And That is The Point I Reach for my Cellphone…

by Bill LaPierre on January 22, 2017

Registration is well under way for Datamann’s annual catalog seminar, which we host for the VT/NH Marketing Group. This has become the largest one-day catalog event in the country. This year’s event is Thursday March 30 in Concord, NH. (There is a link to the registration at the end of this posting.)


At last year’s seminar, I surveyed the attendees, asking one – only one – survey question: “What topic do you most want discussed next year”? The top two topics requested were:

  • marketing analytics (how to use your data);
  • merchandise analysis.


As I was planning the 2017 event, I realized I was too vague in defining what I meant by “marketing analytics”. I needed to know what the attendees thought it meant.   So last summer, I contacted all of the attendees that had checked off this topic on their survey and asked for additional clarification of what they needed related to Marketing Analytics.

Almost every reply included a reference to some problem unique to that marketer such as determining the impact of seasonality, LTV by channel, or creating extended personas.

But, there was common ground too. Almost every response I received included a reference to wanting to know one of the following:

  • What are the most important metrics/cutting edge KPIs we need to be following to run our business?
  • “What metrics does everyone else look at”?

Almost everyone asked for the same thing, in one way or another – what were the metrics that everyone else was using, and what is the “best” method of calculating it?

I saw this as a problem.

Everyone is looking for a short cut. They want a list of the best “metrics” to look at (“you know, the ones that your best clients use)”. They want to reduce their business to a dashboard that refreshes in real-time, telling them exactly what the response rate is for today’s allocation of a mailing that was sent 12 weeks ago.

They want that list for one of two reasons. First, they believe there is some elusive statistic, which if they were aware of, and tracked it, they could fundamentally change their business. They just haven’t discovered it yet.

Second, they want it for that all-important weekly sales meeting where the CMO, CFO and CEO all ask “how are we doing”? They want to say “based on the most advanced, cutting-edge methods of performance measurement, we are doing fine”.  Sales and response may be 20% below plan, but they are hoping that there is some magic “metric” they can throw on the table that shows they are doing their job above average.

That is, of course, if they can get anyone’s attention long enough to make that declaration.

One respondent had a very interesting comment, but for a reason different than he probably intended.  He wrote “I’d like to learn what are the best practices in data visualization.  Most marketing analysts are great at assembling piles of data, but don’t know what to do with it after that.  The problem with data visualization is the fine line between representing the data in a simple yet effective way, but making it sophisticated, inspiring and able to hold the attention of a room for more than 8 seconds before they reach for their cell phone.  I’ve sat in on some best practice presentations on data visualization in the past and am always amazed at how lacking it is in examples of best practice.  More often than not it is all gum flapping about why it is important to show context and how it is both an art and a science…and that is the point when I reach for my cell phone…”

His comment summed up another problem. Mailers want the short-cut, but they also need a way to communicate it – so that everyone understands. And they want specifics – not more generalizations about “showing content”.

Years ago, when I worked at Potpourri, it was a family-owned business. Everyone spoke the same “catalog” language, meaning everyone knew what I meant when I referred to SPB (sales per book) and CPNC (cost per new customer). Plus, everyone at Potpourri at the time was focused on one thing – the catalog.

Then I went to work at Brookstone, where I was the only cataloger, and I was competing with 200 stores for the attention of upper management. No one understood me when I referred to SPB or CPNC. Even when I explained these metrics, and showed the math, there was no inherent understanding by upper management. Additionally, since these guys all thought they were God’s gift to retailing and accounting, they assumed I must be the one who did not know what I was talking about.

Consultants know something that most mailers don’t appreciate. We realize that every client is different. The metrics that are important for one mailer may be meaningless to another, depending upon whether they are in a growth mode, they are mature, they are big or little, etc. Further, there are no “averages” for response rate or conversion rate.  Clients don’t want to hear that. They want concrete benchmark numbers and metrics to which they can compare themselves.

This is NOT what I want to present at the seminar. I could have found a dozen speakers that would stand before you and give their list of the 38 Irrefutable Most Important Catalog/Ecommerce Business Metrics to run your business. I could have found dozens of vendors that would talk to you about the importance of big data (“sign up today here at the seminar, and get 10% off your Big Data starter kit”).

I want this seminar to give you something different. I do not want you reaching for your cellphone after you get the list of 5 important metrics. I want to challenge you to think.

So, if you are signing up for our seminar because you are hoping/expecting to get a list of the five most important metrics to add to your dashboard to increase productivity by 20% as you run your company, well, you are going to be disappointed. That’s not what you’ll get.

Instead, the three speakers are providing a combination of insight, options and a mirror.  You don’t need more metrics (beyond a few basic ones I’m going to discuss).  You don’t need fancy reporting. You need to simply take an overall view of your business. You need insight into your merchandise and what your customer thinks of it – which Frank Oliver will be presenting with his merchandise analysis.

Kevin Hillstrom’s business simulation is the mirror. Kevin will not be presenting hundreds of ideas and having hundreds of people say ‘no, won’t work, next idea please’. He is flipping the script … and put accountability on you instead. His business simulation will have you making decisions, and seeing whether your decisions work or don’t work. You’ll see that you already have enough information to make good decisions; you are simply not using information with confidence.

You’ll be looking into the mirror, realizing that the fate of your company does not reside with data, or metrics, or Tableau, but with your decision to take action.

Our seminar last year sold out a full month before the event, so please plan on registering early.  Seating will again be limited.

To register for the seminar, click here to visit the VT/NH Marketing Group’s website.

