If you are a cataloger, be honest with yourself about your own catalog when you read this.
Catalogs pay the bills in the LaPierre house. I live catalogs every day. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, my wife and I receive thousands of catalogs annually. So, I like to think I’m pretty well attuned to what’s happening in catalogs as a professional and a consumer.
I’ve also listed numerous times over the years in this blog all the dangers that are killing catalogs, which I’m not going to list here because frankly, most of you are tired of reading the list since many of the “issues” on the list are things out of your control. But there is one that is within your control, and is something about which I’ve not often written.
Datamann’s fifth annual catalog seminar, which we host for the VT/NH Marketing Group, is coming up on March 30, 2017. Registration for the event is NOT yet open, but will be soon. I announced back in October that Kevin Hillstrom would be one speaker. My second speaker that day is Frank Oliver: merchant, product developer, dynamic public speaker, and general all around soothsayer. (I’ll provide greater detail on why I asked Frank to be our second speaker at a later date).
I’m writing this posting on Black Friday. I received an email from Frank this morning, with belated Thanksgiving wishes, thanking me again for including him in the 2017 program. He added “Bill, you have taught me smart marketing techniques, logical testing protocols and measurement of incremental improvements. All incredibly boring stuff, really. RFM, CRM, CRI, ROI, blah blah blah… But I think you show a real passion for marketing, i.e. your blog. You are a classic catalog circulation/list guy transformed to a multi-channel marketing consultant, and you’ve seen it all.”
Since Frank was waxing so poetically, I decided to share an observation with him, hoping to get his reply.
I wrote “Frank, I got up early this morning and started to attack the pile of catalogs that I had hidden from view from yesterday’s Thanksgiving guests. I had looked through about 30 of them by the time Shari (my wife) got up. I said ‘I have not found one thing I would buy. I have all the clothes I need. I have all the tools I need. We don’t need any more tchotchkes, kitchen utensils or Christmas decorations. Tim (our son) is too old for toys. There’s no point in ordering videos when we can watch everything on Netflix or Amazon. I’ll get some smoked bacon from Dakin Farm, but aside from that, none of these catalogs have anything we need or want.’ Frank, if the average catalog is aimed at baby boomers, this has to be playing out elsewhere too”.
Frank rose to the bait. He replied back as only Frank can do: “So, there’s nothing in all those Holiday catalogs for Bill? Bill has everything he needs, nothing new interests him. Are catalogs missing Baby Boomers, like Bill? Or does Bill shop differently, maybe buying when he “needs it”, not when you “offer it” in the catalog? The conundrum? How to sell Bill something that he doesn’t even know he needs yet! Remember the “Flamingoes” cover that Gardeners Supply did? Our highest response Holiday catalog! It was “remarkable”, folks never failed to remark about that crazy cover! Loved it / Hated it … didn’t matter, they remarked about it. Bill, have you seen a remarkable cover lately, which made you smile, peeked your curiosity, and showed you something new & cool? No? That might be an issue. “
The “flamingo” cover which Frank mentioned was one created by Gardener’s Supply around 10 years when he worked there, which showed about 100 pink flamingos stuck in the snow on the front lawn of a house in Vermont. It was impossible for it not to catch your attention, and get you to look inside.
I started looking at armfuls of Holiday 2016 catalogs that I had stacked in my office, and I had to agree with Frank. There were no “remarkable” covers. Moreover, there were no remarkable catalogs.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If I was looking for a box of oranges, the Hale Grove’s cover – which looks like it was designed during the Eisenhower administration – might seem remarkable. The same goes for the other covers as well.
Yet, even if catalogs followed my 18 irrefutable and non-negotiable rules of catalog design, they would still be mostly boring. They’d be perfectly executed, but boring. And of course, trying to “create” the magic of the old Flamingo cover at Gardener’s Supply is like trying a purposely create a video that will go viral – it’s not going to happen.
Why? Because the tide has turned. Even for baby boomers for whom catalogs still resonate, catalogs are no longer our primary method of commerce. It is online, or mobile. We can search, we can watch videos, and we can look at products in different colors, from different angles. The catalog is now secondary and even tertiary.
No matter how hard they try, catalogs will rarely ever achieve the creative magic they once had when compared to online shopping. When you are on Facebook, how often do you see that someone has “liked” a cute video, or a cool recipe, etc.? When was the last time you had someone call you, email you, or contact you via some form of social media about a “really cool catalog”? Be honest here folks.
For most of you, the magic is gone from your catalog. It’s just not there anymore. It’s not that catalogs have gone bad creatively. It’s that everything else has gotten so much better. In the past, a catalog could always beat an FSI in the Sunday newspaper. Today, can your catalog compete with an easy to navigate, fully functional website with product reviews, videos, and multiple product views? You already know the answer. It’s the difference between watching a TV show form the early 1960s when it was filmed in black and white, and watching the same show later in the 1960s when it was filmed in color. The color version just seems so much more alive.
And yet, you could so easily bring your catalog alive. You could become more daring, especially with new products. You know you are getting the cookies knock out of you by online competitors, what have you got to lose? Why not double or triple your rate of new product introductions? Allow your creative team to make changes to give creative equal strength to the new products.
Stop playing it safe. Safe is boring. Until you start shaking up the status quo with your products and your creative, you are always going to look like a black and white TV show.
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by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235