Why the Print Catalog Is Back in Style

J. C. Penney’s recent announcement that it is resurrecting its print catalog reflects a trend of retailers returning to the print medium as an important sales and marketing tool.

While Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue have been mailing catalogs for years, now specialty retailers are picking up the tactic.  Some, like Anthropologie, are launching new catalogs, while J.Crew and Restoration Hardware have significantly upgraded their catalogs in the past couple of years.  Even digital retailers such as Bonobos, the menswear retailer, and Birchbox, the beauty subscription service, have started mailing catalogs.  According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), catalog mailings grew in 2013 to 11.9 billion.

The last time companies showed so much interest in catalogs was in 2007, when catalog mailings peaked.  In that year alone, a DMA study showed 59% of multichannel marketers had increased their catalog circulation from the year before.  J.C. Penney’s catalog distribution had swelled to 70 different mailings, in addition to its annual 1,000+ page “Big Book.”

But then the Great Recession hit, and retailers looking to trim their expenditures cut catalog budgets.  With the concurrent rise in online sales and marketing, print media seemed like a waste.  Although some holdouts remained (notably, Patagonia and Brookstone), catalog circulation continued to decline for the next several years.  According to the DMA, in 2012 mailings dropped to its lowest level since it began collecting annual data in 2001.

The recent resurgence in the popularity of catalogs raises questions about their value and long-term viability.  Is the latest rebirth of the catalog merely a reflection of the Great Recession’s conclusion? Will they once again fall out of fashion at the first sign of softness in the market?

Given the new dynamics of multichannel marketing and commerce, as well as the new targeting and measurement capabilities of catalog marketing, I think catalogs are here to stay this time.

Multi-channel shopping and buying is on the rise, and retailers know that customers who use more than one of their channels are usually the most valuable.  In fact, Nordstrom reports that customers who have a multi-channel relationship with the brand spend four times as much as those who do not.  Bonobos shares similar results, with Craig Elbert, vice president of marketing, reporting that 20% of the website’s first-time customers are placing their orders after having received a catalog and are spending one and a half times as much as new shoppers who didn’t receive a catalog first.

Catalogs are also uniquely designed to help marketing departments fulfill their objectives.  Marketers are increasingly challenged to produce a specific return on investment for

efforts.  The effect of a broadcast spot or social media campaign on sales may be hard to pin down, but catalogs — with their definitive mail dates and customer and source codes — are easier to track.   Targeting with catalogs is also much easier now, thanks to huge industry databases containing all sorts of information on millions of households. And thanks to online purchasing, many retailers have amassed their own customer databases that can be synced up with them.  This combination gets the right catalogs into the right hands.


What’s more, new production and printing capabilities in print media have taken the cost and complexity out of versioning — the industry term for tailoring different versions of a catalog to different customer segments.  Outdoor and apparel retailer L.L.Bean says it is experimenting with the page count of the catalogs it sends to regular website shoppers.  Steve Fuller, chief marketing officer, explains that instead of sending every customer his brand’s largest book, he looks for frequent website visitors and asks, “Can I only send her 50 pages, or 20, as a reminder of, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to the website’?”

Retailers have also discovered that catalogs can be used for high quality content marketing. High-touch print pieces filled with stories, fashion show images, profiles of celebrity endorsers and designers, and room layouts have proven to be excellent ways to convey a brand ethos and express a brand personality.  For instance, Williams Sonoma has started including recipes in its catalogs, next to the products consumers need to cook them. And Restoration Hardware has elevated brand-building through catalogs to an art form.  Its 2014 annual catalog was actually comprised of up to 13 “sourcebooks” with more than 3,300 pages of luxurious photography, profiles of designers and craftsmen, inspirational stories — and yes, products for sale.  The extravagant catalog is part of the company’s effort of “becoming a brand worthy of loving,” as chairman and CEO Gary Friedman explains.  ”We believe what we are doing is moving beyond an intellectual connection to an emotional one. We are beginning to express those things we deeply believe in a way you can see it.”

The need to engage customers at this higher level is unlikely to go away even if the economy takes another turn downward.  In fact, as more products become more similar and as the Internet continues to provide increasing access to more products, print catalogs and their content will grow as means to differentiate brands and sustain existing customer relationships.  Great brands integrate catalogs with email marketing, social media, and other tactics into a distinctive, memorable, and valuable brand experience for their customers.

Catalogs may seem old school, but their increased capabilities and the brand-building potential suggest they’ll remain a staple in retailers’ toolboxes – and consumers’ mailboxes.

