Catalog Overview – New Resource Available

Every year the DMA produces their Statistical Fact Book, filled with industry trends and statistics compiled to help marketers in their efforts. For the first time, they have included category introductions for each of the 14 categories, including catalog, Internet, email, search, mobile and social. If you are interested in purchasing your copy of the 2013 version, follow the link below.

It was an honor to be asked to write the forward for the catalog section and the DMA has graciously allowed me to post my thoughts in this blog.  Please keep in mind, these are my observations and may not hold true for every brand.

Marketers continue to ask the question, “Are catalogs still a viable part of the marketing mix?” The answer? Yes; absolutely. In fact, many traditional “brick-and-mortar” stores have discovered this century old tactic and are now mailing for the first time. Catalogs continue to be a strong, proactive tap on the shoulder. And when mailed with intelligence, they have the ability to carefully target customers who are most likely to have an affinity for a particular, unique set of products.

With that said, the role of a catalog has changed, and will continue to evolve as consumers change their shopping habits. Specifically, consider the following:

– The catalog isn’t really a channel. Instead, it’s a powerful advertising tool, driving customers and prospects alike to do something. Many brands agree that it’s their number one driver to both web and retail store sales. This goes for consumer, B-to-B and B-to-I brands.

– It’s not always about the sale. Astute marketers have discovered how important it is to include strong calls-to-action throughout their catalogs, inviting customers and prospects to visit their website or social platforms. Engagement techniques allow an alternative method to retain customers and even gather prospect information, allowing for marketing activity on the back end (without having to pay for the name a second time.)

– Attribution is no longer formulaic. As with most direct mail tactics, attribution continues to be problematic. Catalog marketers make bad decisions based on bad data. Determining what prompted an order in a multi-channel, multi-tactic environment is no longer a simple formula. Every brand must consider its exclusive position, its unique set of customers and then ask the right questions. Aggressive and ongoing testing is critical to understanding customer and prospect behavior, allowing for an efficient contact strategy and media spend.

– Opportunities must be realized in real time. Savvy catalogers are no longer waiting on post-season analysis to realize short-term opportunities. Advanced software platforms allow for attribution to occur in real time, enabling immediate recognition of emerging trends. With the competitive landscape being what it is, a “drop-centric” mind-set does not maximize incremental sales. Digital campaigns allow marketers to respond quickly to new customer behaviors, creating campaigns and promotions that can be launched in the time it takes for the designers or coders to produce it.

– For catalog design the rules are changing. While it’s still important to consider the physics of catalog design (eye-flow, hot spots and graphic hierarchy), brand presentation and personality are beginning to trump a democratic presentation of products. The consumer aesthetic and need for authenticity ─ not to mention a shortened attention span ─ have changed the way consumers appreciate catalogs, probably forever. It’s critical that designers become astute brand strategists and merchandise story-tellers. While a square inch analysis is still an important tool, designers must tap into the psyche of their customers to better understand how a landscape of pictures and words will excite, entice and then engage customers into activity.

– Page counts continue to be in question. For the most part, marketers are reducing page count, finding ways to engage and drive customers online to find more products and solutions. For these catalogs, the calls-to-action must be very strong and give the reader a true reason to go online. On the other hand, many brands are finding growth opportunities by adding pages. The right answer must be made through careful analysis and testing. But mostly, catalogers are learning that “more is not always more.”

– Internal processes must change. As mentioned before, catalog marketers must be quicker to market in order to compete in a digital world. And with that change, internal organization charts and processes must be reconsidered and overhauled. In a traditional workflow, many creative assets are produced based on a catalog mail drop. This will not work in a digital world when online competitors will beat you to market with a new trend. Instead, creative assets should be immediately created allowing for instant channel and tactical integration.

– Postal increases continue to be a threat. The battle between catalogers, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) and the USPS continues. It’s critical that catalogers become more involved with their state legislatures and industry efforts (both the DMA and the ACMA) to protect against an exigent rate hike becoming permanent. The new Postal Reform bill also weakens oversight by the PRC, effectively leaving the USPS as an unregulated monopoly. This battle is not going away and catalogers must protect against hikes that will ultimately erode profit margins.

– Unique or exclusive merchandise still rules. Research still supports the idea of exclusivity, meaning consumers are interested in brands that can offer something no one else can. This does not mean that 100% of your product assortment must be unique or private labeled. It does mean that careful attention to how you package and talk about your unique collection of products can make your brand a hot commodity in the marketplace.

Catalogs will continue to be mailed for some time to come. However, it’s no longer a formulaic tactic. Following the rules dictated by tradition no longer guarantees success. And while enticing customers with a differentiated brand is critical, the winners in this game are the ones who create laser-focused marketing campaigns that operate at maximum efficiency.

If you are interested in learning more about the DMA Statistical Fact Book, please visit the DMA.

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The Catalog Blog covers opinions and information on all things catalog. Have something to add? Leave a comment below. Catalog University is devoted to helping you get ahead in the fun and fascinating world of catalogs. If you want even more information about cataloging, including FREE Pub Talks, be sure to sign up for the Cat-U mailing list. We will never share your name with 3rd parties.

Lois Brayfield
CEO; J.Schmid & Assoc, Inc.
Dean of Creative; Catalog University