Shepherds Change, But Sheep Remain Sheep

by Bill LaPierre on March 2, 2015

Last November, I agreed to speak at the upcoming Spring NEMOA Conference in Boston. I’ll be speaking on “Reinventing Your Merchandise To Secure Your Survival”.  It’s a 45 minute session and I’m looking forward to it.

But because I agreed to present that session, I was also invited to participate in NEMOA’s Xpress Talks, a session where NEMOA asks each of the speakers presenting a regular session if they are also interested in presenting a 10 minute talk in a format similar to TED Talks, or as the invite email stated from NEMOA “Xpress Talks are thought provoking – even provocative – presentations which challenge the NEMOA audience to think in different ways and question the status quo. In other words, no bullet-filled PowerPoints and no how-to tutorials.”

Provocative. Thought provoking. This sounded like fun. I’m in.

But then I read on “While we are always happy to entertain topic ideas, we are looking for evangelists to speak on the following:

 1.Brand.  You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.  And what do I actually DO with it anyway?

2. I make money charging the customer for shipping.  There, I said it.  Where do we go from here?

3. A Better Organization Structure – How tomorrow’s direct marketers should organize Web, Creative, Merchandising, Marketing and IT.

4. Creative Decision Making – How democratic or collaborative or authoritative should it be?  Good creative vs. bad creative vs. integrated creative.

5. Video – it’s so expensive.  Is it overrated?  What’s the right investment?  How do I best use it?

6. Back to Basics – In this crazy infinitely complex environment, should we just focus on intuitive marketing?  Just concentrate on how we treat customers and to hell with big data?

7. What’s the right relationship with Amazon?  How do you outsmart the devil?

No offense to whoever developed this list, as I’m sure a great deal of thought went into the development of the 7 topics listed above, but none of the seven strike me as burning issues that Datamann’s clients – or the catalog industry as a whole – are dealing with.  These are all “safe” topics, meaning they are fun to discuss, maybe even debate.

But let’s be honest. None of these are thought provoking. None of them are provocative. None of them are going to get you to “challenge the status quo” to the point where you’re going to move the needle on your company’s survival. With all due respect to my fellow speakers, how could anyone be a provocative evangelist on whether or not you charge for shipping, or to whom IT should report? How will that help catalogs survive? Come on, get real!

Session topics like the seven above are what killed the DMA’s Catalog Conference. Catalogs are getting hammered by online competition. The USPS is going down the tubes. Retail malls are dying. We should not be discussing how democratic the creative process should be, or whether video is good or not!!


Since I don’t want to see the same fate of being irrelevant happen to NEMOA, as  happened to the DMA, here was my response to the NEMOA Board :

“I’d like to propose providing the NEMOA attendees with a 10 minute ‘come to Jesus’ session, that covers the troubles that mailers are having with the co-ops, the USPS, the printers, and the cataloger’s own stupid internal barriers to change, and what it’s going to take to turn this industry around. Think of it as a NEMOA version of ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’.    This session will take no prisoners, it will be memorable, and it will have attendees talking. I recognize that my proposed topic might not fit within the bounds of what NEMOA is looking for.  But I do hope that you will give it consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.”

And guess what? They accepted my proposal. I had to finish the presentation over this past weekend, and discovered how hard it is to cram all my thoughts into 10 minutes. It turned out to be a much edited “take no prisoners” exchange. Two hours would have done the topic justice.  Oh, and the title is “Shepherds Change, But Sheep Remain Sheep”. If you are attending NEMOA, I promise you a memorable ten minutes.  Hope to see you there.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


The Highlight Reel

by Bill LaPierre on February 22, 2015

We had a break between Amy Africa’s afternoon session and the “question and answer” period at last Thursday’s Datamann seminar in Concord, NH. While I was getting a few things set for the last session, Brenda Royce, the Director of Ecommerce at Garnet Hill came up to me and gave me a big hug and exclaimed “this is the absolute best seminar I’ve ever been to”.  I heard that from several people, but Brenda is one of the most reserved New Englanders I’ve known – so to see her animated, I knew we had succeeded in getting it right.

Here are the highlights for those of you that missed our seminar, as well as a review of several key thoughts for those of you that were there.

NO 28 Things: Amy Africa told the audience how I had given her the latitude to present whatever she wanted, as long as she stayed within the confines of my request that she not present a list of 28 Must-Dos for your website. And she didn’t. Instead, she painted a picture of the hundreds of new technologies that ecommerce companies are utilizing to completely change the way consumers shop. These move waaaay beyond what the typical catalog’s website currently offers, and once again show how we are not only obsessed with our catalogs, but obsessed with our static websites. Her predications on the impact of voice search illustrate the risks that even the most advanced catalog websites will have difficulty coping in the near future.

Our clients are always asking for generic industry benchmarks by which they can measure themselves against the rest of the pack. Amy presented one that I know most consumer catalogs are failing at – Amy believes mobile phone number capture rates should be at least 30% on your customer file now, with that number increasing in the next few years. How many of you can even say that you have 50% email capture rate on your 12-month buyer file now? Capturing mobile numbers, let alone being at 30%, is just a dream for most of you.

Hitting the Wall: Kevin Hillstrom illustrated how his feedback loops are accelerating the death of traditional catalogs, by making it more difficult and more expensive to prospect for new customers. Moreover, the ecommerce companies, which grew by cannibalizing sales from catalog companies, are now also having difficulty acquiring new customers. Our reliance on co-ops has created a vicious race to the cellar.