Registration costs for this all day event:

  • $135 for VT/NH Marketing Group members
  • $200 for non-members
  • Registrations are accepted until March 28, 2017

The Marriott Courtyard/Grappone Conference Center, Concord, NH is located at 70 Constitution Ave in Concord, NH – just north of the intersection of I-89 and I-93. Special room rates of $119 are available for attendees of the seminar for the night of March 29, if you book your room with the Marriott by March 1, 2017. You must mention your attendance at the seminar to receive the special rates, or reserve your room directly at this special link:

If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


Press On – Why Coolidge Matters to Catalogs (Really!)

by Bill LaPierre on January 18, 2017

Most of the catalogers that are readers of this blog reported that they had soft sales this past holiday season.   There are many reasons, some of which I have previously reported.

I think Amazon took a far bigger chunk of business from each of you than you probably are willing to acknowledge. Few of you had “remarkable” catalogs – you just keep boring your customers with the same old look.  The catalog co-op databases, your major source of prospect names, are dying.

But what really bothers me, and where I see the biggest problem, is that most of you have given up on new products. You are making no effort to develop, source, find or promote new products. I’m talking truly new products – not just a new color or a new version of an old product.

I don’t get it. You know that introduction of new product is the number one thing that will drive sales from both existing and new customers. But you are not taking an aggressive stance to get new products, especially products exclusive to you.  It’s almost like you have given up.

This brings us to Calvin Coolidge (30th President of the United Sates, 1923 to 1929), who was born and raised about 20 miles away from Datamann’s offices here in Vermont. He was even inaugurated President by his father, in his childhood home, by the light of a kerosene lamp, in 1923 when President Harding died.

As a history buff, a presidential inauguration like the one later this week – regardless of incoming party – is like ten Super Bowls to me. So I’m going to tie a catalog lesson to one of Vermont’s native sons – Calvin Coolidge

I’m going to bet that 99% of you know nothing about Coolidge, other than he was quiet, and not a very remarkable president. Much to the relief of many of you, I’m not going to take the time to provide you with an education on his contributions to history – minimal as they were.

Coolidge was a conservative, taciturn Yankee, who prized hard work and independence. One of his few lasting contributions to American history and culture was something he wrote just after he left the White House. When asked what was the most important character trait for success, Coolidge replied:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.”

Persistence and Determination.  Do you have those two qualities? In my opinion, they alone are the two qualities you need to survive. Short cuts are not going to get you there. Cataloging is no longer for the faint of heart – it can’t be. Going forward, the key to having a successful catalog will be the persistent application of aggressive tactics for basic survival. It has no other direction to go. You have to be willing to gird your loins and ‘Press On’. The place this most applies to catalogs is the development and testing of new products – you must get aggressive at introducing new products. And when they fail, “press on” and bring in more new ones.

Some of you will think my comments are overly dramatic. You have not yet been tested the way many other catalogs have been, especially this past year. But that time is coming for all of you. Maybe not 2017. But it is coming sooner than you think.

Here is the important thing to remember – your fight must be to find new product and new customers. Your fight is not just with Amazon, the post office, the printers, the co-ops, or even me. Don’t waste your bullets on imaginary foes. Your fight is against yourself, and your ability to shake off your old habits and try some new things.

There are no short cuts.


If you are not already signed up for emails from this blog, click here.

by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235


Henry’s Many Options

January 15, 2017

Everyone always asks for specifics on how to grow their catalog business. So, let’s use Henry Repeating Rifles as an example. Let’s get my gun credentials out of the way. I own two shotguns which belonged to my grandfather, and a .22 single-shot Ithaca rifle which my father bought for me 50 years ago, and […]

Read the full article →

A Canary In The Catalog Coal Mine

January 8, 2017

Here is a wake-up call for the new year: Catalog reporting is gone. Have you noticed what is missing lately from your mailbox?   When was the last time you saw a magazine focused on catalogs?  Catalog Age long ago evolved into MultiChannel Merchant, but now even that title is gone. Catalog Success evolved into Total […]

Read the full article →

Play Like You Have Nothing To Lose

January 4, 2017

Athleta is playing to win, playing like they have nothing to lose. They are taking risks, not playing it safe. See if you agree. Since the NFL playoffs begin this weekend, I’m going to give you a football analogy with application to catalogs, and specifically to this Athleta cover.  (My apologies to my many UK […]

Read the full article →

The Angels Will Weep For You

January 1, 2017

About 20 years ago, I was recruiting speakers for the VT/NH Marketing Group’s annual conference. I contacted a catalog consultant here in New England about being our keynote speaker. His response floored me. “You want me to come and speak for free and share the information which my clients pay me to provide them? Of […]

Read the full article →

You Have Your Priorities Twisted for 2017

December 25, 2016

This is a short week for most of you, and a vacation week for many, so I’m going to keep today’s posting short. I want to share with you a few observations on what interested you – the readers of this blog – the most in 2016. As I have mentioned before, this blog has […]

Read the full article →

The Non-Creative Creative Director

December 18, 2016

I’m going to wind down 2016 with some comments from a reader that responded to my various postings over the past few weeks about boring creative, and catalogs not being remarkable anymore. The reader asked to remain anonymous, which I will respect. She commented that throughout her catalog career, she had noticed that “Art directors […]

Read the full article →

Registration is Open and Why I Asked Frank

December 13, 2016

Registration is open for Datamann’s catalog seminar which we are hosting for the VT/NH Marketing Group on March 30, 2017. There is a link at the end of this posting to register. Datamann clients will be receiving information in the mail next week about registration. I told you a few weeks ago why I asked […]

Read the full article →

Memorable Certainly, Maybe Even Remarkable

December 11, 2016

Time is winding down on the 4th quarter. I asked a few weeks ago for readers to share their current holiday results with me. Unfortunately, what I heard back is not encouraging. Many mailers reported that they are missing plan. They increased circulation or increased online advertising, over last year, but the needle has not […]

Read the full article →