity that is far stronger than the average brand, and that's really hard to achieve.

But it can be done.

August 28, 2018

Field Marketing Team

I had the benefit of visiting an industry-leading vendor. During the day-long visit, and employee described all of the low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition activities they performed. At one point, the employee said something very interesting.
  • "It's our job to hustle and create awareness, awareness that leads to people paying us."
The vendor employee led a team that employed dozens of tactics ... tactics that might cost no money, might cost a small amount of money. But the employee recognized an important fact ... it was important to not spend much money on marketing activities in order to obtain customers who spend money on marketing activities.

When I worked at Eddie Bauer, this team was called the "Field Marketing Team". A VP led a team of Directors/Managers who were responsible for a dozen +/- stores. They'd run all sorts of local programs designed to create awareness and get customers into stores. They had virtually no budget. When you don't have money to spend, you have to become VERY creative. If the Field Marketing Team didn't "anniversary" one of their events, you'd see a 10% - 20% drop in comp store sales in a market ... and you'd have a lot of angry Store Managers.

In other words, Field Marketing works.

When I worked at Nordstrom, Field Marketing was integrated within the Marketing Department. Nordstrom spent < 2% of net sales on marketing ... an unheard of percentage in modern marketing where a catalog brand is likely to spend 30% of net sales on marketing. In other words, the Marketing Department had to HUSTLE to generate sales on a shoestring budget.

At many companies, the Field Marketing department morphed into Public Relations. And Public Relations morphed into Press Releases and #engagement via Social Media.

Hustle and Hard Work are key elements of a Field Marketing Team. In modern marketing, those key elements are sorely missing. Is it any wonder so many readers get confused when we discuss low-cost / no-cost customer acquisition programs?

August 27, 2018

Marketing Focus

The Merchandising Director is simply not happy. She feels like she's not getting any help. Then she tells me this:

"It's like the Marketing Department doesn't even work here. They have no time for us. They tell me they spend all of their time working with vendors. They tell me that I couldn't understand how difficult their job is."

Twenty years ago I took over the Circulation / Analytics Department at Eddie Bauer. In the Circulation Department, there were three teams.
  1. Housefile Circulation, Core Business.
  2. Housefile Circulation, Specialty Businesses.
  3. Customer Acquisition.
It took all of about ninety seconds to notice the difference in the teams. 
  • Housefile Circulation teams worked well with each other, and had good working relationships with inventory management and merchandising and creative and information technology.
  • Customer Acquisition didn't work well with anybody. They spent all of their time working with external vendors, where they rented and exchanged lists and attended dinners paid for by vendors.
Here's another difference.
  • Housefile staff had ideas for business improvement, and those ideas came from the merchandising, creative, and inventory management teams.
  • Acquisition staff had ideas for business improvement, and those ideas came from vendors.
The latter point is important. A vendor would invite the acquisition team to a Seattle Mariners game, where the acquisition team would spend three innings watching the game from great seats before leaving to attend a dinner. At the dinner, the acquisition team would be asked to arrange a meeting between the vendor and I. The following morning, I'd see a meeting request for a meeting with the vendor at 2:00pm. I'd accept. The vendor would introduce a handful of topics about our current relationship ... and then unleash "Thought Leadership" ... telling me what we should be doing (because "leading brands" are already doing those things) ... and not surprisingly, "what we should be doing" involved spending more with the vendor ... you know, vapid stuff like "Leading Multi-Channel brands leverage paid opportunities to grow synergies across channels that lead to a frictionless customer experience that our research indicates customers crave."

It's easy to get sucked into that world ... sporting events ... vendor dinners ... Thought Leadership. It's exciting, you feel like you are a credible Professional ... you feel like a "mover and a shaker".

The converse is not exciting. Nobody wants to sit down with a merchant and a creative professional and an inventory manager and have those folks beat you into mulch because you are "marketing to the wrong people".

Again, where would you rather spend your time?
  1. Vendor-paid sporting events and dinners at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.
  2. A meeting with merchants, creatives, and inventory managers where you are told you don't know what you are doing.
I've been in the industry for nearly 30 years. During this time, there's been a gradual slide across the industry.
  • More time with vendors.
  • Less time with employees.
Not surprisingly, you look at the profit and loss statement and you see a slow-moving train wreck in process.
  • 30% of company net sales (often 40% to 60% of gross margin dollars) paid to Search Agencies, Catalog Co-Ops, Facebook, Paper Reps, Printers, the USPS, Retargeters, Affiliates, Comparison Shopping Engines, Social Media Agencies, Email Service Providers, and Influencer Programs.
The more vendors you have, the more focus you must give to the process of feeding vendors. You become disconnected from reality.

