My Wartime Consigliere

by Bill LaPierre on 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 start? There are so many reasons I had to include Amy in this seminar. In the world of catalogs, retail and ecommerce, Amy has been part of the internet and website conversation for the past 20 years. She has spoken before hundreds of audiences at an endless number of conferences and seminars. She has her devotees and plenty of detractors too.

But there are two main reasons I asked Amy, and a minor third reason.

First is Amy’s unwavering belief that the number one reason you have a website is to generate orders and sales, not to build brand or to drive customer engagement. You have a website. If you think otherwise, Amy’s “delivery” of her message will soon dispel any prior doubts you had. There are drill sergeants in the Marine Corps who would tremble before Amy when she delivers a “smack down” of some inefficient website. There is no middle ground with Amy and over the years, I’ve learned that audience members either love her or hate her. Moreover, I’ve learned that Amy’s advice and foresight into what drives consumers to respond is almost always right.

The second reason I asked Amy to join us is one of the same reasons I asked Kevin Hillstrom – she is independent. She has no “big data” agenda to push, or social media panaceas to sell you. She will tell you what is right and wrong with your website with no hidden agenda. She has told me that she is struggling with talking about the future (the one thing I asked her to do) because so many marketers are simply screwing up the present.


Finally, contrary to what one consultant asked me, I don’t think Amy is a psychopathic axe murderer. This consultant drew that conclusion on the basis of my prior remarks that Amy “will never stab you in the back, nor take a cheap shot – you will see her coming straight at you, as she plunges her attack on your web marketing directly into your belly.” On the contrary, Amy has been a windward anchor, and personal confidant for me over the past 23 years that I have known her.  She has called me up or sent me numerous stinging emails pointing out incredibly stupid mistakes I have made, or am about to make. More than once, she has saved my hide.  I have tolerated and always welcomed this from Amy because she is almost always right, and she never calls or emails without a solution to the problem she sees. That is what makes her my wartime consigliere. How could I not ask her to share her wisdom with you?

Amy referred to the combination of Africa, Hillstrom, and LaPierre as the unholy trinity. Well, we may be a motley trio, but we will give you an unbiased view of the future of catalog survival and ecommerce growth that you won’t get elsewhere.

Remember the facts – our all-day seminar on Who Is Looking out for your Interests? that Datamann is sponsoring for the Vermont / New Hampshire Marketing Group, is on Thursday February 19, 2015 at the Marriott Courtyard/ Grappone Conference Center in Concord, NH.  We have mailers coming from Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Dakota.

If you have not yet registered, click here for the seminar registration page on the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website. But you must register soon! (Concord is New Hampshire’s state capital, and is only 20 minutes north of the Manchester, NH airport, which is served by all major airlines). Hotel rooms are going quickly, so make your reservation today!

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


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

by Bill LaPierre on 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 and then win them back with personalized campaigns.” Hold that thought for a minute – that you can win back a “lapsed” customer with a personalized campaign – we’ll come back to it.

I’ve never understood why some companies define customers that have not bought within the past year as being a “lapsed buyer”. Since I started driving 40 years ago, I have owned six Ford F-150s. That is a pretty remarkable run of customer loyalty. I buy a new truck on average every 6 to 7 years. Yet, the Ford Motor Company stops promoting to me after four years each time I buy a new truck. To their Marketing Department, I’m lapsed because I did not meet their definition of a loyal customer.

Many catalog companies do the same, but they add one additional variable. Consistently, I hear catalogers imply that it was the customer’s fault for not buying and thus becoming a lapsed buyer. The customer did not understand the creative intent of the catalog, or wasn’t motivated enough by 30% off, so let’s go to 40% off next season.

With that line of thinking, it is easy to understand how a marketer could believe that hiring the right email company, with the right data, could help them win back those wayward lapsed customers. “We just didn’t have the right data before – now let’s blast out some personalized emails”.

But that’s not what caused your customers to lapse. It’s product – always has been, always will be. Let me give you an example. I am a huge fan of Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor, and have been since the early 1980s. Some people go to Bruce Springsteen concerts – I go to Garrison Keillor readings.

To my British readers, and to anyone else that has never heard of Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor started a variety radio program on public radio in 1974 that airs every Saturday night. It is a combination of folk, country, a little gospel, and stories with dry mid-western humor. It may not be your cup of tea, but it does have a following.

