Magalogs and Unicorns

As pure play, e-commerce companies look for ways to get new customers, and pay-per-click and display ads get more and more expensive, catalog are starting to look good again. But they are soooo old fashioned, the next generation will, of course, need to reinvent them and turn them into Magalogs. The wonders of the mythical Magalog (part magazine, part catalog) with all of its potential social media and SEO tie-ins will seem fresh and innovative. It’s been tried before.

Finding the right balance between engagement, and losing money mailing catalogs that look like beautiful magazines but don’t sell, isn’t hard. It’s painful, it’s a wicked buzzkill for the creative team, but it isn’t hard. All you have to do is test and be honest about what your tests tell you. I can save you a ton of money and time. If you’re devoting more than 5% of your catalog to editorial you’re probably wasting money. I know, I know—where’s my creative spirit? I’m a stick in the mud who doesn’t “get” the new social media landscape, or the new customer, or the new whatever. The truth is that the ideal catalog experience IS shopping. Anything that moves a customer off the purchase path needs to have a really good reason for being there. Let me say that again, the ideal catalog experience IS shopping. If you lose sight of that, you will wander into the lair of the mythical Magalog which is guarded by unicorns and mist and ad agencies that have never tested anything. Beware! It is a savage and fickle creature that eats budgets.

But wait, Magalogs do exist! There are Magalogs in the wild that are thriving. Costco is a good example. They have a small business catalog that is both an effective store driver and has a lot of very good, engaging articles. Probably 10%-20% to the total space is devoted to editorial. The Costco Magalog has successfully engaged me because they have good merchandise, good prices and the articles are smart and address things that really matter to me. That expensive editorial is doing its job as a retail driver. I don’t know if Costco makes money on it, or if they expect it to make money. There is some obvious co-op ad money involved and it may be driving some sales online as well.

CDW also embraces the Magalog and devotes up to 20% of their space to editorial. They’re also primarily B2B and they have a strategy that leverages the editorial across channels that keeps costs in check. They also target their editorial to narrow customer segments to keep it relevant. And here’s where the nasty math kicks in. More versions mean lower circulation numbers, higher printing costs and higher postage. I hope you’re seeing the cost/book going up fairly quickly. Now factor in what the reduction in selling space is going to do to productivity, hurdle rates and SQUINCH and you can see what a slippery slope you’re on. Editorial isn’t free, you have to shift those costs somewhere. Brand? Customer Loyalty? Pretty stuff?

You should always strive to engage your customers and you should always strive to be relevant. As magazines struggle to survive, and social media wonks fail to live up to the impossible expectations of the new economy, you will see new champions of the Magalog emerge. This has happened before. It has never worked, and this pains me because I so totally want Magalogs to work. (What a blast it would be to have all that space and editorial to play with.) With the changes in SEO and social, there is enormous pressure to create and acquire relevant content. Once you have all that juicy content it’s tempting to think that a Magalog could work, or even that it should work. But when the new catalog experts start whispering in your ear about innovation and the mythical Magalog, don’t drink the Koolaid. Repeat after me, “I will test before I make a commitment of that magnitude. I will test, test, test!” If you can’t afford to test—you can’t afford a Magalog. Start a catalog and keep adding editorial until you reach the point where additional editorial is no longer increasing response or average order size. That should be at about 5% editorial. If you have a very high end customer or a killer brand story, it could go higher. Test.

All the best,

Sarah Fletcher
President/Creative Director Catalog Design Studios
Co-founder Catalog University

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