Timing is everything.
I almost looked like a genius on Monday. I had a blog posting already to go on why I thought Federica Marchionni, CEO of Lands’ End, was not going to last much longer. But, at the last minute, I decided to substitute my posting on the Marine Layer catalog (click here if you missed it). And then of course, Federica was fired on Monday. Oh, what an opportunity to look like a marketing savant…missed.
However, I did get quite a bit of feedback from readers on Monday about the posting I did offer on Marine Layer. As I’ve said before, I write stuff that is meant to generate a response, and get people thinking.
I heard from the CEO of one of Datamann’s clients. He comments about once a year to my postings. I appreciate his comments because he is detailed in his thoughts and comments, does not hold back criticism, and chides me when he thinks I’m wrong. Most important, he never stops trying to teach me new ways of looking at the catalog industry.
He has a catalog that sells “premium apparel”. The products are high priced. He and I have an on-going argument around the point that I believe his products are too high priced. He constantly argues that I don’t understand the premium buyer. His comments from his email on Monday night follow in italics.
“I love reading your posts. Also I have noticed Marine Layer in some expensive retail locations and I have not understood the offer. Although I have not gone in to try to understand. So I am with you…..
Until you start comparing product prices to Target. Even with your Filson disclaimer paragraph it is pointless to make the comment that you can buy t-shirt cheaper at Target. Duh, really?!
This just reinforces my opinion that no one in the catalog industry understands ‘premium’ or ‘affordable luxury’”.
He is right of course. Maybe I don’t understand or appreciate the premium market for some consumer goods. I drive a 10 year old truck. I cannot understand why anyone would spend more than $25,000 for a new car. On the other hand, I spent $2,000 on a Nikon camera (from a catalog!) that some might argue does not take pictures any better than an iPhone.
And my wife, who was the one who made the comment that she could purchase t-shirts similar to the $39 ones in Marine Layer at Target for $8, is really into mountain biking and fitness. She may only spend $8 for a t-shirt, but will pay a premium price for a techno-advanced bike shirt.
“There IS a customer for $60 t–shirts, whatever you think. It is tough to launch a company with the scale of Lands End or Target, and as a result you cannot get the same price for your products. But that is not the point. The point is that there is a customer who WANTS to spend more, not for the reasons that you suggest, but for ‘superior product’. In almost all consumer goods there is a polarization of customers looking for premium, high quality (that might mean design as much as fabric) product and customers looking for the lowest common denominator. More often than not it is the same consumer shopping at both ends of the spectrum, sometimes in the same category.”
We all have a special interest where we will pay a premium price. Of course premium to one person may be “sub-standard” to someone else. Just as one can spend $60 for a t-shirt, I’m sure that there are “super premium” t-shirts for $300.
My point on the Marine Layer catalog was simply this: maybe they do have a premium product that is worthy of the price – for whatever reason someone would spend a hefty sum for their products. But they failed to capitalize on that. They failed to tell a story.
“Catalogs are an incredibly powerful and evocative tool and should be harnessed to sell premium products through storytelling and brilliant product presentation. I assume that Marine Layer does not do this as I trust your judgement. But don’t dismiss the premium market. It is smaller and more elite than the mass market, by definition, but catalogs should work there.”
He is right. Catalogs need to sell by having some reason for being. It might be price, it might be selection. Following the argument of my CEO friend, it could be story-telling. Where Marine Layer fails – in my opinion – is in doing none of these. The people behind this catalog are still just having fun, and not taking seriously what they are – or should – be trying to do, which is put money in the bank. They certainly are not making any effort to have a viable catalog.
Yes, I understand that this catalog is aimed at the Millennial buyer, which I am not. But Millennials are consumers too, and they need to be sold. That is a lesson that so many of the new catalogs being run by people with no catalog experience learn the hard way.
I had a call last week from a furniture company with an extensive “look-book”. I’m not a big fan of look-books, but in this instance, the company has a $5,000 average order, so it makes sense. The caller wanted help expanding the circulation for the catalog, and wanted my thoughts and help. I explained that with a $5,000 average order, it would be almost impossible to find a list of buyers to which I would mail their catalog, because although those people exist, no company (co-op) could supply them in a manner that would be affordable for her to utilize.
This is one place where my CEO friend and I agree:
“One reason I suspect catalogs don’t work in ‘premium’ is because no one can supply those names.”
I’m not going to launch another attack on the short-comings of the co-ops. But, the problem with identifying “premium” buyers/prospects for any offer is that a person that may only spend $8 for a t-shirt will get defined as such, even though that same person may spend ten times that amount for a workout top. Yes, I’m sure the co-ops will tell me that the models take this into account. But if that were the case, then why did I get a Marine Layer catalog?
This brings me back to Federica. She tried to bring change to Lands’ End – a company stuck in a snowbank of traditions. I have not been to Dodgeville in more than five years, so it is unfair for me to comment on what the company has been doing, beyond what I have seen in their catalogs. Lands’ End defined middle America. That is who their customer has always been. Federica tried taking that middle class/Lake Wobegonian customer, and move them to the Hamptons. It was NOT going to happen. And I don’t blame her; I blame the Board of Directors that hired her. They bought into her image of creating a premium offer out of Lands’ End, but that is tough to do with customers who are accustomed to buying clothes that are middle of the road. It’s like trying to get someone used to driving a Ford Focus to trade up to a Ferrari.
My CEO friend concluded his email with these thoughts:
“As long as the catalog industry only sings the praises of commodity products which are differentiated solely by the numbers of colors an item comes in and the relatively low prices, it may well continue its downward spiral.”
There are companies that do an exceptional job with selling premium products. But they do so with – for lack of a better term – standard catalog best practices. They build a story around their products and their brand. They do the hard work necessary to sell premium products. That means they don’t treat their customers/prospects with contempt.
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by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235