Use Yah Blinkah – Think Before You Market

by Bill LaPierre on June 28, 2015

Sometimes we just make it so hard for customers to buy from us because we don’t have a clue how to sell to them.

If you have ever heard me speak at a conference, you’ve probably detected that I have a “slight” New England accent. Actually, it is a “Worcester” accent, which is far worse than a Boston accent. I grew up in a small town in northern Worcester County, where many members of my family still live. When I spend time with family there, my wife says that I can go for days without ever pronouncing the letter “R”. I try my best not to let my accent engage when I’m speaking in public, but there are some words that always get me. No matter what I do, “harder” always comes out as “haadah”, so I just say something is “more difficult”.

I bring this up because the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have decided to take advantage of New Englanders collective inability to properly speak the King’s English. To encourage more use of turn signals while driving, something which Massachusetts drivers are loath to do, the state has the following road signs leading into Boston.
Use Yah Blinkah

In the Massachusetts/New England dialect, this sign translates as Use Your Blinker, which elsewhere means Use Your Turn Signal. “Use yah blinkah” gets your attention and makes you think. It might even get a few more Massachusetts drivers to actually begin using their turn signal when they change lanes.

So what does this have to do with catalog marketing?

I heard an ad on the radio the other day for Smith & Noble, a well-known catalog that sells “window treatments”, where the ad actually used the phrase “window treatments”.  Then I got an email from Lands’ End last week advertising a sale on “Footwear”. And every fall, our local Eastern Mountain Sports store has a huge sign out on the road advertising their annual sale on “Outerwear”.

I’m sure there are some consumers that think in terms of buying window treatments, footwear and outerwear. But I think in terms of buying curtains/shades, shoes/boots, and coats/jackets. When I’m running out the door to drive to work, I’m not thinking about “where did I leave my dark green outerwear”, I’m thinking about where I left my “coat”.

This is what happens when we stop thinking like a consumer or our customers. We think instead like a merchant.  Because we use the term “outerwear” internally within our respective companies, we forget that consumers are looking to buy a coat. I know from my experience with Datamann’s clients that part of the reason this happens is the simple unwillingness of one department to question the actions of another.

We have to stop being that way.  We are being assaulted by competition in every direction. It does not help when we allow dumb marketing to go out to our customers, simply because we are afraid to challenge the actions of other departments within the company.

We have to start thinking again before we start marketing. Moreover, we need to think like our customers, not ourselves.   If the Department of Public Works in Massachusetts can do it, so can you.

Wicked Stawm Comin'

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


What Curated Collection?

by Bill LaPierre on June 21, 2015

I received an email last week from a company that said they would be “curating” a chicken BBQ in a few weeks at a special event they were hosting. Come on – get real! How do you “curate” a BBQ?

Among the many buzz words promulgated by the trade media and catalog industry experts is the concept of the “Curated Merchandise Collection”. When did catalog merchants become the catalog equivalent of a museum director? Almost every catalog of note now talks in terms of their product assortment as being a “curated collection”.  Apparently merchants are no longer satisfied with your perception of them as simply being that of purchasers of sweaters and shirts. So, they gave themselves and their jobs new descriptions – they are now “product curators”.

What is a true “curated” collection? The term is meant to imply that the buyers/merchants at a particular catalog have selected only those products for you to buy that have a certain cache, and that meet their approval for “coolness”.  But to me the concept of the newly evolved “curated collection” implies that previously, catalog merchants didn’t assemble a collection of products that were of interest to consumers. But of course they did. Conversely, I recently read that “curation is the only way to be competitive in the future”. That’s not new either – it has always been true. Haven’t we always selected products that we thought were both representative of what our customer wanted, and what we felt our brand represented?

Aren’t we just kidding ourselves in saying that our selection process has now evolved into a “curated collection”? It is no less delusional than believing that we also have a “lifestyle brand”.  We are simply hiding behind the term “curated brand” as a means of saying we are better than the website that has 1,000 choices, because we know what is best for you and we only have 100 choices to prove it.

