The WOW Factor

by Bill LaPierre on October 19, 2014

When I critique a client’s catalog design, I don’t discuss with them color palettes, branding or eye flow. I talk about what drives response. We can all be subjective about what we do and don’t like creatively in a catalog, but it is tough to argue about what drives response.

If the cataloger is eager to make changes and improve, I review with the client my list of “Bill’s 21 Indisputable Creative and Merchandise Rules”. But when there is a significant problem, and the catalog’s creative is causing response to stagnate, I distill those 21 rules down to the Crucial Six.

One of the Crucial Six is “Don’t Be Afraid To Sell”. Over and over I see mailers throw a bunch of similar products on a page, with no thought given to helping the customers determine what is best for them. Don’t assume your customer has the same knowledge of, interest in, or love of your products that you do. For consumers that don’t know your brand, you have to create that love with every mailing, and every email. For existing customers, you have to re-kindle that love for your “stuff” with every catalog.

In short – you’ve got to sell them! In creative terms, that means going beyond a simple “hero shot” presentation, and going for the “WOW” presentation.

I wrote earlier this year about how yoga pants have become ubiquitous apparel accessories for most women – to the point of where they have almost become a commodity. Below are three presentations from mainstream catalogs. Which of the three succeeded in creating a “WOW” presentation?


Athleta’s presentation is boring – they are simply selling commodities at this point.


As you would expect from Land’ End, even with this small image above, you can sense they are defining benefits for each product. Lands’ End is good at that. But is still not “Wow”.


In my opinion, only Title Nine achieved the “WOW” presentation. Why? Because they were not afraid to sell. Instead of trying to treat all the pants the same, they picked one pair to highlight /emphasize, and in the process, they raised the level of awareness of the other pairs as well. They also had a more limited, and more targeted assortment.

You are in a competitive environment. You want to believe that your customers love you so much that you don’t need to sell. You believe they love and understand your product as much as you do. THEY DON’T.  They need to be sold – with every catalog, on every product.  Don’t be afraid to sell. Go for the WOW.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


You Are Communicating That You Can’t Compete

by Bill LaPierre on October 12, 2014

This has nothing to do with NEMOA the organization, but in the early 2000s, there was a four year stretch when just about every keynote speaker at a NEMOA conference was either fired shortly thereafter, or the company filed for bankruptcy. Yes, it was purely coincidental, but several of us joked at the time that a speaking engagement at that conference was dangerous to your career.

Memories of this phenomenon came back to me this past week when I saw that Jim Speltz had resigned as CEO of Brookstone a few weeks ago. If you don’t recall, he was the keynote speaker at this Spring’s NEMOA conference. In a twist of luck, Brookstone had filed for bankruptcy just before he spoke, instead of just after.

It’s not hard to see why the company fell on tough times. As I look through the fall catalog, I see only a few cool new gadgets.

Brookstone-2014-ProjectorThe operative word is new. The essence of a company like Brookstone is that they have to keep bringing new products to market at a greater pace than others. That has always been their heritage, and that is what their customers expect from them. In a way, Brookstone is like Apple, which learned they could not grow on making updates to the iPhone alone. Thus, Apple introduced the smart watch to their repertoire of products to stay viable in 2014.

The same level of innovation is not happening with Brookstone. Sadly, many of the spreads I see in the Brookstone catalog haven’t changed in 10 to 20 years! Almost every product on the spreads below is the same product which was in the Brookstone assortment 20 years ago when I worked there.

Brookstone-14-P-50-51 Brookstone-14-P-26-27

Maybe a different style, different color, and a new supplier – but they are generally the same products.

An even worse offender is Sharper Image. They were one of our closest competitors when I was at Brookstone, so I knew their catalog well. The spread below is virtually unchanged from 20 years ago. Yes, the products have been updated – but a massage chair is a massage chair. Plus, I can remember when Sharper Image introduced the blue gel pads for your shoes – they were a big deal in 1992. Not now!