I bring all this up because Prairie Home Companion, which was produced by Minnesota Public Radio, was so popular in the mid-1980s, that it developed a catalog of PHC products called Wireless. Over time, Wireless added more than just PHC products, added a sister catalog called Signals, went through a series of owners, and now has only one or two Garrison Keillor products. It is a classic case of a catalog that started as one thing and evolved into something else, based on changing product.

But Wireless is not what this posting is about. During all of Wireless’s changes in ownership, Prairie Home Companion separated from Minnesota Public Radio, becoming its own producer. They eventually created their own catalog called Pretty Good Goods. In 2015, its primary merchandise is recordings of old PHC shows and gifts related to Keillor’s fictional town of Lake Wobegon. The secondary category of merchandise is recordings of other shows on NPR or PBS including Car Talk and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.


I’ve been receiving this catalog since its inception, which I estimate was about 10 years ago. It’s a small digest size catalog at 24 pages. But here is the problem – the catalog is living on the past glory of PHC. I already own all of the recordings in the catalog; some originally purchased years ago on cassette and then purchased a second time on CD. I also own most of the gifts and Lake Wobegon memorabilia.



I found the lack of new products especially disappointing last holiday season. I’m a good customer of this catalog, and a big fan of PHC – but they had nothing new for me to buy.  All the RFM segmentation in the world followed by retargeting and emails won’t change that.

But what I found most disturbing were the products labelled as NEW, which really weren’t. These products include Ken Burns’ Civil War film which was produced in 1990! How can any merchant or creative director in good conscience label a 24 year old product “New”. Plus, I went back and found the same product in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 catalogs.

Or, the Powdermilk Biscuits Sweatshirt, which was labeled “New and Exclusive”. OK – maybe it is exclusive to this catalog. But I bought my first one from Wireless in 1985. If by chance it was “new” in 2014 to this catalog, the management behind this catalog should know that a PHC fan would recognize this product as having been around for 30 years. It would be like calling a Brett Favre or Bart Starr t-shirt “new”.

In the end, although this is one of my favorite catalogs, I bought nothing from this catalog last season because like Garrison Keillor’s monologues lately, there was nothing new and exciting. To the folks at Pretty Good Goods, I’m a lapsed buyer. To me, I’m still a loyal fan of PHC and the catalog, but they have to give me something new to stay engaged.

This is what I’m talking about with regards to importance of new merchanside. If the folks at Pretty Good Goods have a holiday post mortem, hopefully they will not be discussing mail dates, cover items, or whether they should have offered free shipping. And they’d better not call me a lapsed buyer, because that always implies that it was the consumer’s fault for not making another purchase. Their lack of new product sticks out like a sore thumb and I hope they catch on fast.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


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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Don’t Miss Your Future

January 13, 2015

“The main thing that has caused companies to fail is that they missed the future.” Larry Page, Google CEO, March 2014. This is your chance not to miss the future. Registration so far has been fantastic for the all-day Who Is Looking out for your Interests? seminar that Datamann is sponsoring for the Vermont / […]

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What is to Become of Single Title Catalogs? – Part 3 – Options to Consider

January 11, 2015

Although catalogs struggle throughout the year, every January seems to bring news of yet another catalog that has succumbed to the inevitable, and will be closing their doors.  The news that Delia’s was closing came in early December. I expect there will be more in the next few weeks. In case you missed them, I’ve […]

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Your Word is Who You Are

January 4, 2015

Time to get serious. Holidays are over, and you’ve got all of 2015 ahead of you. Take the time today to register for the best one-day seminar you can attend. Click here for information on Who is Looking Out For Your Interests?, a special seminar from the VT/NH Marketing Group, sponsored by Datamann. It is […]

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Old Guy Wisdom

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Today is my birthday, and I don’t mind telling you that I’m 57. And no, I never minded having my birthday so close to Christmas. First of all, I never had to go to school on my birthday. Second, it almost always snowed on my birthday (although, not this year)! Since many of you are […]

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I’ll Be Kind – Catalog Merchandise Observations

December 21, 2014

In the spirit of Christmas, and being kind and good, I’m going to highlight a few catalogs that did what I consider a spectacular job this Holiday Season in how they positioned merchandise in their catalog. Notice I did not say they had great looking catalogs, great catalog creative, or that I was awed by […]

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December Catalog Observations

December 14, 2014

Sales: We are two weeks past Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and I’m hearing that many of you have had a strong two weeks, with sales coming in better than expected. My good friend Mike Hayden at 4Cite Marketing confirmed that many of their clients as well had an exceptionally strong week of sales last week. However, […]

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