Most catalog companies today waste thousands of dollars, if not millions, in over mailing catalogs to their customers and prospects. Most industry pundits who make this observation simply recommend eliminating mailings to those buyers that they deem responsive to digital marketing or to less responsive segments. Such reductions often result in significant loss of sales, if not immediately, over the long term.
A far more effective strategy to reduce catalog costs while maintaining sales is appropriately substitute other forms of direct mail in place of catalogs. These alternatives can range from postcards to specialized mailers. So, when is it appropriate to use alternatives?
Catalogs have traditionally served multiple purposes:
- First, catalogs are a media that creates desire; the web fulfills desire. When one browses a catalog, one is exposed to a company’s products both new and old most of which we have never thought of needing. Rarely can other forms of mailings substitute for a catalog in fulfilling this purpose.
- Second, the catalog builds company brand and image including values, merchandise, quality, and price positioning. Some of this is communicated overtly by content, copy and promotional elements; other more subtly by density, photography, and paper. Again, the catalog does this well although other forms of communications such as blogs and content media can reinforce a company’s brand.
- Third, the catalog communicates information. It can advise customers and prospects alike of an event such as a sale, loyalty program, or product introduction. This can be accomplished, perhaps more effectively, with a postcard, brochure, or another inexpensive mailer. One can also use digital communications as a substitute for a postal mailing, using postal only for those who have unsubscribed or do not open emails.
- Fourth, the catalog is a driver to the website. Frequently a smaller catalog or direct mail piece with a powerful offer or message can achieve this end.
When you lay out your twelve-month contact strategy, get out of the “catalog” mindset. Perhaps designate the first month of a season as a “catalog” mailing since you will be introducing new product. Instead of mailing a catalog in the second month of a season, think “postcard” or “specialized mailer” that will have a strong offer or announce a sale. In the third mailing of the season, create a reduced page or alternative format catalog that is fully designed as a web driver.
As you introduce these catalog substitutes, set up test panels of each against your traditional approach of re-mailing the initial seasonal catalog with a cover/signature change. Continue to test various alternatives until you achieve greater response than previously achieved with catalog re-mails.
Many of the alternative mailers may also provide the opportunity for greater personalization. Postcards can have unique discount codes or messaging applied; they can even have merchandise personalized to the customer’s past interests. Such personalized communication is difficult to achieve with a full catalog but is extremely effective in alternative media.
Here are some examples of non-catalog direct mail pieces that can be sent to your buyers at a fraction of the cost.
At the end of the day, when the dust settles on an appropriate mix of catalogs and alternative media, you may find that you have reduced your print and postage bill by 25% with no loss of sales. This is money that you can add to your prospecting budget to power the growth of your company or fund that trip to the Europe you have always dreamed of.