Twenty years ago, the relationships between marketers and creative were pretty strong. As a result, you had more Customer Awareness programs ... you had Low-Cost / No-Cost Customer Acquisition Programs.

Today, the relationship between marketers and vendors is strong. As a result, you have a lot of programs where you pay vendors.

Today, marketers are largely running Vendor-Centric Marketing Management Systems. Is it any wonder it is so hard to grow customer acquisition via Low-Cost / No-Cost Customer Acquisition Programs? Your focus as a marketer needs to be on your co-workers, your customers, and your bottom-line ... not on the bottom-line of your vendor partners.

P.S.:  I get it ... this is the part of the story where I get a dizzying array of "UNSUBSCRIBE - CONTENT NO LONGER RELEVANT" from various vendor employees. That's fine. I'm here to increase profitability among my client base.

August 26, 2018


Most readers love to employ a Vendor-Centric Marketing Management System. If you don't believe me, read all the vendors the Internet Retailer Top 500 leverage just to run a website ... modern commerce has been overwhelmed by the Vendor-Centric Marketing Management System.

This means that there are myriad opportunities to do things that are not promoted by the Vendor-Centric Marketing Management System folks.

Look at your own data - you'll quickly see that the first eight weeks after a first purchase are THE MOST IMPORTANT timeframe in the life of the customer. There's no arguing this ... just look at your own data. I've yet to have a client where this isn't the case.

So if we know this is a fact, then ask your 1,493 vendor partners to bend their tools in your favor. Ask them to innovate ... ask them to provide solutions designed to get the first-time buyer to buy for the second time in a rapid manner. Pay them bonuses when they do an above-average job of quickly converting customers with unique solutions that they design for your specific situation.

And Attention All Vendors:  The first eight weeks following a first purchase are the most critical eight weeks in the customer life cycle. Period. You have a HUGE OPPORTUNITY to make your clients happy while padding your bottom line by modifying your products to capitalize on this critical customer window. Be creative. Be innovative! Help people, ok?!!

August 22, 2018

Customer Awareness and Prospect Capture

If there is one thing that Google ruined, it is Customer Awareness.

Seriously ... ask a professional what their Customer Awareness program is, and you'll frequently hear "Search Engine Optimization".

No, that's not Customer Awareness. That's stepping in front of somebody else who created a Customer Awareness program.

Somebody has to create demand. Google's job is to re-direct demand to either the highest bidder or to the party that plays the optimization game the way Google wants it to be played. 

Demand Creation and Customer Awareness go hand-in-hand.

Digital is HORRIBLE at creating demand. Well, that's not true. Instagram when applied properly to the right audience by the right people works wonders. But most forms of digital marketing are fabulous at steering demand that has already been created.

Offline marketing is great at generating customer awareness ... ask Uber and Facebook as they eschew their digital prowess and instead use TV to apologize for all of their problems.

Break your customer acquisition efforts into two pieces.
  1. Customer Awareness.
  2. Prospect Capture.
It's likely you are investing close-to-nothing in Customer Awareness and are instead spending your money on Prospect Capture. It's also likely you aren't spending nearly enough on Prospect Capture.

My Marketing Management System prioritizes Customer Awareness and Prospect Capture.

Most Marketing Management Systems prioritize Customer Loyalty. This type of system can work if your annual repurchase rates are north of 50%. But if your annual repurchase rates are under 40% (as they are for so many e-commerce and traditional catalog brands), you need a credible Customer Awareness and Prospect Capture program.

August 19, 2018

National Mail Order Catalog Day

Did you know that Saturday was National Mail Order Catalog Day?

Notice that the article was two years old. And referred to catalogs as junk mail. And they were being positive.

We have Amazon generating $3,000,000,000 to $4,000,000,000 for Prime Day. Nordstrom wrapped up their Anniversary Sale, generating Christmas-level business in the second half of July (which, by the way, is hard to do).

A quick scan of Twitter showed maybe three or four dozen tweets, world-wide. A mention from Catalog University (click here). A mention from Lands' End Business.

Those in the catalog industry know and understand a fundamental truth ... the industry struggles with Awareness Programs. It's hard to acquire customers when you don't have a credible Customer Awareness Program. Heck, the industry cannot even capitalize on a day dedicated to it.

And it's hard to have a credible Customer Awareness Program when you don't value Creative Professionals. Creative Professionals do work that does not translate to immediate ROI (like, say, Google can). That doesn't mean you don't hire Creative Professionals, or hire the right agency to do your work. Ask Duluth Trading Company what the ROI is on Creative Advertising.

The Great Eight

1 - You must know who your AUDIENCE is. Your customer is different from your audience. Your audience represents the pool of prospects who m...