Indulge me this shameless plug. I’m very proud of my wife. She is completing her second year as President of the Vermont/New Hampshire Marketing Group, which hosts its 27th Annual Conference on May 27th – 29th. (Click here for registration information for the conference).
I was President of the same organization 20 years ago, and over the weekend, I compared the lineup of speakers and sessions for the 2015 conference vs 1995, as it shows a great deal about how our industry has evolved, beyond what you might think would be obvious.
I’m not a big fan of “conference themes”, but the 2015 conference’s theme is “All Stars – Bringing the Best of the Best”. The late Don Libey was our keynote speaker in 1995, and if he were still alive, I’m sure he would have wanted to reprise his role, as he was an “All Star” and was always fantastic to listen to.
But the other sessions from 1995 were fairly typical of the time – circulation planning, how to pick mailing lists, benchmarks for great customer service, marketing ideas on a shoestring, what’s new in fulfillment. It was all catalog focused, because the internet was still in its infancy. Looking through the 1995 brochure, there is not one mention of the internet or ecommerce.
Fast forward 20 years. There is not a single session that is exclusive to catalogs. No sessions on mailing lists or effective call center support. That shift partly reflects the change in composition of the group’s membership, with more on-line pure play companies rather than just traditional catalogs. But it also reflects the changing nature of marketing.
For example, last week it was announced that Frederick’s of Hollywood was closing all its stores. Since they had already discontinued their catalog a year ago, they will reside purely online, and rely on their website for sales. This year’s conference features a special session on video marketing on Wednesday afternoon. I don’t want this to sound crass, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision how a company like Frederick’s could utilize video to sell their products, and probably better than any catalog could do. Have you made video part of your mix yet?
Twenty years ago the VT/NH Marketing Group was a haven for entrepreneurs starting catalogs. As I’ve mentioned previously, although our combined population between the two states represents just half of one percent of the US population, we have the highest per capita number of mail order and catalog companies in the country. There is still life and a need for catalogs but, catalogs are not where the future is. The future belongs to the hundreds of small ecommerce and now mobile website companies throughout New England and the US. Yes, they are all struggling to be found on the web, and be seen. But those struggles are no different than the struggles that catalogs faced 20 years ago to acquire customers and grow.
This year’s conference features the best in mobile marketing, SEO, re-targeting, and sales attribution. Twenty years ago I would have scoffed at the notion that any of these topics were more important than knowing how to build a good circulation plan. But, even catalog diehards like me can see the changes in customer and consumer behavior impacting sales. Can you get rich on Pinterest? I haven’t seen it happen yet among Datamann’s client base, but if your merchandise mix is right, you should be trying to make it work.
I am NOT concerned that one logical conclusion from looking at this year’s line-up of All Star speakers is that with no focus on catalogs, how will anyone know how to mail catalogs in the future? That’s a little like worrying in 1925 that with everyone learning how to maintain their model T, who would be left to shoe horses? Besides, it ensures a sense of job security for those of that do know how to do it.
If you want to see the future, and be part of it, I encourage you to register today for this year’s conference. Woodstock Vermont is absolutely lovely in late May. And if you came to Concord NH back in February for our seminar, you won’t run into any snow in May.
I will be there and I hope to see you there as well. Remember the dates: May 27th – 29th. (Click here for registration information for the conference).
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by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235