By Denise Lee Yohn

Printed in The Harvard business review

Making Your Mailing Business the Best Choice

Making Your Mailing Business the Best Choice By John Foley, Jr.
What good would a menu be on the door of a restaurant if it told the hours of operation, but didn’t list any of the food it offers? I think the answer is obvious; it would not be an effective menu at all. That’s why I find it so surprising that print, mail, and marketing service providers continually provide irrelevant first impression details such as who and when they were founded – forgetting to showcase all of their delicious offerings. When you discuss your affiliated mailing business to prospects, do you mention the real, practical ways your solutions can solve their problems? The point is, if you want to grow your customer base and increase long-term projects, you need to market in a clear, consistent way that tells your target audience why they need your solutions. Start with these five simple steps:Step 1: Identify Your AudienceThe more you know what your target audience looks like, the more you will be able to speak to them in a way that solves their needs. How do you go about this? Hang out on social media, follow digital conversations in online communities and blog forums, ask current customers questions, and send out surveys with great incentives. If you’re looking to identify your target audience, the key is to listen to what others in your industry are doing and saying.Once you’ve done everything you can to know and understand your potential customers, work hard to build your marketing message around them. Step 2: Know Your Strength If you’re going to tell your prospects why they should use your business over the competitors, they need to know what makes you the best choice. What is your differentiator? People want to know how your services and or offerings will: · Educate them · Make their job easier · Further their objectives · Represent their business Identify what your offer in terms of these bullet points and before you know it, you will have a solid message as to how you stand out from the competition. Step 3: Develop Your Message Your message needs to stand out. Crisp writing, compelling headlines, and copy that gets straight to the point providing clear calls to action will serve you well. Be strong, confident, and consistent in your marketing from blog to Tweet, and remember to always focus on the one question that will be at the forefront of your prospects’ minds, which is, “What can you do for me?” If you can answer this, you have your value proposition, remember to make it shine. Step 4: Show, Don’t Tell If you’ve been following my past articles, then you probably know how strongly I feel about talking with your audience, not at them. Talking about services is important, but nothing is more compelling than letting someone see what the solutions your services can do for them. Share free, valuable content that will benefit your audience, and give them a taste of what working with you can do for them. Step 5: Don’t Do All the Talking Your current customers are one of your best assets when it comes to marketing your business. Displaying testimonials is a great way to get your customers to do the talking for you. Give your prospects the chance to communicate with customers you have that have faced similar problems. Examples are, after all, the best way to lead, so use them to show the genuine benefits of your offers. The competition in this industry is tougher than ever. Hone in on your strengths and make sure your prospects know how those strengths can benefit them, making it clear why your mailing business is the best choice. Posted in Mailing System Technology About John Foley, Jr. John Foley, Jr. is the CEO of interlinkONE and Grow Socially. John and his team consult with print and mail companies on sales and marketing techniques, write strategic online marketing plans to get them on a path to marketing success, and John speaks frequently to print, mail, and fulfillment providers about expanding and transforming their businesses to grow revenue. Learn more about John at JohnFoleyJr.com, and his companies at www.interlinkONE.com and www.GrowSocially.com.

PRC Rejects Standard Mail Price Increases

Citing a large number of errors and omissions in the rate request, the Postal Regulatory Commission returns it to the Postal Service for modifications

The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has returned proposed rate adjustments to the U.S. Postal Service for review, saying the agency’s requests failed to comply with legal requirements, such as keeping increases under the inflation rate determined by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The proposed rate changes covered Standard Mail, Package Services, and Periodicals.

In an order released today, PRC Acting Chairman Robert Taub and four commissioners said they shared the concerns of public commenters, such as the American Catalog Mailers Association and Valpak, that the Postal Service’s filing contained a large number of errors and omissions.

Under Standard Mail, the PRC determined that certain unequal commercial and nonprofit discounts and workshare discounts were in conflict with precedent set in the 1981 case of National Easter Seal Society v. USPS.

For example, the Commission found several unequal commercial and nonprofit drop-ship discounts that were not reported by USPS, such as a destination network distribution center (DNDC) entry discount for commercial Automation 5-Digit Letters of $0.035 and a discount of $0.034 to nonprofits for the same class of mail. In comments to PRC, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers referenced the Easter Seal Society case to urge that USPS equalize nonprofit and commercial discounts.

The PRC’s order also asserts that the Postal Service incorrectly adjusted several billing determinants associated with Flats Sequencing System prices for periodicals, bundles, sacks, and pallets and failed to provide the Commission with the data necessary to calculate the actual average price increase for the Periodicals class. Additionally, the regulatory body ruled it lacked information needed to calculate the average price increase for Package Services.

PRC commissioners stated that the Postal Service rushed the request process without providing due time for comments from concerned parties. “A filing that is incomplete and riddled with errors makes it virtually impossible for the public to provide meaningful comments and for the Commission to complete its review within the statutory time period,” read the order.

The Postal Service must file its amended notice with the PRC no later than March 12 so that new rates that comply with applicable legal requirements can be reviewed and implemented, as planned, on April 26.

Al Urbanski, Senior Editor. follow me on Twitter, @alurbanski

Posted in Direct Marketing News