Worse, I think the concept of a “curated collection” is a horrible direction for most catalogs. Here’s why:

Historically, museum curators have not had to create exhibits that “sell” by being popular, or that satisfy their members’ tastes or interests. Part of the allure of being a museum curator is that they can say “To hell with popular choice, popular taste, and your opinion.  I’m the curator, and I’m going to show you the art that I think you ought to see.  I have a PhD in 16th Century Flemish Tapestry, and that’s what you’re going to see.” That attitude may have worked in the museum world, but it cannot last long in catalogs.

What is interesting is that because of that very attitude among museum curators (that they know what is best) museums themselves are experimenting with exhibits curated by the customer/visitor. They are using social media to allow visitors to select the themes for exhibits, and pick which pieces of art should be included. Understandably, some curators feel this cedes too much expertise to the masses. And maybe it does, but the visitors like it, and it has revitalized attendance at some museums because the exhibit is designed through the visitor’s eyes, not the curators.

In referring to a catalog’s product assortment as a curated collection, aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves, and taking ourselves too seriously?  Your catalog is not an art gallery guidebook.  It is supposed to drive sales. When you start seeing your product assortment as a “curated collection”, you have put your tastes and your choices above the customer’s.  Yes, your merchants/buyers may have a good instinct for what products your customer wants. However, a product assortment based on the merchant’s product “curation” skills can often turn into a disaster as we can all be misguided by our own prejudices for products – especially apparel.

We all know the power that unique products, selected specifically for your customer and your audience, based on what your customer wants, has on your response rate. But finding unique products is what merchants have always done, or at least, what they should be doing.  Don’t allow the concept of the “curated collection” to be an excuse or a reason not to do good solid merchandise analysis. “Curated” or not, your product assortment must always be challenged by merchants and non-merchants alike, with the bar for what is consider acceptable product performance raised in every mailing. That is what will make you competitive in the future.

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

Of the Catalogs, By the Catalogs and For the Catalogs

June 7, 2015

I’m hoping that most of you recognize that I borrowed my headline from The Gettysburg Address.  I thought it was appropriate since much of what I’m writing on today is borrowed. First, do you remember the talk I gave at NEMOA last spring, in which I exposed the catalog co-ops as simply a mass of […]

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Our Industry Is Not Replacing Leaders

May 31, 2015

Today’s posting is a personal note of gratitude and reminiscing, but it is also a commentary on what is happening to our industry. This coming Saturday, June 6 is not only the anniversary of the D-Day landings, but it also marks the end of one of my good friend’s catalog career. Frank Oliver, Senior Product […]

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Lifestyle Creep

May 25, 2015

Most of you had yesterday off for Memorial Day in the US, and it was a bank holiday in the UK. Summer has started, although catalogs have been in “summer mode” for a few months. Here is something that baffles me. In apparel catalogs, the right model can make a huge difference in selling a […]

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This Catalog Cost $0.63 to Produce and Ship to You

May 10, 2015

I keep reading various accounts in the trade press about the “resurgence of catalogs” based on the fact that several online pure play companies are launching catalogs as a way of acquiring customers. And yes, there is truth to the fact that some pure plays are mailing catalogs. Whether they have the slightest idea of […]

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The Red Flags are Waving

May 3, 2015

The red flags are waving, and I don’t think this is going to end well. A friend forwarded me a Lands’ End email last week with the subject line “Lands’ End would love your opinion”.  My friend and I used to work on the Lands’ End account in a prior company, having both spent many […]

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A Catalog Apollo Program

April 26, 2015

My father was a very logical and practical person. He always thought it was foolish that every little town in New England had its own police and fire departments. When you think about it, why should each town incur the fixed and variable expense of maintaining these expensive departments?   We have a regional high school […]

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All Stars – Bringing the Best of the Best

April 19, 2015

Indulge me this shameless plug.   I’m very proud of my wife. She is completing her second year as President of the Vermont/New Hampshire Marketing Group, which hosts its 27th Annual Conference on May 27th – 29th. (Click here for registration information for the conference). I was President of the same organization 20 years ago, and […]

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Dashboard Distraction

April 12, 2015

One of the things I love about my job at Datamann and this blog, are the many emails I get from blog subscribers, relating quirky things happening at their company.  I sometimes feel like a catalog industry equivalent of “Dear Abby”. I recently received an email from a client commenting that during last November and […]

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