June 18, 2024

I Just Don't Understand It

E-commerce pros ... I'll address you tomorrow.

Can I share something with the rest of you?

I'm as busy right now as I've been in six years. It's because of you. All of the catalog professionals who read this, who are dealing with a lot of moving parts right now, who are frustrated, who want to know what the next several years look like. You are worried that the 30% cost inflation you've experienced over the past three years ends your discipline in three more years. 

You already know the answers to your questions.

Online, in the socials, I run across your support network ... paper reps, printers, boutique catalog vendor professionals. Their communications are in stark contrast to your concerns. I just don't understand it. They craft narratives.

Narrative: The USPS is the problem, not us. We're all in this together ... against them.

  • I'll let them have that one. But it's such a tiny, tiny issue, and it cannot be solved. No amount of trips to Washington DC, no matter how holy they make you feel, will make any difference on the future. And it doesn't change all of the other issues, all of the other ways your paper partners and printers sent you down the river.
Narrative: The reason direct mail (and specifically, catalogs) don't work is because marketers don't know how to use them properly. Marketers are the problem, not the discipline.
  • This is such a poor response. Empty. Lacking understanding. Lacking empathy. Fully incorrect. It allows the vendor to hold the moral high ground.
  • One of your "trusted partners" told me this (marginally paraphrased) ... "It is true, they just don't know what they're doing in direct mail and catalogs and they're part of the problem. If they did things the right way, there wouldn't be a problem".
This narrative is everywhere right now. They write about it frequently. Check LinkedIn for a cooking reference, FYI.

Narrative:  Direct Mail works.
  • Direct Mail can (should) work with customers age 65+.
  • Direct Mail can work when communicating overwhelming benefits to a customer that the customer cannot ignore (i.e. Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale).
  • Outside of those situations, it no longer works. It's over. If print worked, you'd see it everywhere. Instead you see contraction. The paper/print industry contracted dramatically in the past 15 years. Just ask them. And where it hasn't contracted, it evolved toward supporting Amazon (i.e. boxes).
Narrative:  All generations love Direct Mail.
  • Wrong.
  • The laptop started the fire, the iPhone burned everything down. It's over.
Narrative:  We can help you be effective.
  • For some companies, yes. Go get 'em!!
  • For most companies, absolutely not. It's over. It's over. Admit it.
Narrative:  We can cost engineer marketing to make Direct Mail effective.
  • No.
  • 2-3 years ago paper didn't exist for catalogs. That's on your paper rep. It's his fault. Fully on him. His industry contracted and couldn't handle a small bump in demand, forcing my clients elsewhere. 
  • 1-3 years ago printers couldn't even schedule your circulation job. Printers fired my clients (my clients have the receipts).
  • It's hard to be a cataloger if you can't get paper.
  • It's hard to be a cataloger if printing capacity doesn't exist and your printer fires you.
  • It's hard to be a cataloger with 30% cost inflation over the past three years.

I'm fully on your side, catalogers. You've been treated poorly. You can see what is coming. You are making changes. And no amount of industry narrative to spin the truth otherwise will dissuade you from advancing into the future.

Paper Folks, Printers, Boutique Catalog Vendors - please join us.


P.S.: You're probably wondering what the future is. Nearly fifteen years of catalog optimization projects clearly outline the future. Here's what is coming.
  1. If you have 100,000 twelve-month buyers today that you mail, you will mail 10,000 of them in three years.
  2. If you mail 100,000 twelve-month buyers eight times per year today, you will mail 10,000 twelve-month catalog-loving addicts twenty-four times per year in three years. You might mail them catalogs, you might mail them loyalty information, but you will only communicate to a small number of customers who care. Everybody else is digital, and you will have to spend very little money on them to be profitable (hint - you'll be a media company to your community).

Disagree? Send me an email (kevinh@minethatdata.com) with your thesis.


P.P.S.:  Don Libey would be 80 years old, +/- today ... and he'd have a field day calling out the vendor industry on how they damaged my clients. It would be breathtaking.


P.P.P.S.:  I bring this up (and the amount of time I'm spending on this going forward will decrease, significantly) because I'm tired of you being blamed and criticized for something fully out of your control.

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