OK – so I’ve shown you that I have a good memory, and if I really wanted to bore you, I could even show you the spreads from 20 years ago to show you the earlier versions of these products.  But here is the point – these catalogs built their businesses and their customer base by having “cutting edge, new-to-market gadgets”. Sharper Image was so cool that Roger Moore even flashed a Sharper Image credit card in one James Bond movie.

To me, it seems that both companies are telling their customers they can no longer compete – they just can’t develop or find new products, they can’t maintain their original mission of developing those new gadgets that customers identified with them. Instead, they are merely supplying accessories (iPhone cases) for the companies that are providing the cool new products. It is little wonder that both companies have gone through bankruptcy in the past 3 years. This is not the road to catalog survival or catalog growth.

It is also little wonder that they were able to attract venture capital to get themselves out of bankruptcy. Each company has a great story and venture capitalists love great stories. In theory, they should still be “cutting edge innovators” because when the venture capitalists were doing their due diligence, I’m certain they were probably told of the high percentage of new products introduced last year. But if those new products really were new, they never would have gotten into bankruptcy in the first place. Those new products were simply reinterpretations of products they have had for years. Joseph de Maistre wrote in 1811 that “every nation has the government that it deserves.” My new take on that famous quote is that every venture capital company that buys a catalog company out of bankruptcy has the merchandise assortment it deserves.

One final note – many of you remember that when I did my annual “What Were They Thinking?” speech for the DMA. I always showed the strangest product I came across each year.  It’s still early, the year is not done yet, but I’m thinking that the Do-it-Yourself braces kit from Sharper Image is going to be an easy winner this year. Replace your orthodontist with this $95 kit – what could go wrong?

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


Fall Catalog Observations 2014 – Part 1

October 5, 2014

As we start the first full week of October, those of you that rely heavily on the fourth quarter are starting to get anxious about where this fall/holiday season is headed. Let’s take a look at some of the early signs. Sales for most of you were soft in August and September. The range I’m […]

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Africa, Hillstrom and LaPierre

September 28, 2014

Who is looking out for your interests? Who can you really trust? I want to invite all the readers of this blog to a special event. Datamann is again sponsoring an all-day seminar for the Vermont / New Hampshire Marketing Group on The Evolving Future of Catalog and Ecommerce Companies on February 19, 2015 at […]

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No One Cares About …

September 21, 2014

“No one cares about your business as much as you do.” In last week’s blog, I recapped several pivotal comments that Pat Connolly from Williams Sonoma made in a NEMOA speech 20 years ago. Pat did not disappoint with his presentation this past week at NEMOA – he offered several simple business truths, which are […]

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Still Waiting for the 11th Order

September 14, 2014

I thought in honor of Pat Connelly from Williams-Sonoma speaking at NEMOA this week, I’d revisit the last time Pat spoke at NEMOA, 20 years ago in 1994. There are probably only a handful of NEMOA members that remember when Pat Connelly, then Senior VP of Marketing at Williams-Sonoma, spoke at the 1994 Fall NEMOA […]

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Another Way of Looking at the Life of Catalogs

September 7, 2014

If you are under the age of 30, this posting will probably mean nothing to you. If you are over 50, and have been in the business for a while, you probably remember some of this. If you are in between – you’ll learn how we got to where we are today. (If you are […]

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B2B’s Inefficient Ride

September 1, 2014

Earlier this summer I wrote about how much I like and admire the Ben Meadows catalog, as both a catalog professional, and as a consumer (even though the catalog is primarily a B2B catalog). There are some great B2B catalogs, and I will refer to more of them in the future. But there are also […]

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Organic Firewood

August 24, 2014

I’ve always wanted to play a joke on my small home town here in New Hampshire, testing the reaction I would get to an advertisement in the local newspaper for “organic firewood”, selling for twice the rate of a regular cord of wood. Would my “back-to-nature, buy local, grass-fed only” loving neighbors think that organic […]

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Tell Them You Hate It and Move On

August 17, 2014

As you are coming down the home stretch preparing your final Holiday catalogs, and approving those final designs, keep this story in mind. There’s a controversy growing in Washington DC that you may have missed. Here’s the short story – in 1999, Congress created the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, to locate, design and fund the creation […]

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