Q&A: I was afraid I was going to lose the audience at 3 PM after Amy’s presentation. There was a half hour break, snow was in the forecast, and it was getting bitterly cold out. People wanted to get on the road.   But they stayed. They stayed for one of the best Q&A sessions I’ve experienced.  I felt like young Luke Skywalker standing between Yoda and Obi Wan. The three of us fielded questions for an hour and hardly anyone left – we could have gone another hour but I had to cut off the questions.

Judy Kennedy, a former President of the VT/NH Marketing Group, asked the most poignant question. She asked each of the three of us to point out where we found fault in the other two speaker’s sessions. Apparently because I was host of the event, neither Kevin nor Amy picked apart my presentation. And they were each complimentary of the other’s presentation. It was up to me to end the on-stage love fest by saying that I disagreed with most of Kevin’s findings. I don’t think he had painted a dark enough picture of where the industry is going, between the damage done to the catalog industry by the co-ops, and the absolutely misguided advice found in the industry trade publications about things like omnichannel marketing.


Conspicuously Absent: Speaking of the co-ops, where were they? Of the 188 registered attendees for the seminar, 79% were catalogs or ecommerce companies. For a seminar aimed at helping catalogs and ecommerce companies discover the future, I’d have thought that a few more of the companies that have a vested interest in the welfare of the industry would have been there. Sadly, there were only two printers, one of which was from a small specialty press, And only one representative from any of the four consumer co-ops (thank you Wiland!).

On the other hand, I overheard one attendee say how nice it was to attend a seminar where they were not being sold anything. Let’s hope that I can keep that balance in the future.

The Obvious: Ok, the weather was not great. The snow in the parking lot was piled over 12 feet high in spots. And it was cold. But it was cold and snowy everywhere last week in the nation too.

I’m going to explain one more time why this was the ideal location and ideal time. Yes, it might be more appealing to come to NH in the spring or summer. But that doesn’t help you execute the moves you must make to grow your business.

Most of our clients – as is true with most catalogs – are heavily dependent on the fourth quarter. Only a few people told me they could not come to our seminar because they were busy the third week of February. This seminar was purposely not another offering of “5 tips to build your brand relevance”. Those ideas are not going to help you solve your long-term growth and survival problems.  I gave Kevin Hillstrom and Amy Africa each two full hours for their presentations because you cannot cover the importance of their messages in 45 minutes. They could each easily have used a whole day for their presentations.

February is the best time of year for this seminar because I want to challenge people to take risks and realize they have to make significant changes to survive.  You’re not going to start implementing those changes any time after May 1st, when most of you are waist deep in holiday planning. And you won’t do them after Labor Day, when you are executing your holiday plan. So that’s why I’ll see you again next February.

Who Is Looking Out for Your Interests?: Once again, Datamann thanks the VT/NH Marketing Group for allowing us to sponsor this seminar.  I had numerous attendees tell me how refreshing the group was, and how they planned to join.  The group’s 27th Annual Conference is May 27 to 29 in Woodstock, VT, and I look forward to seeing more of you there.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


When the Smithsonian Calls, You Can’t Say No

February 15, 2015

Before I tell you about the Smithsonian, let me give you a quick update on Datamann’s seminar this week. Yes, the snow is finally over.  The roads are clear, and the weather forecast for this Thursday is sunny, with no snow the rest of the week! It will be a little chilly, so dress warmly […]

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Keeping You Committed

February 8, 2015

My father was the president of a non-profit health organization for forty years. Although he dealt with all aspects of running a state-wide health organization and managing a large staff, he always considered his fundamental job was being a fundraiser. (It was from my father that I learned the fundamentals of direct mail). The organization […]

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Time for Questions from the Audience

February 2, 2015

We are just a little more than two weeks away from Who is Looking Out For Your Interests?, a special seminar from the VT/NH Marketing Group, sponsored by Datamann. It is taking place Thursday, February 19,2015 in Concord, NH. The last session of the day will be an open forum where Amy Africa, Kevin Hillstrom […]

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A Burning B2B Question Answered, With Implications for B2C

February 1, 2015

A reader posed a B2B marketing question a few weeks back which I want to address with some specific examples. I tend to shy away from B2B postings because to me B2B just seems so easy, and yet most practitioners get it hopelessly wrong. That includes me, because after all, everything I do in the […]

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My Wartime Consigliere

January 26, 2015

This week, I want to tell you why I asked Amy Africa to join me as one of our keynote speakers at Datamann’s seminar called Who Is Looking out for your Interests? on February 19. If you know Amy, or have ever heard her talk, you can appreciate my dilemma in writing this. Where to […]

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Don’t Call Me A “Lapsed Buyer” Because of This

January 25, 2015

This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. So, I’m going to explain to you why your customers really “lapse”. I received an email from a major email provider this week with the following claim in the opening paragraph, “Learn how you can use a data-driven approach to accurately identify your lapsed customers […]

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The Torch Has Been Passed

January 19, 2015

I want to tell you why I asked Kevin Hillstrom to join me as one of our keynote speakers at Datamann’s seminar called Who Is Looking out for your Interests? on February 19. As I have progressed through my career in cataloging, I have seen many very good consultants retire or drop out of an […]

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What is to Become of Single Title Catalogs? – Part 4 – Redemption

January 18, 2015

In case you missed them, I’ve written three prior postings on the future of single  title catalogs, focusing on the common traits of single titles (low margins, high costs, etc.) and common problems (lack of talent, lack of structured leadership, etc.) What Is To Become Of Single Title Catalogs? – Part 1 What Is To […]

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